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Mistakes that could ruin your livestock business

By Dr Othieno Joseph

Dear daktari,

I recently lost my valued animal after it fell in a ditch and broke its foreleg; I quickly called my vet with the hope of getting it fixed. Sadly, the vet said there wasn’t much to do to get it back to its fours. He suggested I immediately sell it off; I did that at a throwaway price which was painful. I still have four other animals and I wouldn’t want to go through such an experience in the future. Kindly advise.

Julius Mbuvi,

Tala

Fractures are a common condition in farming. In small stock like goats, sheep and young calves, fractures of hind and forelimbs can be fixed using splints or plaster. However, in adult cows, the prognosis of fractures is in most instances grave. Meaning that once an adult animal gets a fracture, culling is almost the only option. The enormous weight of adult animals presents a challenge when it comes to immobilisation of the affected limb. This makes the animal recumbent; unable to feed and predisposed to sores and wounds and subsequently secondary infections and sometimes bloats which can be fatal if not managed effectively and timely. Fractures are therefore best prevented than cured. It must be noted that slight fractures can be managed nonetheless, temporary stabilisation of fractures in cows is aided by the fact that they spend most of the time laying down. Fractures are common in young stock during assisted birth or mishandling, crowding and fights too can result in fractures. In herds, calves can be trampled by the older animals.

The decision on whether to intervene or not is determined by the type of the fracture, its location and the genetic value of the animal and the cost of treatment. Animals within a withdrawal period may be supported till the period lapses then sold for slaughter only if the fracture is closed. Open fractures result in open wounds which may lead to condemnation of meat.  So how do we prevent fractures on the farm?

Safe environment

As Mbuvi rightly noted, his cow fell into a ditch; the question is, was there anything he should have done to avoid this? The answer is certainly yes; farmers need to create a safe environment for their animals. Cows don’t have very sharp eyesight and can easily fall into open ditches or stumble on objects. Uncovered holes pose a great risk to free-ranging animals.

Tethering of animals in areas where there are stones or tree stumps can expose animals to stumbling and falling and fracture. Tethered animals need to be checked regularly to avoid strangulation even when the rope used is long. Separate calves from other animals to reduce the chances of being trampled upon by adult animals.

Mechanical injuries can result in fractures. Poorly designed and maintained animal houses can, for example, cause trapping of toes resulting in injuries to hooves or sliding and falling. Cows on smooth floors can easily fall and fracture their limbs.

Right nutrition

Calcium, phosphorous and Vitamin A and D are essential for bone integrity. Deficiency of these minerals will result in weak and fragile bones that can easily fracture. Mishandling of animals on the farm can also result in fractures.

The unfortunate thing with fractures is that you will have to sell the animal at a throw-away price due to the injury which traders capitalise on to quote lower prices. A reason why you need to work hard to keep fractures at bay.

[Dr Othieno was the Vet of the Year Award winner in 2006 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council. He can be reached on [email protected]]     

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