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Health problems in small ruminant farms of North West Province, Cameroon

N. Nfi A. and J.N. Ndamukong K.

The authors can be contacted at the Institute of Animal Research, Bambui Station, PO Box 51, Bamenda, Cameroon; and at the Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Science, University of Buea, PO Box 63, Buea, Cameroon.
Acknowledgements. The authors would like to acknowledge the cooperation of the small ruminant farmers of North West Province in this study as well as Dr R.T. Fomunyam, Chief, Institute of Zootechnical and Veterinary Research (IRZV) Centre, Mankon, who made it possible for this project to be carried out.


Une enquête, réalisée au Cameroun parmi les éleveurs de petits ruminants de la Province du Nord-Ouest, a montré que ceux-ci se heurtaient à un grand nombre de problèmes d'ordre sanitaire. Il est en effet apparu que les maladies respiratoires, les helminthoses, les infestations par les tiques, les pharyngites, l'_stre du mouton, la malnutrition et l'entérotoxémie sévissaient dans ces élevages avec une intensité particulière. Ces affections se déclaraient essentiellement pendant trois périodes bien définies de l'année: au milieu et vers la fin de la saison des pluies, et au milieu de la saison sèche.
 Chez les chevreaux et les agneaux de trois à huit mois, les maladies étaient particulièrement fréquentes et responsables de près de 80 pour cent de la mortalité totale. Dans les élevages considérés, l'absence de toute mesure régulière de déparasitage et de détiquage pesait lourdement sur l'incidence des maladies. Outre cette prophylaxie inexistante, les problèmes sanitaires étaient aussi, et dans une très large mesure, liés aux divers systèmes d'élevage pratiqués, qui allaient du pâturage au piquet à l'élevage semi-intensif et extensif.


Una encuesta realizada entre los productores de pequeños rumiantes de la provincia nordoccidental del Camerún puso de manifiesto que encontraban numerosos problemas de salud. En la encuesta se comprobó que había un predominio de afecciones respiratorias, helmintiasis, infestaciones de garrapatas, ectima contagioso, gastrofilosis, malnutrición y enterotoxemia. La mayoría de las enfermedades aparecían durante tres períodos particulares del año: a la mitad de la estación de lluvias, en la última parte de dicha estación y a la mitad de la estación seca. Los cabritos y los corderos de tres a ocho meses de edad eran muy susceptibles a diversas enfermedades y les correspondía casi el 80 por ciento de la mortalidad total. La ausencia de tratamiento antiparasitario regular y de medidas de lucha contra las garrapatas contribuían considerablemente a la elevada incidencia de las enfermedades en las respectivas explotaciones. Además de la falta de profilaxis, los diversos sistemas de explotación de los agricultores, que iban desde el pastoreo a la estaca y los sistemas semiintensivo e intensivo, concurrían a la deficiente situación de salud.

The Republic of Cameroon lies at the extreme northeastern fringe of the Gulf of Guinea in the central African subregion. It is bordered by Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Congo to the south, Nigeria to the west, and Chad and the Central African Republic to the north and east.
In North West Province, even though it is the fourth highest livestock-producing province in Cameroon, animal protein consumption is still very low. To rectify this, small ruminant production must be intensified to provide an alternative source of animal protein, since beef is very expensive. Most small ruminant farmers in the area are found in the crop-livestock production systems.
Increased production of small ruminants requires adequate disease control, good management and nutrition in order to avoid serious losses (Ndamukong, 1985). Animal health care has seriously declined in the last two decades because the Government of Cameroon cannot effectively provide all the services needed.
Diseases account for high mortality as well as low production (Nfi, 1985; Ndamukong, 1985). Good manage-ment is a major factor in the success or failure of a farm enterprise, but little effort has been made to study this aspect except in a few specialized areas (Schillhorn van Veen, 1982). However, there is evidence that the traditional African livestock owner knows how to manage and control animal diseases (Ba, 1984). Inadequate nutrition has a bearing on the severity of infection in animals (Zakara, 1985), since feed shortages aggravate parasite damage and small ruminant herds can suffer severe losses as a result of their lowered resistance (Kurtze, 1982). Young stock are particularly affected by helminthic diseases, causing retardation of growth, while contagious epidemics play a less important role owing to the limited movement of stock.
The basic objective of the survey reported in this article was to identify health constraints in small ruminants on farms of North West Province.


