Proper animal health is essential for successful livestock productivity. Disease prevention is often the favored means of animal health management and can greatly help improve livestock production.
Indigenous livestock owners practice prevention using a combination of approaches such as indigenous veterinary medicines, learning to cope with disease by spreading risks (through keeping mixed herds), using animals tolerant to local diseases, and avoiding flock/herd mixing with others especially in communal grazing pastures or watering points.
All livestock producing communities have a rich culture of traditional wisdom on the treatment of sick animals. Ethno-veterinary medicine offers a viable low-cost health care for simple animal issues, although it tends to be ineffective against infectious diseases that cause major economic loses. In such situations it will be obvious that veterinary intervention is the best or only option.
Most of these diseases are caused by viruses and have no treatment, and can only be controlled by vaccination; some of these diseases include rinderpest (cattle), contagious bovine/caprine pleura-pneumonia (cattle & goats), foot and mouth disease (cattle, goats, sheep & pigs), pox disease (cattle, goats, sheep & poultry), Newcastle disease (poultry) and trypanosomiasis (cattle).
Vaccination against these diseases has proved to be the most cost-effective intervention towards health management; however this is usually an expensive undertaking, often beyond the reach of many pastoralists and smallholder farmers.
Therefore in such situations, the implementation of mass vaccination campaigns against economic important diseases should be considered by policy makers in the livestock industry. A couple of mass vaccination campaigns are underway in Kenya for diseases such as foot and mouth, trypanosomiasis, rinderpest etc.
If planned properly, vaccination campaigns have the highest cost-benefit ratio of all veterinary interventions. The kind of vaccination programmes which need to be applied can only be decided on the basis of its economic contribution towards the livestock industry.
Besides vaccination as a preventive technology, simple health management regulations can be put in place to prevent, control and/or reduce disease incidences.
These include control of movement (border control, import restrictions, control of border districts, issuance of health certificates, control of livestock markets), control of individual herds (restriction of purchase and sale of animals, fencing, disinfection, quarantine, destruction of infected animals or animals at risk, disposal of dead/slaughtered animals), monitoring of diseases and vector control.