Farming issues: Managing lameness in a livestock herd

by Sunday News Online | Sunday, Dec 24, 2017 | 749 views

Communal cattle farmers

Mhlupheki Dube

THE rainy season is almost here or rather it was supposed to be on by now. This is the happiest time for farmers, be it crop production-based or livestock farmers.

However, this season also brings anguish to livestock farmers as it brings along an increase in the prevalence of diseases and disease causing organisms.

This means farmers have to adjust and be up to speed on what needs to be done to contain or mitigate on different kinds of diseases and pests that will be affecting their animals. It is the time when there is an increase of biting insects which invariably leads to proliferation of diseases such as lumpy skin disease. We also get an increase in the tick population and types exposing our animals to the dangerous tick borne diseases such as heart water, red water and others. In that regard this pen wishes to remind and encourage farmers to adopt a robust and responsive management style which seeks to address or mitigate against these situations.

One condition which becomes a common problem during the rainy season among livestock farmers is lameness. Lameness is observed as animals struggle to walk and they show particular signs of a ginger gait. Lameness arises from a number of different causative factors such as foot rot which is very prevalent in wet and moist conditions of the muddy kraals. Lameness can also be due to physical injuries especially in draught power animals exposed to strenuous activities during this season. It is important to note that lameness causes stress, which debilitates and reduces productivity in animals. The financial impact of lameness includes losses from decreased milk production especially for dairy cows, cost of treatment, prolonged calving interval, and possibly nursing labour.

It is also important to note that severe lameness which requires antibiotic therapy is also costly not only in terms of the drugs but also the cost of discarded milk during the withdrawal period. Cows that are lame before breeding have a reduced ability to conceive, and cystic ovaries are much more common in lame cows. Lame cows are less aggressive in their struggle for feed and are more likely to die early or be culled. Non-infectious lameness which is usually caused by an uncomfortable condition in the kraal can be seen by observing cows in the kraal. If there are more animals standing compared to lying down it could be an indication that it is uncomfortable to lie down due to physical objects and these can cause lameness in your herd if not attended to. Therefore farmers should take a deliberate interest in observing the herd so that if there is a need to rectify conditions that predispose animals to lameness, it can be done timely.

Related to lameness farmers should also be on the lookout for physical injuries inflicted by temperamental stockmen. It is very common to find boys or young men that are looking after your animals carrying assault objects that they use on your animals. These may look harmless or be dismissed as a common practice or trend among stockmen but I have had to attend to a lot of cases where farmers have animals with broken limbs from suspected assault by such objects. In most cases the truth is never revealed and the farmer is given a story about the animal being injured in a fight or falling into some ditch somewhere resulting in the fracture. However, if you investigate further you will unravel the events leading to the injury and many a times it is because the animal was beaten using such objects as a knobkerrie.

The usual areas which should help you suspect that your animal was hit with such objects is when you have a broken horn, swollen knee joints or swollen ribs. It is important as a livestock farmer to be strict on how your employees handle your animals because you may incur costs in treating wounded animals or you may lose an animal altogether due to a temperamental stockman. An unexplained increase in injuries and lameness in your herd should trigger suspicion around animal handling procedures and an investigation should ensue.

Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo and he wishes you a joyous Christmas and a fruitful 2018.

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