Addressing Young Stock Mortality in Ethiopia
Up to 40% of young stock born in Ethiopia do not see their first birthday: This can change.
Instilling good husbandry and health practices in young stock-rearing has the potential to significantly increase survivability.
Livestock production is one of the most important livelihood activities in Ethiopia. Though the country has the largest livestock population on the continent, many factors severely affect its productivity. One important factor is young stock mortality, where millions of young stock born every year in Ethiopia die before weaning. Studies show that most deaths in young stock occur during their first month of life, extending up to three months of age. In fact, it is estimated that out of the 5 million cattle calves born into Ethiopian pastoralist systems each year, approximately 1.6 million (32%) will die before reaching their first birthday. The chances of survival for small ruminants is even lower. It is estimated that approximately 5 million (41%) of the 12 million sheep and goats born every year into Ethiopian pastoralist systems will die before weaning. This makes managing these first months of life critical to the economy of Ethiopia.
Regardless of the production system, disease, malnutrition and suboptimal practices in young stock management are the most important causes of young stock mortality in Ethiopia. Important diseases include diarrhea and respiratory disorders caused by poor hygiene including use of untreated water to feed calves; unhygienic calving facilities, including birthing areas, feeding equipment, watering materials and bedding; and general poor cleanliness of the farm. Regarding poor management practices, factors such as restricted colostrum and milk feeding, inadequate neonatal care and supplemental feeding, and poor health management also play a significant role. Generally, livestock-keepers are aware of the challenges, but lack adequate knowledge of effective solutions.
Young Stock Mortality Reduction Project
In response to this problem, a research consortium led by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture, was formed to address young stock mortality. The Young Stock Mortality Reduction Project (YSMR) brought together scientists from University of California, Davis; Aklilu Lemma Institute of Pathobiology, Addis Ababa the University; University of Gondar and the National Animal Health Diagnostic and Investigation Center to collect epidemiological evidence on the major causes of young stock morbidity and mortality that hamper the productivity of livestock in Ethiopia. A selected number of animal management and husbandry intervention packages were then implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Addis Ababa University, and the University of Edinburgh, to test if instilling good husbandry knowledge and practices among farmers can significantly decrease young stock mortality in Ethiopia.
Over a period of one year, the YSMR project tested minimum intervention packages (MIPs) of husbandry and health practices adapted for each species and production system. It produced standard operating procedures to promote adoption of basic husbandry and health practices addressing housing, hygiene, nutrition, neonatal care, health management, and diagnostics;
Husbandry and health interventions
- Introduction of farm housing and hygiene practices to reduce disease incidence in young animals. This included training and empowering farmers to construct appropriate housing (e.g., for pregnant and calving cows and newborns); regular cleaning, disinfection and biosecurity practices for housing (e.g., weekly cleaning; monthly, quarterly or biannual disinfection; and use of foot baths) and use of hygiene scorecards for dairies in the peri-urban system.
- Introduction of improved nutrition for pregnant and young animals. This included feeding the dam during pregnancy and preweaning milk feeding and supplementation of the young.
- Encouraging implementation of improved neonatal care. This involves evaluation of weight and condition at birth to determine the need for additional care; assisting breathing and keeping the newborn warm; adequate colostrum feeding and navel treatment.
- Health management interventions which promote vaccination against prevalent endemic diseases; deworming for common parasites; provision of clinical care for sick individuals, including clinical examination and treatment of the sick; isolation or quarantine of the sick and giving proper care, and collection of proper samples for laboratory investigation.
Basic husbandry and health practices significantly reduce mortality
Evaluation of the project husbandry and health MIPs showed a marked decrease in young stock mortality in participating households between baseline and final evaluation. For example, cattle calf mortality across all production systems decreased by almost 60%. In enrolled pastoralist areas a calf born before the intervention only had a 50% chance of surviving to one year of age, but after the intervention this had increased to almost a 90% chance of surviving to one year of age, representing a 72% decrease in mortality. For small ruminants, large decreases in mortality between 60 – 74% were observed in mixed and pastoralist areas. Camel calf mortality also showed a very encouraging decrease between baseline and final evaluation. Prior to the husbandry and health MIPs, camel calf mortality in the target pastoralist areas was very high at 43%, but this dropped to around 15% post intervention. These very promising results from the YSMR project indicate that by implementing basic husbandry and health practices at the household level, farmers can significantly reduce young stock mortality. In turn, this could save millions of young stock lives per year. For example, up to 1.1 million cattle calves and 3.2 million small ruminants could be saved each year in pastoralist areas alone if this reduction in mortality was achieved in every farming household.
Encouraging intervention uptake
During this project most households, were able to improve on two or more of the intervention areas. The next step is to scale up coverage of these intervention packages to as many households as is possible. However, a number of challenges have the potential to block or slow down the adoption of these interventions. Some farmers reported a lack of adequate farm space and feed shortage as major constraints for sustainable dairy cattle production and development. In addition, despite undertaking training, some farmers still did not provide colostrum to calves on the first day of life ─ especially where dairy business is not the primary source of income. This means besides training, other incentives to adoption may be required. Access to affordable veterinary services including vaccines, diagnostics, drugs and animal health advisory services also determines how farmers adopt the recommended animal health interventions.
In general, better management was captured during the final evaluation of the project, with more animals receiving colostrum on the first day of life, more young animals receiving milk replacers and water, and more dams receiving supplementary feed, etc. The contribution of each individual factor is difficult to ascertain; however, overall, fewer young animals died due to malnutrition and there was reduced prevalence of diarrhea and pneumonia in young animals and mastitis in the dams.
Promoting these interventions and imparting basic animal husbandry knowledge among livestock-keeping households has the potential to reduce young stock mortality significantly. Additionally, better management might decrease or minimize the environmental influences by producing more resilient young animals. Transferring this knowledge to more farming households through a multipronged approach can lead to greater impact given the diverse nature of the contexts where livestock-keeping takes place, particularly in Ethiopia. Different communities, households, and individuals may therefore need different tools, approaches and strategies to access, learn and adopt these practices. Government and other development actors should thus use a mix of knowledge transfer approaches to impart the basic knowledge on young stock management practices, including digital and print media, field demonstrations, farmer field schools, and training.