You are here

Livestock disease management

Technology group: 

Livestock systems in developing countries are characterised by rapid change, driven by factors such as population growth, increases in the demand for livestock products as incomes rise, and urbanisation. Climate change is adding to the considerable development challenges posed by these drivers of change. The increasing frequency of heat stress, drought and flooding events could translate into the increased spread of existing vector-borne diseases and macro-parasites, along with the emergence of new diseases and transmission models (IFAD, 2002). Appropriate sustainable livestock management practices are required so that livestock keepers can take advantage of the increasing demand for livestock products (where this is feasible) and protect their livestock assets in the face of changing and increasingly variable climates.

Livestock diseases contribute to an important set of problems within livestock production systems. These include animal welfare, productivity losses, uncertain food security, loss of income and negative impacts on human health. Livestock disease management can reduce disease through improved animal husbandry practices. These include: controlled breeding, controlling entry to farm lots, and quarantining sick animals and through developing and improving antibiotics, vaccines and diagnostic tools, evaluation of ethno-therapeutic options, and vector control techniques.


Livestock disease management is made up of two key components:

  1. Prevention (biosecurity) measures in susceptible herds
  2. Control measures taken once infection occurs.

The probability of infection from a given disease depends on existing farm practices (prevention) as well as the prevalence rate in host populations in the relevant area. As the prevalence in the area increases, the probability of infection increases.

Prevention Measures

Preventing diseases entering and spreading in livestock populations is the most efficient and cost-effective way of managing disease (Wobeser, 2002). While many approaches to management are disease specific, improved regulation of movements of livestock can provide broader protection. A standard disease prevention programme that can apply in all contexts does not exist. But there are some basic principles that should always be observed. The following practices aid in disease prevention:

  • Elaboration of an animal health programme
  • Select a well-known, reliable source from which to purchase animals, one that can supply healthy stock, inherently vigorous and developed for a specific purpose. New animals should be monitored for disease before being introduced into the main flock.
  • Good hygiene including clean water and feed supplies.
  • Precise vaccination schedule for each herd or flock.
  • Observe animals frequently for signs of disease, and if a disease problem develops, obtain an early, reliable diagnosis and apply the best treatment, control, and eradication measures for that specific disease.
  • Dispose of all dead animals by burning, deep burying, or disposal pit.
  • Maintain good records relative to flock or herd health. These should include vaccination history, disease prob­lems and medication.

Surveillance and Control Measures

Disease surveillance allows the identification of new infections and changes to existing ones. This involves disease reporting and specimen submission by livestock owners, village veterinary staff, district and provincial veterinary officers. The method used to combat a disease outbreak depends on the severity of the outbreak. In the event of a disease outbreak the precise location of all livestock is essential for effective measures to control and eradicate contagious viruses. Restrictions on animal movements may be required as well as quarantine and, in extreme cases, slaughter. Figures 1 and 2 are photos illustrating the holistic approaches to livestock disease prevention and control.

Holistic approaches to disease prevention control

Holistic approaches to disease prevention control2

The major impacts of climate change on livestock diseases have been on diseases that are vector-borne. Increasing temperatures have supported the expansion of vector populations into cooler areas. Such cooler areas can be either higher altitude systems (for example, livestock tick-borne diseases) or more temperate zones (for example, the outbreak of bluetongue disease in northern Europe). Changes in rainfall pattern can also influence an expansion of vectors during wetter years and can lead to large outbreaks. Climate changes could also influence disease distribution indirectly through changes in the distribution of livestock. Improving livestock disease control is therefore an effective technology for climate change adaptation.

Advantages of the technology

Benefits of livestock disease prevention and control include: higher production (as morbidity is lowered and mortality or early culling is reduced), and avoided future control costs. When farmers mitigate disease through prevention or control, they benefit not just themselves but any others at risk of adverse outcomes from the presence of disease on that operation. At-risk populations include residents, visitors and consumers. The beneficiaries might also include at-risk wildlife populations surrounding the farm that may have direct or indirect contact with livestock or livestock-related material.