During visits to small ruminant farmers, animal health problems were investigated in an attempt to diagnose and control some of the diseases. The multidisciplinary team that undertook the study comprised a nutritionist, a veterinarian and an agrostologist, all involved in various facets of animal production. They visited 31 sheep farmers, each with an average herd size of 28, and 41 goat farmers with an average of 32 animals. In all, 785 sheep and 1 044 goats were examined.
Data collected covered mortalities, health problems, feed supplementation, the provision of animal shelter, deworming, tick control, vaccination, treatment of sick animals and causes of reduction in herd size. Where possible, sick animals were examined and treated during the visits and post mortem examinations were also performed. Faecal samples were collected for coproscopy and larval cultures for helminth identification, according to Soulsby (1982). The study was carried out in the Bui, Donga and Mantung, Mentchum, Mezam and Momo Divisions of North West Province and the Mankon Station Research Laboratory facilitated parasite and disease diagnosis.


The farmers involved in the study reared either sheep or goats. Animals of both sexes and all ages grazed together on natural pastures. Some farmers provided feed supplementation of ground corn, cassava peelings and cotton-seed cake, especially during the dry season when animals were also allowed to graze on harvested fields.
Shelters with grass or thatched roofs were provided, either attached to farm houses or as separate structures nearby. Some animal housing had slatted wooden floors, while others just consisted of earthen floors with roofs that often leaked in the rainy season. Cleaning was irregular and the space provided inadequate for the number of adult animals that were accommodated.
Some farmers dewormed their stock systematically, while others applied anthelmintic treatment irregularly and some knew nothing about it. There was no regular tick control programme but when the animals were badly infested, the ticks were removed by hand. Farmers did not appear to vaccinate their stock.


Of the 1 274 health cases examined in goats, 9.2 percent were respiratory problems, 27.4 percent helminthiasis, 20.3 percent tick infestations, 13.4 percent sore mouth, 10.9 percent nasal botfly infestation and 7.2 percent malnutrition. Accidents accounted for 3.3 percent, while bloat, enterotoxaemia, toxicosis, mange, snake bite and dystocia were responsible for 8.3 percent.
Helminthiasis, respiratory problems and tick infestation were very persistent during the rainy season, while sore mouth and nasal botfly infestation reached a climax in the middle of the dry season. Among the males, the most important diseases were helminthiasis (34 percent), sore mouth (15 percent) and nasal botfly (15.5 percent), while among the females the most common were tick infestation (30 percent), helminthiasis (21.2 percent) and respiratory conditions (13.5 percent). Respiratory problems were most serious among the pre-weaning and post-weaning age groups of goats, while gastro-intestinal parasitism was observed mostly between four and twelve months.


Of the 809 cases examined in sheep, 15.1 percent were respiratory problems, 32.6 percent gastro-intestinal parasitism, 15.8 percent tick problems, 11.2 percent nasal botfly infestation and 11.7 percent malnutrition. Accidents and sore mouth accounted for 3 percent and 1.2 percent, respectively, while snake bite, poisoning, dystocia, bloat and enterotoxaemia accounted for 13 percent.
The rams experienced more health problems than the ewes; the main cases were gastro-intestinal parasitism (4l.2 percent), respiratory problems (16.1 percent) and tick infestation (13.7 percent), while the main cases among ewes were gastro-intestinal parasitism (20.5 percent), tick infestations (18.8 percent), malnutrition (16.1 percent) and respiratory problems (13.7 percent). Respiratory problems were observed mostly among the three- to six-month lambs whereas helminthiasis had a high incidence among the six- to twelve-month group. Malnutrition was common among sheep from 12 to 24 months old, as was tick infestation.


