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What are the most common challenges facing dairy farmers – commercial and small-scale - in respect of disease control?

There are many diseases that can potentially affect dairy cows and cause production losses.

Mastitis

Of these the biggest and most common problem the world over, no matter what system is used, is mastitis. It causes production losses as well as impairs milk quality. Mastitis in the cow has the ability to seriously affect the whole value chain. There are no vaccines available for mastitis and it takes careful management to keep it at bay. It is the most difficult disease to control in a dairy herd.

Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)

In Zimbabwe the biggest fear the dairy industry has, at the moment, is the scourge of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).  It is a devastating disease in a dairy herd.  It causes deaths, mastitis, massive production losses and pain to the animals. Although there are vaccines available, the specific serotype must be used and so outbreaks can occur if the wrong vaccine is used in a specific area or if a new serotype is introduced. There are biosecurity measures that can be implemented on farm. However, the biggest threat is the uncontrolled movement of cattle.

Tick borne diseases are a huge challenge to dairy cows. Their bodies are under a lot of strain from the rigours of milk production and pregnancy. Therefore their immune systems are always under strain and they struggle to develop endemic stability to tick-borne diseases. Therefore strict tick control is very important in a dairy herd. However if other cattle in the area are not dipped regularly they can still present a challenge to the dairy cows.

For other diseases such as Three Day Stiff Sickness (Ephemeral Disease), Lumpy Skin Disease, Blackleg and Anthrax there are vaccines available. These need to be given regularly to prevent problems in the dairy herd.

Contagious abortion is controlled by legislation and all dairy herds are tested and vaccinated for this disease.

Rabies is becoming a huge worry to dairy herds in Zimbabwe with the increase in the unvaccinated dog population. This disease is a fatal zoonosis and needs better control, through enforced rabies vaccination programmes for dogs.