Brucellosis – Challenges in communal cattle

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Brucellosis – Challenges in communal cattle

Communal cattle are reared in a farming system where multiple owners use common pastures and watering points. This is effectively a homogenous cattle herd with similar disease status even though the different owners do not necessarily make common decisions regarding their cattle.

Impediments to the success of steps routinely used to control brucellosis in cattle

  1. Failure to prevent cattle from exposure to the bacteria
  • The individualised nature of cattle ownership and decision making under communal grazing allows buying-in of BR infected cattle which will expose all cattle sharing the pastures.
  • Isolation of heifers or cows bought-in until calving and negative BR test results before they can be allowed onto communal grazing is impossible.
  1. Failure to create a herd that is immune to brucellosis when exposed
  • Compliance and enforcement of heifer vaccination as prescribed in the Animal Diseases Act (Act 35 of 1984) is poor for various reasons.
  • The poorly vaccinated communal cattle herds are susceptible to BR infection when placed in contaminated communal grazing.
  1. Conditions not conducive for effective BR Scheme application
  • Most cattle in communal herds are not identified making it impossible to link a BR result to an individual animal to allow slaughter of positive reactors.
  • Cattle in communal herds are often family owned, which means decisions to do with the animals must be made by the family unit. The families often do not accept the decision to slaughter BR positive reactors hindering effectiveness of the BR Scheme.
  • Isolation of infected cattle is not feasible
  1. Public perception
  • Bovine Br is usually not overt; so owners find it difficult to accept that their cattle are affected or infected.
  • Culling BR infected cattle has an undesirable impact on the social standing of the owner in the community.
  • It is difficult to reach consensus on whose cattle are ‘responsible’ for the disease and so who must slaughter their stock for the benefit of all.
  • Communal cattle farmers appear to accept BR infected cattle ‘culled’ from commercial herds in a bid to improve their genetic pool.

By Duma Mpofu & Emmanuel Midzi