The broad array of animal health problems in Cameroon today is depressing small ruminant production and retarding the introduction of more productive breeding stock and new technologies. The most important disease constraints to small ruminant productivity in Cameroon today are the parasitic and viral diseases, mainly vector-borne, which have a wide geographic distribution and whose severity is strongly influenced by the environment. No effective and easily administered vaccines or chemotherapeutic agents exist for these diseases. Control of tick or insect vectors with pesticides is expensive, difficult to achieve and unsustainable because of the development of resistance.
Respiratory problems, mainly from pneumopathies, were the most common health problems during the rainy season. Kids and lambs from three to six months of age were the most susceptible. These findings are in line with the observations of Oppong (1972). There was a high mortality of kids and lambs at pre-weaning age owing to helminthiasis and respiratory problems, as observed earlier (Traore, 1985; Schillhorn van Veen, 1982; Kerboeuf, 1984; Ndamukong, l985).
Helminthiasis or gastro-intestinal parasitism was more severe in goats than in sheep; the main signs included anaemia, weight loss and "bottle jaw". High mortality of the young resulted from farmers' failure to separate the young stock from adults as well as from the overgrazing of infested pastures coupled with inappropriate or inadequate use of anthelmintics. Helminthiasis occurred all year round, as the larval stages continuously present in pastures were ingested during grazing (Nfi, 1985).
Gastro-intestinal parasitism has been ranked with stomatitis pneumo-enteritis complex (SPC) or peste des petits ruminants (PPR) and pneumonia as a major constraint to increased small ruminant production in the humid zone (ILCA, 1979). The commonly identified helminth species from coproscopy and larval cultures were: Haemonchus contortus, Trichostrongylus spp., Oesophagostomun columbianum, Monieza expansa and Strongyloides spp.
The farmers' various management systems, which ranged from tethering, semi-intensive to extensive, contributed considerably to the serious health problems. Minimum confinement over extensive grazing areas reduced infectious disease problems but increased neonatal losses. This may have resulted from inadequate observation and assistance during kidding or lambing, mismothering or susceptibility to abrupt weather changes (Morand-Fehr, 1987). Neonatal losses may also result from variation in the availability of food supply, wandering, theft and predation.
Mortality as a result of malnutrition was observed among the kids during the heavy rains and among the lambs in the dry season. The young were malnourished, as they did not receive enough milk from their inadequately fed dams. During heavy rains, goats find it difficult to graze in wet pasture, hence there is apparent starvation during the heavy rainfall periods. In the dry season, sheep starve owing to the lack of green pastures for grazing (Opasina, 1985). Most of the accidents observed were caused by lambs and kids getting their limbs trapped between spaces in the slatted floors and fencing wires.
Ticks posed many problems, mainly neonatal septicaemia, in the absence of tick control programmes. There was a high incidence of heartwater and piroplasmosis. Most farmers complained of their animals voiding blood-tinged urine which is a sign of babesiosis, a tick-borne infection, and mange and dermatophilosis cases occurred quite frequently on most farms.
On farms with slatted floors, there was a high incidence of nasal botfly infestation during the dry season, resulting from irregular and infrequent cleaning, which encouraged the propagation of the Oestrus ovis fly. In certain post mortem examinations, about 15 to 25 Oestrus ovis larvae were recovered from nasal turbinates, sinuses and in some cases even along the pulmonary tract.
While mortalities obviously have a severe economic impact, productivity losses owing to morbidity are often underestimated because they are difficult to quantify in different epidemiological situations. These losses, however, are very significant and become apparent only when fatal epizootic diseases are contained by vaccination or good management practices (de Haan and Bekure, 1991).
There is clearly a need for further work to provide this indispensable group of farmers with a workable health package to alleviate their animal production constraints and make better use of their potentials and opportunities. Since the state can no longer effectively provide all the services needed, veterinary services that directly benefit the individuals should be privatized. The state should only provide services that are of broad-based public interest.


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