Expert advise on how to fight Bluetongue disease
Livestock farmers in Baringo County continue to suffer heavy losses due to the deadly Bluetongue disease.
This is a non-contagious, insect-borne, viral disease of ruminants, mainly sheep and less frequently cattle, goats, buffalo, deer, dromedaries and antelope. It is caused by the Bluetongue virus.
The disease has killed hundreds of livestock in Baringo South and efforts to contain it have been unsuccessful.
Too weak to walk
In parts of Illchamus location in Baringo South, we met Wilson Lelema, 60, driving his goats, sheep and cows from the grazing field.
However, the animals appear weak even after being fed and provided with clean drinking water. He is forced to carry kids that are too weak.
Since the outbreak that was reported in December last year, Lelema has lost 20 goats and 15 sheep.
“My sheep and goats are sick and have been dying. I bought some medicines but nothing seems to be working,” says the farmer.
Lelema is now left with only 10 sheep, 5 goats and 6 cows.
The affected animals have swollen lips, fever, reddish sores on mouth, watery eyes and some can barely walk.
Medication bought from local stockists have not contained the disease.
Simon Ayabei is another devastated farmer from Eldume village. He has so far lost 100 goats to the disease. He is left with only 70 kids that are all sick. Like other farmers, he is desperate.
“This disease is terrible. It has hit my main source of income, now I can barely meet my needs,” says the farmer.
The father of six says he has been using at least Sh600 to buy a litre of vaccine, but the animals are still unwell.
What the expert says
To save his remaining flock, he had prepared a new paddock in fear that the old one might be contaminated. But this did not work.
The disease has affected prices of mutton in the market.
Now goats at local market at Marigat sell at Sh1, 000 from between Sh3, 000 and Sh6, 000.
Like Ayabei and Lelema, livestock farmers have suffered losses and are now desperate for answers. But what is the way forward?
Animal production technologies expert at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and technology (JKUAT) Obadiah Ndwiga says vaccination should be embraced by farmers in pastoral communities.
Livestock diseases like Bluetongue, Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP), Foot and Mouth, Rift Valley Fever and Lumpy Skin Disease among others can be prevented if the flock are regularly vaccinated.
Through vaccination, he says, transmission and spread of diseases is drastically reduced as majority of locals in the pastoral community keeps moving from one locality to another in search of water and pasture.
“Diseases spread quick if livestock are not immunised. This is why farmers are advised to vaccinate regularly to prevent diseases as opposed to waiting for the disease to hit then they treat,” Ndwiga says.
Treatment of diseases according to Ndwiga is expensive compared to vaccination. For instance, 100 doses of CCPP is about Sh1,500 in local agro-vets and is able to vaccinate approximately 100 goats.
“Vaccination is better that than cure, this is why we encourage farmers to regularly vaccinate their animals,” says the expert. Vaccination he says also boosts immune system of livestock that enhance production of milk, meat and eggs in poultry rearing. Rate of deaths attributed to diseases is also minimised through vaccination.
Alongside vaccination, he says livestock should also be de-wormed at the right time.
Worms feed on host tissues including blood leading to loss of iron and protein resulting in anaemia.
“De-worming helps prevent worms that compete for nutrients in livestock. There are some animals that lose appetite when they have worms resulting in drop in yields,” Ndwiga says.
To boost the animals’ health, feeding is key.
“Feeding should highly be considered in livestock keeping. This is why extension officers should train farmers on feeding, away from traditional method where farmers walk for long distances in search of pasture. Drought-resistant plants should be adopted,” he says.
Most parts in Baringo call for the need to grow pasture for adequate supply of feeds during dry spell. The feeds can be planted during rain season and stored for used during the dry spells.
The best pasture to be grown include calliandra and leucaena, which are highly nutritious. Most of them have high protein content that boost quality and quantity of yields.
The pasture tree is also drought-resistant and can be used in demonstration farms like in Kabarnet and Mogotio, areas that experience ample rains.
Another strategy for healthy animals is adoption of new farming technologies of livestock production to have continuous production amid erratic weather patterns.
Early warning systems
For example, farmers need to invest in high breed goats that mature faster and produce more milk.
“Technology is changing so fast, and we need farmers to adopt it for quality and quantity production. Farmers should crossbreed their stock with hi-breed for economic benefits,” the JKUAT expert advises.
He notes that the county government should also dispatch extension officers in disease-prone areas to train farmers on ways of curbing diseases and better farming practices.
Extension officers are in a better position to detect and pick diseases and seek a quick intervention before an outbreak hits.
“Production can only improve if farmers have knowledge on respective farming practices. This is why we need extension officers to work closely with farmers to show them the dos and don’ts in farming,” says the expert.