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Herd health management and prevention of infectious diseases

Herd health management is a management tool for the farming community with which the health and fertility of a herd are analysed and prevention of problems planned together with a veterinarian.

The control of various health problems can be built into a quality assurance system on a farm.

Infectious diseases are of great importance in herd health management. The aim is to prevent them from entering a farm or eradicating and managing the diseases.

The frequency of herd health visits by the vet varies from four to 12 per year, depending on the issue to be addressed. It is recommended that there be at least a quarterly visit per farm.

Frequent visits are often meant for handling active fertility or dehorning cows and other routine healthcare issues.

Quarterly visits are for analysing the health and productivity of the herd.

A written plan is then made concerning the improvements that should be implemented in the following year. Some planning is also meant for improvements to be made later, especially the more expensive input regarding renovation of pens, housing, or building a new housing structure for calves, cows or young stock.

For prevention of infectious diseases critical consideration include:

Purchase and sale of animals

A ‘closed herd’ is preferred, which means that no new animals are introduced from outside the herd. The replacements are raised on the farm. However, some farmers may want to buy new animals, some for breeding purposes, some to increase the number of animals fast, and some because the animals are culled too fast.

Such animals should be purchased from establishments that are relatively ‘disease free’. For breeding purposes use of Artificial Insemination (AI) is encouraged as it introduces superior genetics while limiting the potential spread of disease.

Feed Hygiene

Farmers are encouraged to buy animal feed only from licensed companies that have a controlled quality assurance system for the feed production, which means that feed are free from infectious organisms.

Visitors on the farm

Professionals (veterinarians, AI technicians, slaughter house personnel) visiting farms are a major risk in transferring infectious diseases from farm to farm. Professionals should always use the protective clothing made available on most farms or have washed and disinfected boots and coat with them. Non-professional visitors are discouraged from accessing the farm.

Farmers who have visited other farms should not go into their own farms for at least 48 hours as this is another mode of carrying diseases from another farm into yours.

Other animals in the cow shed

Chicken and pigs are forbidden in dairy cattle housing. Keeping other animals in the same pen and/ or housing is discouraged. Rodents, wild birds, poultry, and flies should be kept at a minimum from the dairy environment as these are known disease vectors.

Lowering of infection pressure and breaking the infection chain

To lower the infection pressure and/ or break the infection chain, keep the housing and animals clean and maintain high hygiene standards. The ventilation should also be working efficiently in the units.

The density of the animals should be kept at a reasonable level as overcrowding stresses the animals, compromising their immunity hence pre-disposing them to disease and encouraging rapid multiplication and spread of infective organisms.

Improving the immunity of the animals

Provision of good, well ventilated, properly stocked, stress free environment with balanced diets all ensure an effective immune system for the herd.

Vaccinations are also critical in disease prevention and the attending vet should to develop a vaccination regime for the farm based on the endemic and economically important diseases in the locality.

Record keeping and herd health management

Records on daily milk production per cow, inseminations done and repeats if any, calving records, feed intake, vaccination, deworming, and illness in their animal should be updated as often as possible. Good records aid the vet in determining the possible causes of poor productivity and recommend appropriate interventions.

Attitude, motivation and cooperation

Farmers are encouraged to get the right attitude towards prevention, eradication or management of infectious diseases. Some infectious diseases have an impact on human health, which can have serious and costly effects on families. The government, farmers and industry must cooperate to keep the infectious disease of animals under control.

This article has been adapted from the Animal Focus Magazine by The Kenya Veterinary Association.

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