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Taking care of livestock during a pandemic

Dear Daktari

Thank you for the article on how to take care of animals in times of crisis. I know we are headed into one if not already in one. My wife and I are primary school teachers so we are at home now that children aren’t in school. I am spending most of my time taking care of the animals but I am a bit worried. With the curfew and the 21-day lock down in some towns, what are farmers supposed to do in case of emergencies? 

Mwalimu Joash,

Vihiga County

Thank you Mwalimu Joash for reading Smart Harvest and for taking time to give us feedback. First and foremost may I dispel your fears about Veterinary Services availability during curfew. Yes, you are right that in the initial directive veterinary services were not listed among the essential services whose providers were not limited by the 7pm to 5 am curfew. The good news is that the Union of Veterinary Practitioners (UVPK) successfully lobbied for inclusion of veterinary services among the essential services. There is no need to fear therefore as your veterinary doctor is available 24 hours and their movement is not subject to the current curfew or any other containment measure that may be put in place in future. The listing of veterinary services as essential is to ensure the public has enough and safe food supply at all times. Healthy animals means better and safe products and hence a healthy public.

Your second question is on animal welfare. Well it is becoming a concern for veterinarians that animal welfare is threatened during this COVID19 pandemic. You have probably observed that a lot of emphasis is being put on human beings and forgetting animals that are sharing the same environment. The Chairman of the Kenya Veterinary Board – Dr Christopher Wanga in a paid advert in the papers last week noted that animal welfare should be observed strictly during the COVID19 pandemic.

He noted that people who have tested positive for COVID19 should not only be isolated from fellow humans but from also their livestock and pets. He advised that farmers wash their hands with soap and running water before and after handling animals. Although the virus has been isolated in a dog in Hong Kong and in New York City in a tiger; scientists have not raised any red flag on transmissions happening from these animals to man even as they called for precaution as more research is done.

Animal freedom is defined by the five freedoms namely:- freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and diseases, freedom to express normal behaviour and lastly freedom from fear and distress. These freedoms can easily be lost in times of crisis such as COVID-19 and it is essential for farmers to plan ahead so as to safeguard these freedoms.

How do you as a farmer measure animal welfare? Yes, there are some indicators that a farmer can check to ensure animal welfare is not abused. They include observable behavioural responses that an animal exhibits for example external injuries are visible to the eye. A good body condition is an indicator of good nutrition and vice versa. Behavioural indicators of good welfare include alertness, playful with humans for pets or other animals, normal vocalisation - you need to gauge normal mooing, barking, bleating or cheeping; so that you can tell when there is an abnormal vocalisation.

There are other ways of measuring animal welfare by checking inner physiological parameters like heartbeat, body temperature or circulating levels of certain hormones. Intensive production systems go against some of these freedoms and this has been a subject of debate among animal welfare activists.

As we think of ourselves during this period lets also spare a thought for animals whose welfare squarely lies in our hands. When our animals are healthy, so are we as we cannot separate our health from that of animals that share the same environment with us.

(Dr Othieno was the vet of the year in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council (KENTTEC). – [email protected])

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