Farmers urged to update animal health programmes for winter

Now is the time for livestock farmers to sit down with their veterinarians to update their animal health and biosecurity programmes in preparation for winter, Dr Faffa Malan warned in a letter accompanying the latest animal disease report of the Ruminant Veterinary Association of South Africa (RuVASA).

Farmers urged to update animal health programmes for winter
Downscale herd numbers now to ensure you have sufficient feed in winter.
Photo: Glenneis Kriel
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Malan, the managing director of RuVASA, advised farmers and their veterinarians to look at RuVASA’s historical maps to identify major threats that emerged in their areas in past winters.

He told Farmer’s Weekly telephonically that he was especially concerned over the availability of food in areas in the summer rainfall area that did not receive sufficient precipitation.

READ Poor quality silage threatens animal health

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Farmers who were planning on feeding their cattle chicken litter, he said, should vaccinate cattle against botulism at least twice, but up to three times, every three weeks, if a lot of chicken litter will be fed. The cattle should also receive supplements to prevent the development of mineral imbalances.

Malan recounted that a farmer from Pongola lost more than 1 000 cattle one year because he only vaccinated his cattle once while feeding them chicken manure.

Legally, only sterilised chicken litter may be used as animal feed in South Africa, and the litter should be stored in a dry place to prevent it from becoming mouldy. Chicken litter should only be given to mature beef cattle on extensive pastures, and intake should be limited to 1kg to 2kg per day per animal.

The best way, according to Malan, to limit intake, is to mix salt at a ratio of 10% to 15% into the chicken litter.

Farmers should also look out for metabolic diseases this winter. According to the latest RuVASA report, which covered March, acidosis and ketosis were reported in all the provinces except the Northern and Eastern Cape.

“Make sure you adapt animals to feed containing concentrates, as more and more cases of acidosis are reported when grazing animals on harvested maize fields. Overeating of soya also leads to alkalosis,” Malan said.

READ Animal health: putting together a first-aid kit for livestock

Mineral imbalances are another major threat. “Supplement animals with vitamin A and zinc in winter and during drought conditions, and beware of fluoride poisoning as borehole water levels drop. Antagonists such as calcium, iron and sulphur in water might also hamper the uptake of micro-minerals,” Malan said.

All four- to eight-month-old heifers should also now be vaccinated against brucellosis – strains 19 and RB 51.

Tick-transmitted diseases, such as African redwater, Asiatic redwater, anaplasmosis and heartwater were rife in March. “African and Asiatic blue ticks can transmit redwater, anaplasmosis and lumpy skin disease. Assess the blue tick resistance status on your farm before buying tickicides,” Malan said.

Wireworm, specifically, was reported in all nine provinces in March, so Malan advised farmers to identify animals that have wireworm, separate them from the rest of the flock and treat them to prevent the worms from affecting their health and to prevent large infestations when the summer rainfall season starts again.

READ An animal health plan for the year from Dr Faffa Malan

Bulls should also be tested for venereal diseases, such as trichomoniasis and vibriosis. These diseases were reported in all provinces expect Gauteng, Limpopo, the Western Cape and Northern Cape, with vibriosis also absent in Mpumalanga.

“Ensure new bulls are disease-free before they are introduced into the rest of the herd, and that fences and gates are in good order to prevent bulls from escaping to neighbouring cows that might carry the disease. It is difficult to detect vibriosis and trichomoniasis, so farmers should routinely test for the presence of these diseases,” Malan advised.

He said that biosecurity remained one of the biggest challenges in the country: “Preventing animals from getting into contact with diseases is much cheaper than having to treat a disease. But, it is evident from the disease reports that we are failing dismally in our biosecurity efforts.”

He said that biosecurity has become like a “buzzword” preached at many farmers’ days, on TV, in agricultural media and during conversations at many meetings.

Despite this, many farmers who are serious about the health status of their animals are surrounded by herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats on farms that carry diseases such as brucellosis, trichomoniasis and sheep scab, and water sources that are polluted with cryptosporidiosis and E. coli.

“Surely we deserve better, but then every single person has to be serious in keeping the animal production chain healthy and intact,” he said.