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5 deadly cattle diseases in South Africa

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Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on

Farmers should strive for disease-free, cost-effective livestock that contribute to farm wealth. You can’t make money if your animals aren’t healthy.

Because diseases prefer to infect healthy animals in order to ensure their own survival, immunization is essential. However, no immunization ensures 100 percent safety, and early disease identification requires a keen eye and time spent with one’s cattle.


Despite the fact that it is a state-controlled illness, brucellosis is rapidly spreading throughout South Africa and is the number one disease that farmers should be concerned about right now.

Brucellosis is a disease that affects cattle, sheep, and goats. This disease was nearly eradicated in the 1990s, but it has subsequently spread out of control. Despite the fact that it hits the cattle industry to the tune of hundreds of millions of rands, many cattle farmers and livestock businesses underestimate or ignore it.

Heifers born to sick cows may be latently infected in between 3% and 9% of the time (that is, without obvious symptoms). Serological tests on such heifers are frequently negative for the disease until they are around 18 months old, by which time they may be pregnant or have given birth to their first calf.

The heifers have become a major issue. In South Africa we will never be able to control this disease unless farmers, veterinarians, and auctioneers work together to stop it.

The disease is spread mostly through the sale and movement of infected animals by farmers. The problem is that infected animals don’t show any symptoms of illness and their eating habits don’t change. The only symptom of the condition in a pregnant cow is abortion after five to seven months of pregnancy. However, this is a symptom that can be found in a variety of conditions.

Because bulls have such a little role in the spread of brucellosis, getting the disease from one is unlikely. Brucellosis is particularly deadly because it is a zoonotic disease. An abattoir must make extra measures before slaughtering brucellosis-infected animals.

Germs can be found in breast milk, and they are also seen in the postpartum period. Brucellosis can be transmitted to animals through the consumption of the afterbirth. Humans can get the sickness from it if they come into contact with the fetus’s excrement. Small drips of contaminated material in the eyes or miniscule skin incisions put butchers who don’t wear proper protective equipment at danger of infection.

A zoonosis can completely devastate a person’s life. It can be quite dangerous if diagnosed too late. Depression, back discomfort, biphasic fever, and muscle soreness are among symptoms that might last a lifetime.

In order to protect animals from brucellosis, they must be vaccinated at the appropriate period and with the help of a veterinarian.

Between the ages of four and eight months, all heifers are required by law to be vaccinated against brucellosis.

Infected animals must be quarantined and cannot be sold if brucellosis is found in the herd.

Despite the fact that pasteurization and ultra-heat treatment (UHT) eliminate the germs in milk, the legislation stipulates that raw milk used for further processing must be free of pathogenic organisms.

Lumpy Skin Disease

According to the Animal Disease Act 35 of 1984, lumpy skin condition is a reportable disease in South Africa. It’s also in the list of diseases recognized by the World Organization for Animal Health.

During the summer and autumn, especially when insect populations are high, the poxvirus spreads the disease. Ticks can also spread the disease, thus it can occur even in the winter.

The majority of infected animals don’t display any symptoms at all. Infected animals spread the disease by licking or scratching healthy animals, which results in skin sores that allow the virus to enter.

Lumpy skin illness is common in animals that have not been vaccinated, according to surveys.

Affected animals refuse to consume food. In the mouth, nose, and sexual organs of animals, little sores will form. A substantial percentage of animals will spontaneously abort if the illness is present in the herd. Only 3% of infected animals die in an outbreak, but that number can rise to as high as 20%.

However, animals immunized during the incubation period still get lumpy skin disease and can be prevented and controlled efficiently with annual immunization.

The commercial sale of infected animals is prohibited.

Animals exhibiting severe lumpy skin disease symptoms should be euthanized and buried.

Redwater (Babesiosis)

The World Organisation for Animal Health has classified Redwater as a tick-borne disease. Despite the fact that both African and Asian redwater are responsible for a large number of cattle deaths in South Africa, it is not a state-controlled or notifiable disease.

