January Disease: Zim not entirely out of the woods!

Obert Chifamba-Agri-Insight

Submissions that tick-borne disease stimulated deaths in cattle have dropped by 47 percent may have signalled a lull in January disease’s (Theileriosis) brutal onslaught on cattle, but that does not herald the end of the scourge! 

This makes it imperative that as the country revels in the success of the intervention measures adopted, everyone must remember that the ticks may easily re-group and launch a fresh offensive. 

It is now crucial for the nation to consolidate the momentum built so far in the push to eliminate livestock diseases and deaths and keep hammering the ticks that have so far been driven against the wall. 

The Government’s decision to start producing the Theileriosis vaccine locally marks a major breakthrough for the country’s animal health sector.

It is a fact that Theileriosis is one of the four major tick-borne diseases in Zimbabwe that include  Anaplasmosis (gallsickness), Heartwater and Babesiosis (redwater). 

Tick-borne diseases have in recent years wreaked havoc in the cattle industry leaving a trail of destruction with more than half a million succumbing to Theileriosis between 2015 and 2016 alone. 

Most communal farmers had their herds wiped out by the Januray disease, leaving them without draught power. 

The Government’s Pfumvudza/Intwasa could not have come at a better time than now when most smallholder farmers do not have cattle for draft power. 

It is refreshing to note that the recently announced national budget acknowledged that livestock activities, particularly beef production, had generally been subdued in recent years mainly due to droughts, widespread outbreak of diseases and a challenging macro-economic environment. 

The growth of the sector, as envisaged under the Livestock Recovery Growth Plan, requires interventions that reinforce animal movement control, frequent dipping sessions, vaccination programmes and general disease control. 

The 2022 National Budget has duly set aside $3,1 billion (local currency) to support new and ongoing projects and programmes covering key areas such as the construction of foot and mouth disease control fence covering 93km for Gonarezhou, construction of 75 dip tanks and rehabilitation of 285 dip tanks across the country, construction of veterinary district offices in Marondera, Esigodini, Binga, Nkayi and Chimanimani, $700 million operational vehicles for field use and dipping services and vaccination amounting to $1,8 billion. 

All these initiatives can easily count for nothing without the buy-in of farmers who incidentally make the central actors of the cast. 

They need to realise that it is now a fresh season that will be characterised by rains, which naturally spawn high tick populations and activities.

This is the time farmers should adopt the 5-4-4 dipping regime that the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) is always talking about. 

Under this regime the farmer is expected to dip cattle after 5 days then after 4 days followed by another four-day interval. 

After the dipping sessions the farmer should also apply tick grease to those body parts that are not easily accessed by the dipping chemicals. 

If farmers follow these guidelines religiously, the chances of containing the tick menace for good are there. These dipping regulations should be backed by strict compliance to cattle movement requirements to ensure ticks are not transferred from one place to another. 

Whatever farmers do to save their animals from diseases, they should not forget that until recently, tick-borne diseases accounted for 60 percent of cattle deaths in the country, which makes ticks one of the biggest threats to cattle production. 

The 2020-25 Livestock Recovery Growth Plan has since identified diseases, as a barrier to livestock sector growth, which requires the nation to adopt intervention measures that position the sector to contribute effectively to economic development.

This move should also help bolster the current efforts to grow the national herd from 5,5 to 6 million by the year 2023. 

It is no rocket science that farmers just need to intensify dipping as a prevention measure and their cattle are safe. 

Government has intensified awareness campaigns in January disease hotspots like Goromonzi, Bindura, Chegutu and Chivhu. 

There are some farmers who do not take their cattle for dipping, but choose to spray them, which is not bad, but they should follow the correct procedures. 

Such farmers also need to seek advice on the correct chemicals in the wake of reports that some agro-dealers were selling fake chemicals to unsuspecting farmers, which makes it very risky to buy chemicals with which one is not familiar. 

It is a fact that many farmers cannot tell the difference between genuine and fake chemicals, as the packaging and labelling is usually the same. 

Some unscrupulous dealers are even packaging tea and selling it as dip. This makes it crucial for farmers to buy dipping chemicals from reputable retailers. 

Those farmers who have stuck with their traditional communal plunge dips must also not forget that they should be contributing towards the procurement of the dipping chemicals and general maintenance of the dip tank.

They must pay the US$2 fee that is needed per year so that they get uninterrupted supply of dipping chemicals to ensure they do not experience disruptions during which their animals are at risk of contracting diseases transmitted by ticks. 

The “one stitch in time save nine” adage may be old but has remained very relevant. 

It costs around US$60 to buy treatment for tick-borne diseases with that medication being enough to serve just three head of cattle, which means a farmer will have to fork out US$20 to treat one cow yet it would have been cheaper to just pay US$2 per animal per year than to buy treatment. 

As a parting shot, farmers who do not use the communal plunge dips and spray their animals need to ensure that the animals are completely soaked after spraying. 

One animal requires at least three to five litres of dip wash. It is important to make the correct dilutions, as recommended by the manufacturer. 

The treatment chemical will be more effective combined with tick grease, which should be applied in the ear, under the tail and tail brush. Farmers can trim the tail brush. 

It is also important for farmers to be able to identify signs of an animal affected by January disease that include swelling of the lymph nodes under the ears and on the shoulder, cloudiness of the eyes, difficulty in breathing with froth from the nose and mouth. 

Affected animals usually collapse and die within few days.

 January disease is a notifiable disease in Zimbabwe and when farmers suspect its presence they are compelled by the law to make a report with the DVS.

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