I was so devastated when a livestock farmer from Omawejozongaku in Omatjete Constituency in Omaruru district sent me pictures of his emaciated cattle for guidance. The majority of these cows were being suckled by their calves, but they were basically just bones or what we refer to as ‘Body Condition Score’ (BCS) 1 to 2. Some of these cows also already started being lame and some are reluctant to stand up. According to Mr. Farmer, the rest of the herd that is not lactating is slightly better but is deteriorating very fast.
Seriously, I know I’m not supposed to be surprised to hear about drought in Namibia, but the surprise is that there was a bit of late rain across the country and most areas’ vegetation looks green. And to be faced with the reality on the ground that not all areas are enjoying some prosperous grazing is quite saddening. For example, in Omatjete Villages, the rain only covered patches of land towards Omaruru while areas beyond Omatjete Village itself are drier especially around Omawejozongaku and neighbouring Otjongundu.
We also hear similar stories from Opuwo area whereby some areas received rain and in other areas livestock are starving from poor grazing due to minimal rain. If you are the unlucky ones, it is a matter of Mr. Rain not favouring your area and tough luck. Some people even give connotations that areas that don’t receive rain are bewitched or that people is these places don’t pray enough for the rain.
Whichever way, as a country we have been faced with drought countless times, and we survived. And we are a tough Nation of survivors and we should fight this drought. The question now is “how are these drought stricken animals supposed to survive”? Maybe it is not too late for our village farmers to salvage those animals affected by drought. Here are a few tips from The Village Vet archives that was given to Mr. Farmer from Omatjete on how to handle those poor cattle drought stricken cattle (the same strategies can be used for goats and sheep as well).
• Isolate all cattle that are in poor body condition in a smaller camp or kraal close to home. If these cattle are in a group you will be able to access them and feed them according to their body condition, pregnancy status, lactation status and age group.
• Since Mr. Farmer was confused about whether to wean the calves of their mothers at this point, the recommendation is to rather not wean younger calves that 5moths but to rather separate the small calves from the cows half a day in order to give the cows a breathing time to concentrate on grazing. If you wean calves at this point, they will suffer weaning shock and will deteriorate in body condition faster. The calves will also be most likely to succumb to diseases if weaned early.
• Normally, these drought affected animals don’t have appetite. Instead of just putting a pile of grass in front of the lame or emaciated animal, sprinkle it with a cup of molasses around it. At least this will smell and taste agreeable to the animal and it will also give it a boost of energy at the same time. (Some farmers refer to molasses as the chocolate of animals since it is sweet and tasty).
• And always make sure the animals have fresh supply of water close by. You can also mix a cup of sugar (preferably brown) and 2 table spoons of salt to 1liter water and give to the animals or sprinkle on the dry grass. This sounds like nothing much but it helps to rehydrate the animal and stimulate appetite. It is almost the same principle of people drinking salt-sugar solution when they are dehydrated and weak.
• Drought is about feeding or nutrient management really. In many cases, the best solution for cow/calf producers is to utilize a limit-fed, high grain diet fed individually to animals. The feeding of dry veld concentrate (winterlek) is quite popular. Some farmers also crush acacia trees pods, mix it with maize and molasses and fish oil. Other farmers use by-product feeds such as poultry litter, wheat offal’s, cottonseed hulls and brewer's grains. Check with feed suppliers on availability and prices. Sometimes it depends on what alternative feed is available especially in the villages.
• Give multi-minerals and multi-vitamins injections. I can’t stress this enough! A dose of metabolic especially Vitamin B and phosphate is usually a good booster for thin animals as well. Vitamin B is also known to stimulate appetite as well. If you haven’t given Vitamin A injection yet, don’t delay anymore and treat it as urgent. Normally, vitamin A is given when the grass is dry especially from June/July or August but this time farmers in drought stricken areas should do it earlier. I would advise the farmers to rather inject the multiminerals and vitamins to the animals that are too thin or weak, rather than just rely on the animals eating hay or feed supplements.
• And please deworm the cattle! You don’t want the animal to still compete with worms for its precious feed neh? And of course you should also treat animals for external parasites such as ticks and mites as well as flies.
• Another important thing to do is to try to lift up the lame animal regularly to exercise its muscles or just to change its position. At times even after the animal has recovered its strength, you will find that the animal became permanently lame because the muscles were not being utilised. (Just imagine yourself lying in one position for days in and out, you will become sore). This also applies to these animals. Lying in one position is painful and pressure sores can occur and results in wounds especially in those areas such as the knees, the thighs where the most pressure is.
• If it is possible, it is more advisable to move the livestock to areas with better grazing. But even though you do this, the strategies above are still relevant and should be followed.
The general health of any animal cannot be over emphasised in order to enable the animal to resist any stress changes brought about by drought. All recommended vaccinations by this time should have already being done (I hope!). You can only inject an antibiotic for those that show signs of being sick.
Take note that there are a lot of drought management strategies in place such as de-stocking and rotational grazing management and you should consult your veterinarian and animal feed supply stores for further details. Whichever way, it is high time to plan for drought. And for those farmers who received more rain and still have good grazing, if you have not begun to make contingency plans for drought and winter, start now.
Hang in there my people; this is just another drought hurdle that we shall overcome!