I have some animals that I keep on my four acres of land. They graze freely around the land. But the drought had affected this forcing me to supplement with hay and sugarcane tops; which was costly and still production was not optimum. Luckily the rains are here, and I am happy that grass has sprouted. Now my animals have a lot of grass to feast on. Despite that abundance, I have noted that milk production is not optimal. I realised most of the animals have diarrhoea and late in the afternoon they get a lot of stomach distention (abnormally swollen outward).
[Josephat Makokha, Bukura, Kakamega County]
Thank you Makokha for the good question that is very timely. It is a transition time; animals are moving from a season of scarcity to plenty.
We thank God the rains are here. The bare ground that was covered by pricking remains of grasses is now replaced with lush green vegetation. Just like during the dry season, we had lots of cases of anthrax. some diseases come with the rains and resultant lush pastures.
Why Diarrhoea is common with rains?
Several factors come into play. The farmer has suffered months of buying feeds while the livestock on the other hand have been eating not to their fill as feed was scarce. Now boom; the grass is here and very appetizing and in plenty. So, if there is no restriction, they will eat lots of it and this is where the problem comes in. The animals are coming from a period of food scarcity into a period of abundance and the temptation to eat more is real.
Diarrhoea in livestock can be caused by cobalt, copper, selenium deficiency, acidosis which happens when a lot of grains are consumed. Lush green feeds are another cause.
When an animal is suffering from diarrhoea it certainly follows that milk production will go down. Why because the animals is sick and are losing a lot of fluids and mineral components that go into the secretion of milk.
At the onset of rains like it is happening now; lush pastures are the main cause of diarrhoea. Bloat and grass tetany are other problems to watch out for. Grass tetany is caused by lack of magnesium, and also comes about when animals are on lush pastures. Bloat is also common with young green grass as they produce many gases when being digested.
What can be done to control diarrhoea?
A controlled introduction to lush pastures is the remedy. Mixing hay in the diet of lush green pastures will help reduce diarrhoea. When you take these steps, you will direct your livestock back to the path of high milk production.
Rain season is a great time to deworm because the change in climatic conditions comes with high incidence of parasites.
[The writer is a veterinary surgeon and the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO]