I was impressed by the seriousness some farmers showed following the article on African swine fever (ASF) outbreak in China and South East Asia, which I penned last week.
A number of farmers called or e-mailed seeking to know more about the disease and how to protect their herds.
Let me reiterate that ASF has neither a cure nor a vaccine to control it. Secondly, the disease kills almost 100 per cent of the pigs infected.
Further, all pigs on an infected farm must be destroyed, properly disposed of and the farm closed for up to six months to execute an array of decontamination measures.
Some of the farmers who called said they had information that there was a vaccine for ASF and also that healthy pigs can be slaughtered for human consumption. That is fake information.
I have mentioned in this column before that I have made bitter enemies during the performance of my professional duties after choosing to report suspected ASF outbreaks to the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS). Once reported, the DVS must confirm the disease and implement drastic control measures as stipulated in his legal mandate.
One of the key responsibilities of the veterinary practice is to safeguard public health by ensuring that our activities contribute to production of safe foods of animal origin.
We also ascertain that livestock farming and animal keeping does not cause a public nuisance and strive to protect humans from being exposed to dangerous disease agents that only affect animals like the ASF virus.
If humans frequently get exposed to such agents or are bombarded with heavy exposure, the animal disease agents could become infective to humans, with devastating consequences.
That is one of the reasons why healthy-looking pigs on a farm with ASF outbreak are destroyed and not slaughtered for human or pet food use.
One of my callers, Grace, felt helpless when I confirmed to her the dire nature of ASF. She said she felt it would be a waste of time to do pig farming if all her investment could be wiped out even in the detection of just one piglet with ASF.
ONE MUST INVEST
My advice to all farmers is that farming is not exactly different from other businesses. One must invest in good understanding of the intricacies of any business they venture into.
The bane of Kenyan livestock farming is that we take the economic aspect very lightly. Pig farming is becoming quite popular, thanks to the many pork eateries springing up in towns. Kenyans appear to have discovered the sweetness of well-prepared pork, whether roast or fried.
Unfortunately, many people seeking a piece of the pork pie start pig farming with meagre knowledge of the business.
There are four main ways in which farmers can cushion themselves against diseases like ASF. These are hygiene, nutrition, vaccination and insurance in that order.
I recall one pig farmer asking me why I insist on the order. The answer is simple, logical and scientific. It is also based on operational considerations. Let us look at the cushion in reverse.
Insurance underwriters will only engage with farmers who have minimised the risk of losing animals. If the risk is there for all to see, the insurers will never even leave the office to assess the farm.
The farmer must, therefore, demonstrate that her pigs are always healthy, thriving and will only get sick for claims in unavoidable circumstances. This is because insurance only compensates for the face value of the specified loss.
Vaccination works best in animals that are healthy and thriving because the animal needs to build immunity from its nutritional and genetic resources.
An animal in a poor state of nutrition may fail to produce protective antibodies or just produce a quantity that is below the protection threshold.
Although ASF has no vaccine, there are a number of other diseases that pigs need to be vaccinated against to improve reproduction rates, enhance growth and survival to maturity.
Nutrition plays a key role in the profitability of a farm because well-nourished animals grow fast, reproduce efficiently, express their full genetic potential and are highly marketable. They also get sick less often as they are able to fight off many diseases and get protective immunity when vaccinated.
DILLIGENT VACCINATION PROGRAMME
Finally, good hygiene greatly reduces the chances of the pigs’ exposure to disease-causing agents. It, therefore, minimises risk of loss due to diseases by building effective barriers between the pigs and disease agents.
Hygiene goes hand-in-hand with biosecurity, which takes into account all measures that are implemented to prevent disease introduction and spread in an animal population.
Last week I visited a farm in Meru where the farmer reported recurrent urinary and reproductive tract infections in adult sows and boars.
This had resulted in some sow deaths, poor mothering and breeding difficulties. Piglets had also died due to poor milk production of the mothers. There were also recurrent scours or diarrhoea in piglets.
My major findings were that the about 2,500 pigs were housed and fed well but there was a big problem with pen hygiene.
The farrowing and breeding pens were particularly affected. Biosecurity on the farm was generally good except that there needed to be constructed disinfectant footbaths at the main entrance and the entry into the pig compound.
The major fault in hygiene was that in the farrowing and breeding pens, as well as some growing pens, the waste flowed from the first to the last pen on the line.
This meant that once one pen upstream was affected by a disease, pigs in all the pens downstream would also be exposed.
Further, the amount of waste especially water and urine increased as the flow volume built up downstream. Thus adult pigs were infected during mating, during farrowing and during pregnancy when the reproductive organs are most vulnerable to infection.
I treated the sick pigs and advised the farmer to redesign the waste flow so that there was no mixing of the waste from the various pens.
She would also put all her pigs on a diligent vaccination programme and insure them against unavoidable losses.