Diagnosis and treatment of the main livestock diseases

While there are numerous illnesses that can affect livestock and animals such as chickens and pigs, in this article, Shane Brody concentrates on sheep, cattle and goats.

Diagnosis and treatment of the main livestock diseases
It’s important to research livestock diseases as much as possible
Photo: FW Archive
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Diagnosing illness in livestock is by no means a ‘perfect science’; as many illnesses have similar or even overlapping symptoms.

You can only be completely certain of a viral or bacterial problem if you have taken an animal that recently died to a vet for a necropsy; the earlier you take such a dead animal for a post-mortum, the better.

Generally, a necropsy is pretty good at helping to decipher what the problem is, and the vet will be in a position to advise you on how to treat other animals with similar symptoms.

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One of the biggest dangers for livestock farmers is a highly infectious disease outbreak with high mortality rates that spreads rapidly throughout the flock/herd.

Thus, if more than one or two animals shows disease symptoms, and have died, a necropsy is crucial.

Process of elimination
It’s also important to know livestock diseases are spread in certain ways. This may help you to use a process of elimination to diagnose a certain illness. Importantly, parasites like ticks are known to cause common diseases such as heartwater and redwater.

If you notice severe tick infestation on your livestock, one of these diseases may be the culprit.

Fortunately, if you catch these diseases in the early stages, oxytetracycline antibiotics are
effective in treating heartwater while antiparasitic drugs like Dizene Cattle are good for treating redwater.

Cattle may be infected by two tick-borne diseases such as redwater and gallsickness; here you would use both of the aforementioned drugs.

Direct contact is the main way in which livestock diseases are transmitted. So if, for example, you kraal your animals nightly or over weekends, this should be another factor to consider when trying to ascertain a problem.

If you note numerous animals coughing or with respiratory distress, and they are tightly kraaled on a regular basis, then you may need to consider one of the infectious livestock respiratory diseases such as bovine parainfluenza virus (PI-3) that affect cattle, or one of the other respiratory infections that also affect livestock such as sheep and goats.

Not only is it wise to inoculate livestock with vaccines effective in preventing the main livestock diseases, such as pulpy kidney (sheep and goats) and anthrax, but having the vaccination done properly as per the manufacturer ‘s advice. This allows you some leeway in eliminating these diseases when illness is seen.

There are many other factors you need to consider when attempting to diagnose a disease, and these may include the time of year when vectors such as mosquitoes (causing illnesses like blue ongue in sheep) are prevalent, animal health protocols such as drench dosing against internal parasites that you may be neglecting, livestock being kept on poor rangelands where important nutrient shortages may be a health factor, and issues such as cuts and sores on livestock that may lead to secondary bacterial infections.

As a conscientious farmer, it is vitally important that you research prevalent livestock diseases as much as possible and become knowledgeable on what the various symptoms of certain diseases are.

Not only is the Internet full of reliable advice sites, but many farmer supply stores have advice booklets produced by veterinary companies in order to help farmers to better understand livestock diseases.

Administer drugs properly
Understand which manufacturer drugs are used to treat which illnesses. It is important to administer these drugs properly.

Remember, a ‘holistic’ approach to farming, performing regular preventative healthcare regimens like vaccination, dipping and dosing, and ensuring optimum nutrition, cleanliness, water supply and proper grazing management should be considered.

Finally, if you are uncertain of a particular livestock illness, rather ask for advice, because administering the incorrect drugs can be dangerous.

Generally, however, the oxytetracycline group of drugs are relatively safe, and if you are unsure of a certain illness, using these drugs as a first response is prudent.

Remember too that not every listless or weak animal denotes a disease, and this could rather be indicative of poor nutrition or lack of water.

Shane Brody is involved in an outreach programme aimed at transferring skills to communal farmers.