It is frequently transmitted between animals when farmers use the same needle to vaccinate many animals.

If all calves are immunized with blood vaccinations before the age of eight months, there should be no deaths.

However, calves should not be vaccinated until they are two months old, as passive immunity (transferred from the cow) may interfere with the vaccination. Infection of the unborn calf might lead to abortion or the calf’s mortality shortly after birth.

Redwater-infected cattle produce red or brown pee (blood in the urine) and have a high temperature of 41°C to 42°C. (The normal temperature range is 37°C to 38°C.) The mucosa of the eye is light in color. Infected animals are unable to feed, are sedentary, and their skin may appear rough.

Animals react aggressively to handling and sounds, causing muscle tremors.

Farmers must be vigilant in order to detect a problem early. Keep an eye out for any changes in their behavior. If you notice an animal is sick, it has most likely been sick for several days and the sickness has progressed. It is critical to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible if cattle have been infected with redwater.

Onderstepoort offers a blood vaccine that is put into the animal and allows it to self-immunize.

There is no cross-protection between Asian and African redwater; vaccination against one does not protect against the other. Arrange a meeting with your veterinarian.

Despite the fact that redwater cannot be transmitted to people, infected animals cannot be butchered because the carcass is contaminated.

Gas Gangrene

Gas gangrene is a severe and fatal infection induced by toxaemia (blood poisoning). South Africa is plagued with it. Gas gangrene comes in a variety of forms, including black quarter, swollen head, and malignant oedema. As a result, it might be challenging to make an accurate diagnosis because each disease type exhibits comparable symptoms.

It is caused by a variety of different bacteria (individually or in combination), therefore animals must be inoculated against many disease strains using combined vaccinations. Certain animals harbor the bacterium but appear to be healthy.

Animals in good health are not susceptible to this disease. It’s not looking for a thin animal. The disease cannot survive if the host is unhealthy.

By excreting bacteria in their droppings, these animals spread the disease from farm to farm or from one camp to another. Spores can live for several years in the soil after being spread by rain or snowfall.

Animals with gas gangrene rarely show any signs of illness or death before a diagnosis can be made.

Weaner calves are usually loaded onto a farmer’s truck. There is a lot of bumping and bruising because of the truck driving to the feedlot. When there is a lack of oxygen, germs grow.

To avoid the disease spreading, farmers should only utilize reputable transport companies to move their animals.

Three-day Stiff-sickness

Three-day stiffness (TDS) is transmitted by midges carrying the virus. Dairy farmers suffer huge economic losses as a result of the virus’ impact on milk production capacity.

As a result, the disease has a higher chance of striking members of the Brahman breed. TDS normally vanishes with the first frosts, however examples have been found even during the winter months. Virus overwintering methods and locations are a mystery for the time being.

Infected cows’ milk production plummets. In spite of recovery, it is improbable that the cow can return to its prior level of output. TDS-infected bulls are sterile for the rest of their lives. Infected pregnant cows, on the other hand, may abort, resulting in the largest financial loss.

Anti-inflammatory medication is administered into infected animals for three days after they develop TDS. TDS can leave some animals permanently paralyzed. There is no known cause of spinal cord injury (degeneration), which results in paralysis. Less than 1% of animals who get the disease die as a result of their condition at the time of infection.

As a result of vaccines, 99.99 percent of animals will not get TDS.

DRY YEARS: During these years, animals are less likely to get sick or be infected. Farmers sometimes become complacent and stop immunizing against TDS. If an outbreak occurs after heavy rains, they will now be caught off guard and unprepared.

TDS vaccines aren’t always readily available, which is frustrating for farmers.


Routine vaccination is required to protect against different cattle diseases. Regular checks and monitoring can help you avoid losses and the spread of diseases among healthy animals in your herd. This can be devastating to your business if happens. Take immediate action to identify and confine unwell animals while also taking all required steps to treat them as soon as possible.

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