Samuel Kadungure Acting News Editor
LIVESTOCK farming is a key component of the agriculture as it offers a shield and opportunity for risk coping during drought, but despite playing such an important role, cattle health is not getting attention in Buhera district.
Cattle are kept for various uses including draught power, milk, meat, manure and various cultural uses apart from offering opportunities for risk coping, diversification and intensification.
More than 4 000 cattle, with an estimated value of $1,5 million, have died from theilirolisis — a tick-borne disease also known as January disease in Buhera.
The disease is caused by not dipping cattle regularly.
Severe shortages of dip chemicals resulted in serious disruptions of the communal dipping programme in the district with cattle going for more than two months without dipping, consequently increasing the prevalence of tick-borne diseases.
Theileriosis is transmitted by brown ticks.
Although the incidence of four specified tick-borne diseases went up, theileriosis turned out to be the biggest threat in Buhera, wreaking havoc outside the usual peak rainy season.
Shortages of drinking water and grazing are adding to the catastrophe, forcing villagers to abandon or watch helplessly as their animals die.
Investigations by The Manica Post established that some villagers are panicking at prospects of having the entire herd wiped and are selling their bovines for peanuts.
Dealers are buying cattle for as little as $300. The rushed sales are conducted at night without the requisite veterinary permits and police clearance. The sold cattle are immediately vaccinated and loaded into semi refrigerated haulage trucks.
Mr Andrew Nyekete, of Mombeyarara, said critical challenges facing them are diseases, feed and water shortages as well as inadequate extension services.
“Vast herds of cattle have died of theileriosis. I have lost 16 cattle. There is no guarantee the remaining ones will survive as they have not been dipped for months,” he said.
Mrs Okizila Musingarimi bemoaned the livestock deaths in a district that is climatologically characterised by low and highly variable rainfall that makes it unsuitable for crop production.
“Poverty is ubiquitous in Buhera and we had been advised to diversify into livestock farming, but cattle are dropping like flies without any assistance being rendered. We are worse off. It is a disaster given that we did not get any harvest this season,” said Mrs Musingarimi.
Ms Violet Mudzimurema said all her hopes for future have been extinguished.
“It is all bleak and doom. I don’t know how my family will survive. I used to barter trade cattle with grain to survive with my seven children, but I have lost six cattle. The situation is terrible, I have no draught power to till my fields,” she said.
Buhera veterinary officer Dr Samson Chiduku said the Department of Veterinary Services (DVS) has, over the past two years been facing serious challenges in implementing the national communal dipping service meant to protect cattle from tick-borne diseases.
“We are failing to provide enough dipping chemicals to villagers and we have abandoned the routine schedule of dipping cattle weekly in summer and fortnightly in winter and autumn. We are dipping at least once in two months. While we encourage the farmers to buy their own dip chemicals, the harsh economic situation in the district is making it impossible for people to afford dip chemicals,” said Dr Chiduku.
Rural development and livestock specialist Professor Joseph Kamuzhanje said the situation in Buhera was dire.
Prof Kamuzhanje said Zimbabwe had lost more than 50 000 cattle, with an estimate value of over US$40 million, to tick-borne diseases.
“The situation has remained desperate in 2019 as suppliers still face challenges of accessing forex to import active ingredients for the manufacturing of the needed acaricides. We project that over 100 000 animals may be lost this year if no effective intervention is taken to control any further theileriosis outbreak by ensuring that cattle in the communal areas are dipped on a regular basis.
“The issue here is that the disease can be prevented just by regular dipping and this is quite cheap. Treatment is very expensive and most farmers will not afford it. Due to the dry conditions prevailing in the country, animals will suffer from not dipping, lack of adequate water and grazing, so farmers need to make important decisions to destock, buy dip chemicals on their own and prepare supplementary stockfeed,” said Prof Kamuzhanje.
How do you treat Theileriosis?
The drug of choice is Buparvex (5ml/100kg).
In the absence of this drug, some producers have managed to save some cattle using Coopermycin in conjunction with anti-inflammatories such as Dexone, Dexamethasone or Aspirin (30 to 40 tablets per adult animal).
Nursing of the animal during treatment is important to enhance quick recovery, that is, provision of feed and fresh water as well as keeping the animal under shade to avoid the sun.
Burpavex costs $660 or USD$30 (50ml) for two to three animals, which is very expensive even for commercial farmers.
The only option is to dip cattle regularly.
Buhera has a cattle population of 120 440 against 76 dip tanks, of which 15 have been decommissioned and require rehabilitation.
Dr Chiduku said at least 15 new dip tanks are needed so that cattle travel short distances.
“Some farmers are refusing to drive their cattle for dipping citing long distances. Cattle that have not been dipped for long periods host brown ticks and spread tick-borne diseases. It’s a vicious cycle,” he said.
While emergency relief services focus on humans, no relief interventions are being targeted at saving livestock in the district.
Drought-induced water shortage has a negative impact on cattle health as they get easily dehydrated and stressed, leading to low fertility and less milk production, abortion, poor body condition and low response to vaccines.
Cattle walk up to 14km per day to access water and the available water points are limited, stagnant and contaminated as large numbers of animals use them, leading to high chances of spreading diseases.
There is need to drill more boreholes and scoop silted dams and weirs.
“If the cattle can’t get enough to eat and drink they get thin. The body condition of cattle in the district is generally poor. Unavailability of water is another common constraint. Apart from Government, no other players are offering livestock relief services. The farmers really require assistance in form of dip chemicals, supplement feed and additional water points,” said Dr Chiduku.