Vet on Call: Want to buy healthy livestock? Read ‘the open book’ first

Friday July 21 2017
vet img

Amos Ondieki a farm labourer feeds some of their zero grazing cows in Kiganjo Village, Ol Kalou, Nyandarua County. Before purchasing livestock for rearing, it is wise to always research on their health status. PHOTO | JOHN GITHINJI | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Since I started writing this column in January this year, I have noted most livestock farmers in our country are interested in dairy cattle, pigs, chicken, sheep and goats.

In animal health and production parlance, we call the latter two “shoats”. My observation is informed by the number of questions I receive through e-mail, phone calls, text messages and in face to face discussions.

Issues concerning dairy cattle, chicken and pigs comprise the bulk of the questions.

In today’s article, I will address one recurring question to help farmers select fairly healthy animals at the time of buying.

The main theme of the question is “How do I select cattle, sheep or goats that do not have potentially dangerous internal issues that could cause problems later?”

One farmer from Bungoma who sought anonymity said he bought a Friesian cow from Uasin Gishu in May this year.


The cow died in the second week of June. His veterinary doctor did a post mortem examination and found a wire perforating the cow from stomach to the heart.

The doctor assessed that the wire had been in the stomach before the farmer bought the cow.

Last week I was called to examine a sheep at Runda.

The farmer had bought some five sheep from Githunguri in Kiambu apparently to work as ‘lawn mowers’ on his recently acquired one acre plot.

“Why should I spend money on a lawn mower when a few sheep can do the job and provide me with meat once in a while as I prepare to build my house?”

The farmer had responded when I asked him the reason for keeping the sheep.

The complaint on the sheep was that it was pregnant but appeared to have an unevenly enlarged stomach.

On examination, I felt the lamb in the uterus but there were some hard and other soft materials in the large stomach, otherwise called the rumen.


I diagnosed undesirable physical foreign material such as plastics or pieces of sisal fibre in the rumen. In addition to the enlarged uneven stomach, the sheep was not eating well and was losing weight.

All other parameters were normal.

I gave antibiotics to prevent bacterial infection and vitamin to stimulate appetite.
The sheep died the following day. I extracted about seven kilos of plastic papers from the sheep’s stomach. Some of the papers had been there for long and had formed hard stone-like objects.

The farmer wondered whether he could have been able to detect the problem before buying the sheep. “I wasted my money,” he lamented.

I mentally noted lawn mowers never eat papers; I would always trust one from the shop to cut my grass.

During the course of my veterinary work, I have also found cases of cattle and shoats that had been bought while very healthy but some suddenly died while others wasted over time and died.

In most of the cases, I found large fluid-filled balls, medically called cysts, in the liver, heart or the lungs.

In two cases where the cows had died suddenly, I found the cysts had caused the rupture of a major blood vessel in the liver in one cow and the other one in the lungs.

The sudden death was due to rapid excessive loss of blood that medically we call acute haemorrhage.

The cysts I observed in the cows are caused by a parasite known as a hydatid worm. Its scientific name is Echinococcus.

The cysts form over a long period of time and do not cause apparent problems unless they interfere with the normal function of body organs.

When the cyst size gets too large, an animal may lose weight over time. Rupture of the cyst may cause allergic reaction and tissue destruction that can kill the animal.

The worm develops between the cow or shoats and the dog or cat. Cattle and shoats are infected when they consume materials contaminated with dog or cat faeces from dogs or cats carrying the hydatid worm.


So, how can farmers buying cattle and shoats avoid animals with potentially fatal internal problems? The ideal solution is to have all animals one intends to buy examined by a veterinary doctor and issued with a health certificate.

“No doctor, that is too expensive for me.” This is the answer I get from most farmers when I give the advice.
I fully understand the farmers’ perspective. You see, the veterinary doctor may examine several animals before she gets one she certifies to the farmer as healthy and recommends the farmer to buy.

Nonetheless, the farmer still has to pay for each animal examined whether it passes the health test or not because the doctor has done her work.
Farmers can lower the cost of the doctor’s services and the risk of buying animals with potentially dangerous internal problems by taking a lead on the search for good sources of animals.

My advice to farmers looking for animals to buy is “Read the open book presented to you before you buy those cows and shoats.”

The open book is the environment in which the animals are kept, the way the animals are managed and the way other animals interacting with the cattle and shoats on the farm are managed.

Be very cautious with cattle and shoats kept on farms near shopping centres or farms littered with papers, cloth materials and sisal or plastic sacks.

They are likely to have undesirable foreign materials in the rumen. Cows, for instance, like chewing on materials containing soap or salt.

That is why they will eat clothes on a drying line or plastic papers that had wrapped cooked food. They will also eat empty fertiliser bags among other materials.


Avoid animals from farms that are littered with many loose wires or metal wastes. These objects are likely to find their way into the animals’ stomachs.

If you find a zero grazing unit that is falling apart, you should avoid cattle from there; they could already have swallowed nails.

If a farm does not have a deworming programme for cattle and shoats, you should rule out purchasing animals from there.

Cattle and shoats should be dewormed once every three months with a drug or drug combination that kills all the three types of worms; namely the roundworms, tapeworms and flatworms. The hydatid is a tapeworm.

If dogs and cats are resident on a farm you are sourcing animals from, confirm that the farm also deworms them on the same programme with cattle and shoats with medication that kills all the three types of worms.

Avoid farms near areas with slaughterhouses. Dogs and cats in such areas tend to be fed slaughterhouse meat waste that may contain hydatid cysts.

Stray dogs and cats may contaminate the pastures in the area with hydatid worm eggs that are then picked up by the cattle and shoats.

Always source your animals from a farm that has a perimeter security fence that ensures that the animals are confined to their farm, otherwise you would never know what they get exposed to.

Finally, get expert information on how to select good cattle and shoats.

Once you are satisfied the cows may be good and are coming from a good farm environment, you can bring in your veterinary doctor to examine animals for you.

Under such circumstances, you may only pay the doctor once.