Why coccidiosis is leading killer in kids

A phone call came through on Saturday morning from a farmer I had assisted set up a goat farm in Athi River area as you head towards Machakos. He had lost three kids in three weeks. He thought this was normal occurence since he still had ten kids from his herd of around twenty goats; a reason he didn’t call me in early. The rule of thumb in livestock keeping is to always understand what caused a death – this means when one chick, one lamb, kidd or calf dies of a disease may be making rounds. Early reporting could have saved at least two kids. I arrived at the farm later that day to find out what was killing the kids. The last one hadn’t been buried and postmorten was an inevitable activity to diagnose the cause of death. I got the history from the farm hand and all pointed to tentative diagnosis of coccidiosis. But I needed a proper diagnosis to assist in covering the remaining kids and advising the farmer what to do moving foward. I had done the house design with this killer disease in mind; so the design minimised fecal contamination of feeds and protected the kids from wind which many at times is a source of stress that predisposes the kids to coccidiosis. But I noted that animal husbandry wasn’t good. This I attributed to “telephone farming” – my client is a busy man and despite the fatm being not far from the city where he works, the farmhand confirmed that he is rarely at the farm. Inadequate supervision is a major challenge for many farmers. When the farmhands learn that the owner is not around most of the time, they quickly get into other jobs in the neighbourhood and the main employer always suffers. We always advise regular impromptu visits to gauge the level of animal husbandry on the farm. Most farmhands don’t appreciate the value of good animal husbandry. Microscopy confirmed presence of coccidia eggs in the feces. The ulcerations on the intestinal wall were also indicative of destruction associated with coccidia. So this was a case of coccidiosis.

What is Coccidiosis?

Coccidiosis is a digestive tract disease caused by protozoan parasites called coccidia. The parasites are transmitted through oral ingestion of contaminated water, feeds or picked directly from the environment. The disease is lethal to young goats – kids and it attacks mostly at weaning or sickly goats. Diarrhea with mucus or blood is the most common symptom; others include rough hair coat, loss of appetite, continous straining in an attempt to pass feces. Other indicators of the disease are the history of the disease on the farm and evidence of any form of stress to the young goats. Although coccidiosis also affects cattle, poultry, rabbits and dogs. The causative agents are host specific and those affecting one species cannot be transmitted to other species. All adult goats have coccidia in their digestive tracts and therefore continously shed the eggs in the environment and therefore acting as carriers of disease for the young ones.

Prevention and Treatment

Good animal husbandry is a preventive measure. When a case is suspected, separate the sick goats from the rest to reduce chances of spread of diseases. Regularly remove manure or beddings from the goats’ house to reduce the environmental contamination. The feedings and watering troughs should be cleaned regularly and measures put in place to avoid fecal contamination of feeds. Avoid ground feeding; this form of feeding is where feed is placed on the ground for the animal to pick. It easily makes the goats to pick coccidian eggs from the environment.

The disease is treatable if diagnised early and a vet called in on time.

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