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How to minimise illness during animal relocation

By Dr Lucy Muthui | October 24th 2015

Transferring animals from one region to another is fraught with risks. Many farmers fear that an animal will not survive if moved to a region different from the one it originated from. It is true that many animals have died or under performed on arrival in new areas. But this need not happen if farmers implement certain measures to prevent this.

A man sits at the rear of a fast moving pickup ferrying animals to an unknown destination along Marani-Kisii road on June 25,2015. The area, known for farming, is rich with farmers practising mixed farming to maximise profit. (PHOTO: DENISH OCHIENG/ STANDARD)

An animal has to deal with the stress of travelling. When it arrives at the new region, it has to deal with such issues as too much heat or too much cold, a change in the type, quality or quantity of its diet, new bacteria, viral, protozoal or fungal infections and parasites such as worms.

It may find that its new home has a different housing system or none at all, different feeding and milking routines and, of course, new mates. New animals may encounter a hostile reception, be bullied and denied access to feed and water by the other animals.

Animals moving from low altitude to high altitude areas will get stressed due to a change in the quantity of oxygen. An animal will only acclimatise to the new region if the stress is not too much. But they may deteriorate, under perform or die if the stress becomes too much.

Animals, like humans, need to maintain their normal body temperatures to remain alive and carry out their productive functions to their maximum potential.

Extreme heat

If the outside temperatures are higher or lower than the animal is used to, it will respond by kicking in processes and behaviours that maintain their body temperatures.

If the animal is subjected to too much heat, it will be seen in reduced appetite and increased shallow breathing. Other functions like reproduction and lactation will also be depressed or stop  altogether. If the animal is not housed, it will look for shade. If the heat stress is beyond the animal’s capacity to adapt, its body temperature will rise, leading to destruction of body cells and ultimately death. High humidity (water in the air) will make it more difficult for the animal to cope.

If the stress is caused by too much cold, animals will respond by eating more or by burning body fat (losing weight) to meet the energy required to produce more body heat. If unable to do this, the animal’s body processes will slow down and it may die.

Windy conditions worsen this problem. But if the cold stress is not too much, the animal will adapt by growing a thicker coat and through increased body heat production. If its body temperatures go below 30 degrees celsius, it will start showing signs of cold stress (hypothermia).

Animals will therefore quickly adapt to higher or lower outside temperatures than they were used to if the owner provides solutions such as a clean housing with no draughts, cooling aids and adequate space. Note that some animals will adapt better and faster than others due to their genetic capacity.

Change of feed causes digestion upsets, increasing stress and interfering with an animal’s performance. To avoid this, an animal should have the food it was used to at its origin withdrawn gradually, even as the amount is reduced and replaced with new feed of the same quality. Death or low performance can occur from high mountain diseases (brisket disease) because of heart failure as a result of the lowered oxygen at high altitudes.

An animal will exhibit swelling under the skin caused by accumulation of water from the blood due to the poor circulation from the diseased heart. This has been seen in animals that move to Mt Kenya looking for pasture.

Look out for is pasteurellosis or shipping fever (cattle and sheep), a bacterial disease brought by the stress caused by the hassle of travelling—the pushing and shoving in strange environments occupied by new mates and owners.

Stress lowers the animals’ immunity, allowing the pasteurella bacteria in the body to multiply to a level that causes the disease. The animal exhibits fever, breathing distress with coughing, lack of appetite (not eating), mucus coming out of the nose and death. Although the disease can be treated with antibiotics, it is better to prevent it by minimising stress through resting the animal regularly if on a long journey, providing a comfortable carriage, nutritious feeds and plenty of water. The animal must also be made comfortable on arrival.

Other bacterial diseases to be aware of are contagious bovine pleural pneumonia (CBPP in cattle), contagious caprine pleural pneumonia (CCPP, goats), anthrax and black quarter (most animals). Cows and goats looking for pasture in drought times when they move to areas infested with these diseases will succumb and quickly die due to lack of immunity made worse by the stress of movement.

Common viral diseases newly transferred animals are at risk from are foot and mouth disease, lumpy skin disease, Rift Valley Fever (affects many animals), sheep and goat pox, PPR (sheep and goats). In chicken, Newcastle, bacillary white diarrhoea, gumboro and pullorum diseases are quite common.

In pigs, swine fever, swine ery

sipelas, hog cholera, atrophic rhinitis, african horse sickness (horses and donkeys) and rabies (all animals but especially dogs) are common. Note that a new animal can also bring these diseases to your other animals, causing an outbreak. Due to stress, the animals exposed will quickly come down with the disease and be overwhelmed.

The best way to deal with these bacterial and viral diseases is to prevent them by vaccination at least 14 days (or as advised by your vet) before the expected day of travel or on arrival to the new area to ensure that the animal has developed immunity against these bacteria and viruses.

An animal that was not exposed to worms or the type of worms in the new area will be quickly overcome due to lack of immunity made worse due to stress. It may also bring new worms to your animals, causing an outbreak.

On arrival, the animal may be attacked by ticks, biting flies, mites and/or tse-tse flies that transmit new strains of parasites such as those that cause East Coast Fever, Anaplamosis, babesiosis, heart water and trypanosomiasis. Because the animal has never experienced these particular variety of parasites, it has no immunity against them and if infected will succumb quickly if not treated promptly.

Movement permits

Ticks, flies, mites and tse-tse flies will in addition bite, suck blood and irritate the animal, increasing stress. To avoid attacks from such parasites, the farmer is advised to spray the animal with chemicals before it leaves its original home. This means that it will not transfer any ticks or flies from its area to its new home and any parasites it finds in its new home will be killed by the chemical on its body when they try to bite the animal. Ensure the spraying regime is properly implemented on arrival.

These bacterial, viral and parasite-borne diseases are the reason farmers are required to obtain animal movement permits from the veterinary officer in their area. The veterinary officer is responsible for animal disease control in his area and the issuance of animal movement permits are one way of ensuring that transferable diseases are prevented or minimised.

The movement permit requires specific preventive actions like the vaccinations and spraying to be implemented before the animal is moved. Because these diseases can be spread quickly to many animals and cause great economic losses, their control is supported by law. Therefore, moving an animal without a permit is an offence.

Before mixing a new animal with the rest of the herd, it is advisable to keep it in isolation at a reasonable distance for about three weeks to allow for special attention. This will also help keep away new parasites and infections and control the spread of diseases and parasites to and from the new animal.

Adaptation to a new environment may take days and weeks depending on the animal, the level of stressors and your interventions.

The writer works at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in the field of animal health and production

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