Hay bales from the north, any risk of disease migration to the south?

Source: Hay bales from the north, any risk of disease migration to the south? | Sunday News (Business)

MOST farmer organisations and extension agencies have been in overdrive promoting various drought mitigation strategies among livestock farmers. 

The objective is to alleviate a potential calamity from wholesale livestock poverty deaths due to the El Nino-induced drought which is currently gripping the entire Southern African region. These strategies are many and their effectiveness varies but they will certainly reduce the potential damage. 

However, the import of this week’s submission is not to discuss the efficacy of these strategies per se but to interrogate a potential negative outcome of the adoption of one of the strategies. There has been a push for livestock farmers to procure stock feed and hay bales, then stockpile them for use later on during the dry season. 

However, questions are being asked about the effect of taking hay bales from places with Theileriosis (January disease) to other parts of the country where this disease has not yet occurred. 

The feeling is that the wholesale trucking of loads of hay bales made from places endemic to the January disease could result in the transportation of the ticks that cause Theileriosis to places that previously had no such problems. 

This to me is a very genuine concern and the possibility does not look far-fetched. The Department of Veterinary Services under which animal health issues fall, will do well with explaining this issue and help guide the actions of farmers. 

I am no specialist on ticks and their life cycles, but it is perfectly plausible and imaginable that ticks can be easily transported within the hay bales from disease areas to non-disease areas. Ticks stay on the grass most of the time and depending on the type of the tick, they can endure various external conditions. 

One can even posit that the emergence of Theileriosis in the southern regions of the country, having migrated from up north can be explained partly due to the trucking of hay bales from the January disease zones. 

I would certainly not want to be conclusive about this, in the absence of a proper scientific analysis but it suffices to say we need this fear explained to farmers as being real or unreal. Otherwise, the Government would probably be well advised to regulate the production and transportation of hay bales to prevent broadcasting of this deadly disease as farmers buy hay bales from infected areas. 

It would not make sense for livestock farmers to fight hard to save their animals from perishing via this drought, only to lose the same animals from January disease brought by the hay bales they used to save the animals! The aim of this article is not to cause despondency among farmers and the livestock value chain but to shine a light on a possible time bomb. 

The nation will therefore, benefit from a clear position statement from the relevant Government Department. If there are measures or actions that livestock farmers need to take to ensure that the hay bales they brought to the farmers are safe, let that be shared so that we prevent any disaster. 

We have seen trucks coming from high rainfall areas in the northern part of the country including the Midlands to the southern region which is generally the drier part and in need of hay bales. We wish for this important dry season feed to be safe and prevent the proverbial “from the frying pan into the fire” situation.

In the meantime, we encourage livestock farmers to continue making preparations for the coming dry season. It is called disaster preparedness, and it makes the difference between a total loss of investment and a managed loss. 

There are several drought mitigation measures that we have shared on this very platform and the farmer can simply choose from the buffet of actions, what is possible and relevant to his circumstances. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.

Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback mazikelana@gmail.com cell 0772851275