Ensuring animal health in the face of drought

Livestock take water from troughs at a rehabilitated Kaliwa Kasyungemi earth dam, located Mumoni area of Kaliwa Sub Location, Mwingi North Sub County and Kitui County [Nanjinia Wamuswa, Standard]

As the drought continues to bite what precautions should I take? This is a question I have received from three readers in the recent past.

Drought comes with reduced animal feeds, putting some level of stress on the animal and subsequently lowering its immunity. It is worse if they have been weaned, are pregnant or lactating as this adds to stress levels.

Abnormal eating behavior

With reduced feeds, livestock can quickly adopt abnormal feeding behaviour (PICA); this comes with negative health consequences. Due to being close to the ground feeding animals can ingest a good measure of sand and dirt and can easily cause impaction which if not treated will cause death.

During drought, poisoning is very common as most plants that remain green are likely to be poisonous to livestock.

Other things that animals can eat include bones, which can cause a deadly disease called anthrax. Animals can also ingest polythene papers.

Farmers need to be on the lookout for these abnormal behaviours and if they are being predisposed by their presence find a way of removing them from the environment.

Special supplementation should be considered for the weaned, pregnant and lactating herds.

Farm accidents

In my practice, I have observed an increase in fractures during dry seasons. Part of the reason is the struggle for less feed and water. Those kept in the ranches are also exposed to sharp shrubs and tree stumps otherwise normally covered by vegetation.

To reduce farm accidents ensure the environment is safe for the animal by removing any objects that can cause accidents. Have more watering points and feeding points to reduce fights.

Infectious diseases and parasite infestation

Drought has the effect of concentrating parasites at grazing and watering sites. The parasite population may inversely increase and hence more disease transmission is further worsened by crowding of animals, poor nutrition and reduced immunity.

Any disease outbreaks in drought conditions will have high mortality. Disease outbreaks can be reduced through vector control, strategic vaccinations and deworming.

Early destocking

This is always a difficult decision to make. Reduced feeding means reduced production. Maintaining nutrition requires the injection of more cash, which eats into your profits. This may not be sustainable especially when the drought is prolonged and you are relying on purchased feeds and especially if you have a large number of animals. It is better to reduce the number by culling when the body condition is good to fetch some good market price.

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