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Vet on call: To take good care of your animals, act like a parent

Saturday July 20 2019

A livestock handler feeds goats at the Egerton University stand during the Nakuru ASK Show.

A livestock handler feeds goats at the Egerton University stand during the Nakuru ASK Show. To make good judgments as a livestock farmer, you should know the basic things about animals, such as the normal vital parameters including temperature, breathing rate per minute and normal chest and abdominal movements. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NMG 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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A farmer should be like a parent, frantic with the first baby but very confident with the followers. During the first year of getting our second baby, I would kill time when at the children’s hospital waiting room by playing a mental game to identify first-time parents.

Using my professional observation skills, I would mentally pick my candidates and then engage them in diplomatic parental talk.

In most cases, I would get it right. I recall one young father who told me his wife had gone to work but when he went to pick up the baby two hours later, it had failed to respond, was limp and looked like it had passed out.

He decided to rush it to the hospital before it got worse. At the time of our discussion, the baby was up and alert. I assured him the baby would be fine but I knew from his description, he had just experienced a normal baby occurrence.

The incident reminded me of a first-time pig farmer who called me and said her piglets had collapsed and were not responding to touch even when lifted up. Another one called me about a cow and was wondering if it had a twin pregnancy.

She had noticed the animal was having foetal movements on both sides of the abdomen. I explained movements on the right were foetal but on the left was the rumen.

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The rumen movements are always there and they occur in the triangular depression marked by the hip bone prominence, spine and last rib. Anatomically, we call it the para lumbar fossa.

For the baby pigs, they can have very deep sleep in their early lives that when you pick them up, they just continue sleeping. It also happens with puppies and kittens.

I am motivated to write this article because most farmers keep telling me that though they are not experts in animal health and production, they want to be able to question their service providers and diagnose diseases.

KNOWLEDGEABLE ON ANIMAL HEALTH

The issue arose again from my article two weeks ago where I reiterated that farmers should be knowledgeable about animal diseases and decide when to seek alternative advice.

In my articles of March 11, 2017 and August 18, 2017, I explained how a farmer can assess the work of their vet and how to tell a good an animal health service provider from quacks.

The articles are available online. A number of farmers have since called me and confirmed they had identified fake service providers.

I have also encountered farmers who have since insisted on having written records of the interventions executed on their animals.

So then, how does a farmer become knowledgeable on animal health and production without being seen to be seeking to become an expert? I go back to the parenting analogy.

Parents rear their first child with lots of scares, near misses and real incidents that require medical intervention. By the time they get their last child, they may even be excused if they looked like they were neglecting the baby in some cases.

Farmers should get a lot of expert advice and knowledge before delving into their venture. They should also keep building their knowledge and farming expertise through continuing learning individually, in groups and also training by experts.

A farmer should also learn to document and keep using what works best for them because of the difference in performance of their ventures brought about by type of animals, type of farming, climatic conditions and availability of inputs.

Cattle farmers around breweries, for instance, have access to brewer’s yeast and they may acquire it to supplement their feed. Those near milk factories may have access to milk products that they can buy to feed their pigs.

In my experience, the main challenge farmers have is to be able to engage their service providers because of the difference in expert knowledge.

A professional service provider should always be patient with the farmer’s knowledge and opinion, then correct erroneous positions and reinforce the correct aspects.

As experts, we also learn from farmers because they have experiences that we have not encountered.

SEEK SECOND OPINION

Farmers all over the world contribute to new knowledge because they may observe occurrences that are not scientifically documented.

Once they share, scientific research is done and new knowledge is documented. Most farmers find it difficult to determine if the animal is responding well to an intervention and whether they should seek second opinion from a different service provider.

A farmer should never be in such a dilemma. You have the right to seek a second opinion.

In fact, when you express your dissatisfaction with a service provider, she should accept and offer you reference for a second opinion from an expert with superior knowledge and expertise.

If she does not give the offer, then you should just go ahead, look for another service provider and still be able to work with the first one in future. In short, no one has monopoly of knowledge.

To make good judgments as a farmer, you should know the basic things about animals. Understand the normal vital parameters including temperature, breathing rate per minute and normal chest and abdominal movements.

Farmers should know the normal coat colour and form in different animals and the changes that indicate ill health or inadequate nutrition.

You should also know the normal consistency and colour of body excretions such as faeces, urine, saliva and mucous.

Further, it is important to know the breeding and production behaviour of your animals.

Finally, always ensure that service providers gives you a detailed programme on how to monitor and assess favourable response to the intervention they execute on your animal.

They should also give you the expected duration of recovery. In addition, the service provider should tell you whether there would be need for reviews or follow-up treatment.