In my frequent interactions with livestock farmers, I have noted with concern that diseases remain the main source of costly expenditures in agribusinesses. Diseases can, however, be minimised through simple biosecurity measures which I will address today:
Research shows feed tops the list of farm inputs that has a high likelihood of bringing disease causing micro-organisms, pests and even weeds in farms. So what can be done about this? Ensure feed bought from commercial outlets is free of weeds or contamination. With a little sensitisation, farm hands can learn how to spot hay that is mixed with weeds. Mouldy feeds can be discerned by naked eyes. If commercially produced, you can check the expiry date. To be on the safe side, avoid getting pastures from roadsides or unclean farms for example where cases of foot and mouth have been reported. Also keep the feeds in a clean and dry environment and regularly inspect them. Clean the feeding troughs and sweep away any spills. Water is another source of pests and diseases. To be on the safe side, water sources for farm use should be secured from contamination.
Diseases in animals have an incubation period during which it can spread diseases to other animals. An animal can also be a carrier of the disease meaning it has the disease but it is not showing the clinical signs. With that in mind, always be vigilant to spot sick animals in early stages. Treating an individual animal is much cheaper than managing a disease in a herd. When you suspect an animal is sick, isolate it for about two weeks and call a vet to examine it before releasing it back to the herd.
Although this sounds obvious, most farmers do not know the importance of a good fence. You need a good fence that keeps away wild animals which can be carriers of diseases and pests. Protecting water and feed sources can act as a deterrence to entry of wild animals since they enter farms in search of water or feeds. Regularly check and mend broken fences.
Successful farmers have a habit of taking all visitors around the farm. Though noble, this is a risky habit because people can unintentionally carry disease causing micro-organisms and pests and bring into the farm. Off course there are necessary visitors like suppliers, vets and workers who must visit your farm. To be safe, design elements like have a footbath to decontaminate the shoes and wheels at the gate and have areas where such people can safely transact their business without coming into contact with the animals. Workers and vets must have an area where they remove their street clothes and wear farm gear.
Farm equipment and tools can carry or harbour diseases; especially when they are shared across animals. Regular cleaning, disinfecting and good storage will prevent contamination and minimise the risk of them acting as disease and pests vectors. Tractors and other vehicles must pass through a water bath where their wheels are disinfected.
As a responsible farmer, always invest in the training of your farm hand on biosecurity measures. Continuous education through attending short workshops or even providing reading materials to farm workers can go a long way in reducing disease incidences and subsequently farm costs.
Proper disposal of farm waste can reduce spread of diseases on the farm. Dispose of carcasses and waste in a segregated area, where possible, taking into account environmental and public considerations.
Prevention is always better than cure. There are many diseases which can be cost effectively prevented through vaccination. Do other routine activities like deworming, hoof trimming and keep elaborate health records of your herd.
[The writer is the vet of the year in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council]