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Vet on call: Trouble with running a mixed livestock farm

Monday June 29 2020
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Bishop Kamuri Muya with livestock that he rears on his farm in Elburgon, Nakuru County. He keeps a variety of livestock while growing different crops on his two-acres of land. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA

The call came last week and the caller said he wanted me to visit his mixed livestock farm in Ruiru and find out what was ailing his animals.

He was a first-time potential customer. Such calls are quite tricky because I have to positively identify the person as a genuine farmer.

He offered to come and pick me from my office but we later agreed to meet at his area’s chief’s office.

On the farm, Kimani – the caller – told me he had been keeping dairy cattle, pigs and mixed-breed goats and sheep. He also had layer chickens, free-range indigenous chickens and a few geese.

He had stopped keeping the layers for a while due to disease outbreaks. The free-range chickens appeared immune to diseases but they were only a handful.

Only about 10 pigs remained on the farm as he had sold all the others about a month earlier when, they were struck by a debilitating muscular disease.

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They would show leg weakness and then fail to stand. An animal health service provider had diagnosed tendinitis of unknown cause.

The farm had about 200 pigs before the disease struck. Almost all the cattle were limping and milk production had plummeted from 100 litres per day to about 40.

Some animals had swollen legs. The same service provider had diagnosed the animals had lumpy skin disease. He had treated for the problem symptomatically. Lumpy skin disease is a viral infection with no specific treatment.

I got all the farm’s history inside the main gate before commencing my investigation. I noted the farm had a good perimeter fence, internal partitions and a disinfectant footbath at the main gate.

There was also a hand-wash and hand sanitiser station next to the footbath. Kimani and his workers also had their facemasks on.

The signature Kerol disinfectant smell permeated the air like a noxious perfume. It is a very effective disinfectant used for infection prevention and control in many different situations.

Kimani’s brief gave me the impression of a farmer who wanted to keep every type of animal but had not invested a lot in understanding the principles of productive livestock farming.

A RECOMMENDED PRACTICE

You see, the farm stood on about half-an-acre but it had six different types of livestock – most in small numbers. I deferred the question on the objective of the farm.

I commended Kimani for his understanding of biosecurity and moved to examine a bull that still had swollen legs. It had been isolated from the others – a recommended practice.

I observed it had a good appetite; the lower legs were swollen but had no ulcers. The animal was moving normally. The precrural lymph nodes, which lie above the knee-old, were swollen.

There were a few minute areas of raised skin where the hairs stood out. I palpated the skin in the areas and picked pinhead-sized scabs. All other parameters were normal and the bull looked alert.

I confirmed the animal had mild lumpy skin disease and had been treated properly. The disease presents in the manner observed when the animal has high residual immunity from previous exposure or vaccination.

I advised Kimani to vaccinate his animals once a year against the disease in future. The bull would likely recover without further treatment.

I observed the empty grower pig houses needed to be redesigned before restocking. The waste water channel was an open one and it ran through several pig pens. The channels should be relocated outside the pig pens to avoid cross-infections.

I observed there were no foot baths between the animal houses. Good biosecurity requires that all entrances into the various animal houses be fitted with disinfectant foot baths to sanitise footwear and prevent transmission of infections between the animal houses.

Kimani said the layers that died had orange-brown droppings, sometimes with blood drops. He decided to sell the surviving birds for slaughter, fearing all would die.

From the description, his birds had coccidiosis. Most likely they had recurrent infections because of mixing with the free-range birds.

In future, they should be separated. In fact, free-range birds should not be in close proximity with confined high performance birds such as layers or broilers.

TRIMMED THE HOOVES

The sheep and goats looked okay and were well-housed. The problem was they were very mixed breeds and did not appear to have a specified purpose. “We just keep them,” Kimani explained.

My advice was to define a purpose for keeping the animals. I suggested he keeps purely meat sheep and goats since he could easily sell them for ceremonial purposes.

The surviving pigs were well-housed but two had mange, caused by mites. An adult sow had bacterial infection on the ears, causing persistent wounds despite treatment.

I noted the drug being used was ineffective for the wounds and gave two different antibiotics to the sow. I also gave injections for the mite infestations.

Finally, I instructed Kimani to wash the pigs once per week with a chemical that kills ticks, fleas, mites and flies. The pigs have since recovered.

Almost all the cows had a big limping problem and had cracked hooves. Some had tunnels in their soles with new hoof growing under the old ones.

I confirmed with Kimani the cows had foot and mouth disease (FMD) earlier in the year. The limping was due to residual effects of the FMD attack.

I trimmed the hooves and gave an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory injections to one very affected bull. Other animals would have their feet dipped in 10 per cent formalin twice daily for three days. I would provide the farm with routine vaccination and treatment schedules for all the animals.

By the time I finished the investigation, Kimani had already made up his mind to keep the dairy cows, meat sheep and goats and the pigs because he had ready market for meat and milk.

I could, however, not determine what had affected the sold-out pigs because none of the remaining ones showed similar signs.

Furthermore, the animal health service provider had not left detailed signs and description of the disease.

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