The more I write about my experiences in delivery of livestock health and production services, the more I get questions on the benefits and risks of animal farming.
Some people argue that livestock farming is too risky to be profitable.
Others say there are few enduring livestock farmers in Kenya because investors get into the business, burn their fingers and bale out.
According to the proponents of this theory, there are always new inexperienced people getting into livestock farming.
Experience and evidence on livestock farming do not support the two naysayer groups.
Have you ever imagined what would happen if all livestock farmers in Kenya shifted their interest elsewhere?
Most people I have asked the question believe the vacuum in production of food of animal origin — milk, meat, eggs and the processed products — would soon be filled by new farmers.
That thinking is logical as a final outcome but livestock farming is a process that follows a slowly rising learning curve.
The truth is that if livestock keepers stopped their trade, Kenya would have to import foods of animal origin. The imports would be expensive and in short supply.
Fortunately, livestock farmers are unlikely to wake up one day and close shop for good.
The only thing we shall always see is farmers demanding better prices for their produce as they get more enlightened on the cost of livestock production and the distribution of income along the value chain.
I advise every farmer to invest heavily in his business where costs are recorded accurately; he understands what the consumer pays for produce and demands a fair component of the cash in the value chain.
For now, there is no percentage of the value chain cash that the farmer should get because prices are agreed on a willing-buyer-willing-seller basis.
However, as farmers become more knowledgeable and organised and researchers generate more data, a recommended percentage will eventually emerge.
The farmer should understand the risks involved and take necessary measures to prevent losses.
SELLING ANIMALS IS A PROCESS
Livestock and other living things are biological assets. They are subject to risks, including diseases, death, injuries, weight loss, theft and many more.
Two weeks ago, I narrated how I worked with a farmer to raise the offer price on his bulls from a best of Sh30,000 to Sh50,000.
To emphasise the risks inherent in biological assets, I share with you a client’s near miss when he had already secured a good deal.
Selling animals is a process, especially when the number involved is big. The buyer has to organise for a slaughterhouse slot, a “No Objection” permit from the destination county and a movement permit from the county of purchase.
In addition, the buyer must organise for suitable transport.
My client, Paul, could not sell his animals at once. The best buyer requested to get them in three lots.
Paul was also not immediately available on the farm to release the animals. It therefore took about five days for the first lot to leave the farm after sealing the sale deal.
On Wednesday last week, one of the major risks of biological assets visited Paul’s animals.
“Doctor, one of the bulls we sold has a lumpy skin disease but it has not been collected,” Paul’s farm manager, told me by phone.
The bull had an high temperature, reduced appetite and large nodules had erupted on the skin. Some hairs were standing.
I knew that was lumpy skin disease, a deadly ailment caused by one of the pox family viruses.
Fortunately, it does not affect humans. It is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes and flies.
The animals had not had their annual vaccination against the disease and their vaccination history beyond a year was unknown.
DILIGENT DISEASE PREVENTION MEASURES
I gave Paul his options.
Worst, he could stop the sale and observe the animals for seven days while taking precautions to prevent more infections.
Second, we could check the animals for infection by taking their temperature and look for anyone who could slaughter the healthy ones at once.
Third, he could shelf the selling of the animals and vaccinate them then wait for a month before selling them.
Finally, Paul could isolate the sick bull, monitor the others and keep washing them with an insecticide.
At the same time, he would monitor the temperature of the animals twice daily and sell those that had no signs of disease.
He isolated the apparently healthy animals and washed them twice per week with cypermethrin. The chemical kills flies, mosquitoes, ticks and fleas.
He also took the animals’ temperature twice daily until the buyer collected them all.
No other animal got infected and none showed a rise in temperature before being sold.
If you invest in biological assets, ensure you understand and execute diligent disease prevention. For cattle; anthrax, black quarter, foot and mouth and lumpy skin diseases are prevented by vaccination.
Finally, when disposing of biological assets, time is important. Diseases never understand that you need to sell your animals.
Do your sale within the shortest time possible and ask the buyer to remove them from your farm as soon as they have complied with sale terms.