Drought-related grazing shortages take toll on animals

Drought-related issues dominated this month’s Ruminant Veterinary Association of South Africa (RuVASA) disease report.

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Dr Johan Jooste, veterinary consultant in Delmas, reported that conception percentages of beef cattle in his region were on average about 60% due to the poor conditions of cows. “Conception is driven by nutrition. I fear there is going to be huge problems for the next calving season in large parts of the country due to the lack of food. Farmers should wean calves early to get cows in better condition.”

Nutritional deficiencies were reported in most provinces, except Gauteng, Limpopo and the Northern Cape. Dr Faffa Malan, manager of RuVASA, advised farmers to start planning for shortages now, as a lack of roughage would be a big challenge for many farmers until the next rainy season commences.

He added that the drought and lack of proper grazing would result in a rise in the number of animals suffering from mineral deficiencies. “Water and soil should therefore be analysed to determine whether there are antagonists such as calcium, iron and sulphur that could hamper the uptake of micronutrients, and nutritional deficiencies should be addressed as early as possible,” he said.

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An increase was reported in the number of animals affected by internal parasites, especially in areas where late rain fell, and Malan warned that animals were more susceptible to parasites when they were under stress or suffered from a lack of protein and energy. Farmers should therefore be vigilant about symptoms of internal parasites, such as anaemia, bottle jaw, weight loss, and diarrhoea. There was also an increase in tick numbers and tick-borne diseases, especially in areas where late rain fell.

It was noted that many of these diseases could have been prevented through the implementation of correct vaccination programmes. Malan appealed to farmers to develop an animal health management programme in conjunction with their vets, taking notifiable diseases and other threats into account. The programme should also be regularly updated as new risks become evident.

While some of the diseases were the result of farmers not vaccinating their animals, there were, however, also incidents of vaccinations failing. Malan said there were various reasons why vaccinations failed, such as administering the vaccine incorrectly, problems with the vaccine itself or problems with particular animals.

Animals in poor condition due to the drought, disease, worm infestations or dietary deficiencies, may also not develop sound immunity when vaccinated. In addition, the immune system of an immunised animal exposed to large numbers of disease-causing organisms may also become overwhelmed, resulting in the animal developing the disease and dying.

To read the full report and advice for this month go to http://ruvasa.vetlink.co.za/disease-reporting/