Managing livestock during the rainy season

Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
It’s a fact that unless Zimbabwe’s livestock farmers take the necessary steps, they may end up losing a lot of animals.
Livestock has become an important part of the country’s agricultural sector.

The rainy season is here and many livestock farmers are celebrating. It is also wise to reflect on the negative effects of the rains to livestock and proffer solutions.

During the wet season, stock men can agree that animals are susceptible to so many challenges, and if a farmer is not careful, they may be killed by various diseases. With the rainy season comes new challenges brought mainly by tick-borne diseases.

Farmers across the country keep livestock that include cattle, chickens, goats, pigs, pigeons, rabbits, rock rabbits and donkeys, among others.

The rearing of livestock requires good care and protection of the animals from rough or unpleasant weather.
Animals need shelter from heavy rainfall, wind and hailstorm.

Zimbabwe Association of Dairy Farmers national chairperson Kudzai Chirima told The Herald that during the rainy season tick control becomes critical.

“With the rainy season upon us, constant awareness for farmers is vital to track the occurrence and spread of ticks and tick-borne diseases,” he said.

“Failure to control ticks and tick-borne diseases such as Theileriosis, commonly referred to as January Disease, effectively is a major factor limiting livestock production.

“The cost of economic loss to the country and the additional burden of protecting livestock against ticks and tick-borne diseases is huge.”

Chirima added that ticks activities peak during the rainy season as they find refuge in grass being nourished by the rains, while most livestock cannot resist the temptation of consuming the green grass that comes with the wet season.

He also encouraged farmers to spray their cows, instead of dipping since rain water dilutes chemicals, thus making the dip ineffective.

Farmers are also warned against watering their livestock with stagnant water, as it can be dangerous.
According to Chirima, the water can contain certain species of cyanobacteria (formerly known as blue-green algae) that typically grows in stagnant, warm pond water.

At least four types of potentially poisonous cyanobacteria are known to occur.
Venoms from these germs are lethal to most livestock, including horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens, domestic and wild ducks, pigeons, geese, and even frogs, fish, and snakes. Some of the common problems faced by the livestock farmers in rainy season and their preventive solutions are outlined below:

Leaking shed roofs
During the rainy season, if water leaks into the shade, it will affect the animals’ comfort.
This applies to all livestock, whether you are keeping goats, chickens, pigs, sheep or cattle, etc.
Studies show that if the roof is not clean enough, the water leads to production of chemicals such as ammonia, which affect the eyes of animals, especially if the shed has no proper ventilation.
It also causes irritation in the body, the reason why animal eyes swell during the rainy season. Another disease called coccidiosis also occurs as a result of water leaking onto dirty shades.
During the rainy season, farmers are encouraged to make sure that the roof of their animal shelters are not leaking and that it is always clean.
Additionally, if a farmer is rearing goats, they are encouraged to take even an extra effort to keep their hooves away from water. Water causes rotting hoof diseases among goats.

More grass is not so good
It is common knowledge that when the rains come, new young grass sprouts up.
The green grass is a delicacy for animals.
Due to its softness, animals easily pick it up and eat it up in big quantities.
Agronomists agree that farmers should be wary of this kind of grass because it has a lot of water and little fibre, which is not good for the livestock.
Animals need fibre for proper digestion.
The water fills up the stomachs and yet it is virtually useless.
This is why it is common to see animals passing watery dung during wet seasons.
Farmers are encouraged to harvest some of the soft green grass and dry it up when there is sunshine.
This will reduce the water in the grass, hence turn it into nutritious feed.

More moisture, more bacteria
Chirima also said that moisture on the ground produces a lot of bacteria that can cause disease.
He said the most common of them are worms.
“During the wet season, therefore, farmers must stock a broad spectrum of de-wormers. Worms, if not treated, affect the animals’ general performance.”
The process of de-worming must be done at the beginning of the rainy season and throughout the season because worms multiply more during this period.

Ticks have a field day in the wet
The world over, ticks if not controlled, are one of the most economically destabilising livestock pests.
Ticks spread at alarming rates during the wet season.
If not treated, ticks can suck cows dry and eventually lead to death because they spread a disease called east coast fever.
Additionally, more flies breed during the rainy season.
Most of the flies are just disturbing because they do not bite, but simply fly around the cow, thus inconveniencing it.
But, some are deadly, for example, tsetse flies.
These noxious flies do not only suck blood from the cows, but their bite is too painful.
Tsetse flies spread a lethal disease called nagana to the cows, which if not treated early leads to death.
As a mitigation measure, livestock farmers should make sure that they spray their animals regularly and cut all bushes near their shades.

Disease of the udder
The disease of the udder also becomes more prevalent during the wet season.
An udder is an organ formed of the mammary glands of female ruminants such as cattle, goats, sheep, deer and giraffes.
It is equivalent to the breast in primates.
Mastitis, a potentially fatal mammary gland infection, is the most common disease in dairy cattle worldwide.
Note that when the udder is diseased, then you have lost the animal.
The udder swells and stops producing milk.
The good thing is that it can be treated using general antibiotics.
Farmers are encouraged to always keep disinfectants to disinfect the farm all the time.

Other factors
Avoid mouldy feeds
Farmers should avoid water getting into stored feeds because they will develop moulds.
If they are fed to animals in that state, they will carry bacteria.
Studies indicate that in the long run, the mouldy feeds can cause cancer.
Farmers should always make sure that their feeds are stored in a dry place.
Other common conditions

During the rainy season, the ground is soft and wet, hence livestock tend to slide and break their limbs.
In addition, external elements like stones and soil converge and entangle in between the hooves of animals, hence making it difficult for them to move.
Farmers should check all these regularly to prevent loss of livestock during this wet season.

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