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That Difficult Decision for a Farmer –"Getting Rid of a Dairy Animal"

By Dr Othieno Joseph | Updated Sat, February 18th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3
A vet in action checking up a calf in Nakuru PHOTO: BONIFACE THUKU

There comes a time when a farmer has to get rid of an otherwise productive dairy animal. It is a difficult decision but there are health conditions that dictate you get rid of a dairy animal through safe disposal or at a throw away price.

This is the situation I found myself in last month. Mama Shiro; a small scale dairy farmer at Ololua village in Ngong is one of my clients. She called to inform me that one of her two Friesian cows had fallen in a ditch. They pulled it out but it was unable to stand up.

I rushed to her place and found the animal recumbent and writhing in pain. The pain seemed to be emanating from the front left limb which was folded inwards. On palpation the cow had fractures its radius and ulna bones, it was a complete fracture and part of the bone had pierced through the skin. It was almost impossible for the cow to stand without support. Njoroge; Mama Shiro’s son was constructing a house and had dung out a foundation sometimes ago. The foundation was left open and the two Friesian animals had been grazing freely within the homestead. From her narration, a stray dog emerged and started chasing the animals.

A neighbour heard the commotion and came to the rescue of the cows but unfortunately when he arrived the cow had already fallen and got stuck in the foundation, in the process fracturing its forelimb.

Fractures have a poor prognosis; that is their chances of healing are minimal especially in adult animals. This is worsened in heavy breeds like Friesians or when the animal is pregnant. But in young animals under one year old fractures involving bones and not joints can be corrected.

Walking space

For mama Shiro’s case, the only option was to cull the animal by selling it to the butcher men who sadly normally exploit such desperate farmers by offering poor prices. She was lucky to get a good offer from a butcher.

Fractures can be prevented through proper farm design and good animal husbandry. If animals are kept under zero grazing ensure there is ample walking space for the animal to turn around easily.

If animals are tethered ensure the rope is long enough and there are no tree stumps of other objects that can cause strangling, as this can cause fractures when the animal struggles to get free. Closely related to this is hygiene or cleanliness; dirty stables are likely to attract irritant flies that can result in running and thus injuries.

Poor nutrition and especially diets poor in calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D will result in weak bones that can easily fracture. Sources of dietary calcium and phosphorus include forage, sorghum and Sudan hay and silage are rich phosphorus sources. However the content is determined by mineral properties of the soil, level and type of fertiliser applied and stage at which they are harvested. Lameness is the main clinical symptom a farmer will observe; the degree will depend on the extent of the traumatic injury. For fractures prevention seems to be the only option in adult cows.

(The writer is a veterinary surgeon working with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiaisis Eradication Council –KENTTEC)