Disadvantages of the technology

Management options may interact, so the use of one option may diminish the effectiveness of another. Another critical issue is the long-term sustainability of currently used strategies. Chemical intervention strategies such as antibiotics or vaccines are not biologically sustainable. Animals develop resistance to drugs used to control certain viruses and with each new generation of vaccine a new and more virulent strain of the virus can arise (FAO, 2003). Small-scale producers may be negatively affected by livestock disease management if the full cost of the disease management programme is directly passed onto them with no subsidy from the government (FAO, 2003b).

Financial requirements and costs

Livestock disease management costs include: testing and screening, veterinary services, vaccines, training of livestock keepers and veterinary staff, and perhaps changes to practices and facilities to reflect movement restrictions and quarantines when animals are added to the herd. The costs of a small-scale mastitis control programme in Peru are shown in Box 1.

Box 1: Control of Mastitis
A low-cost technology applicable to a wide range of livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) is the control of mastitis. Mastitis is an infectious disease caused by pathogenic micro-organisms due to inadequate milking practices or blows to the udders. It is one of the diseases that cause the most financial losses in milk production. In conditions of increasing climate variability, emergence of new pests and diseases can introduce invasive organisms to the livestock environment. It is therefore essential that livestock farmers are able to identify and prevent mastitis in order to maintain healthy animals that, in turn, are more capable of withstanding adverse weather conditions such as prolonged droughts or severe frosts.

Information and monitoring requirements for the control of mastitis include:

  • Producer training on testing and diagnosing mastitis, hygienic milking practices, teat sealing, treatment of clinical mastitis, control records
  • Organisations or institutions must have extension farmers or technicians who are trained in the mastitis control process
  • Monitoring and regular check-ups are necessary for the prevention of mastitis.

The following is also required in the application of this technology:

  • The California Mastitis Test (CMT) or black background rate. This is very easy for farmers to use as readings are immediate and low cost.
  • Teat sealant to protect the udder against mastitis germs.
  • Clean and disinfected containers, cloths and mechanical milking machines.
  • Milking records which should contain basic information like the name of the animal, the date, the name of the person milking the animal, the rooms examined, evidence of mastitis, density and acidity of the milk.

Institutional and organisational requirements must also be taken into account: health care institutions and producers’ organisations should carry out sanitation campaigns, hold training workshops and provide technical assistance on the control of mastitis, using adequate informative materials like easy-to-read leaflets and flyers that the cattle farmers can understand and follow. Costs and financial requirements are relatively low. The CMT costs about US$25 and can last about six months for an average of three cows per farmer. The teat sealant costs about US$30.

In a project implemented by Practical Action Latin America in San Miguel province in the Cajamarca region of Peru, two Livestock Services Centres were formed. These centres comprised extension farmers who had participated in a training programme on livestock management, animal health, animal feed, genetic improvement, business management, and information and communication technologies. This enabled them to provide training and technical assistance in their 22 settlements or communities. At the present time, 22 extension farmers are providing more than 450 services, dealing with problems affecting the dairy cattle and providing training in their communities on mastitis control and milk analysis; hygienic milking; milk control records and dairy cattle management. This mastitis control practice was applied in 50 per cent of the dairy farms, improving the quality of the milk and increasing production by 10 per cent. (Source: Juan Vargas, Practical Action Latin America)

Prevention and control costs are generally evaluated against expected financial losses resulting from a disease outbreak in a cost-benefit analysis. The assumption is that increased prevention and control costs lower the expected losses by diminishing the expected scale of an infection. McInerney et al (1992) present the problem graphically as a cost minimisation problem:

min C = L + E

Where C is total annual disease cost, L is the value of output losses, and E is the control expenditures (which themselves are a function of inputs purchased for control).

Institutional and organisational requirements

Countries should cooperate in programmes against trans-boundary disease either through formally formed organisations or networks. Neighbouring countries often have similar production systems and disease risk profiles and will be more likely to be affected by similar climate change impacts in livestock disease. There will be mutual benefits and cost savings through joint preparedness planning. Public policies range from bounties/indemnities for infected livestock to required herd depopulation and farm decontamination, to decentralisation programmes for provision of veterinary services and drug supplies. Livestock and animal health policy should be oriented to both the commercial and pastoral sectors and include pro-poor interventions to support the most vulnerable populations. Government investments in infrastructure (including early warning systems, roads, abattoirs, holding pens, processing plants, air freight/ports and so on), systematic vaccination, and in research and development can all contribute to providing an enabling environment for effective livestock disease management. Removing or introducing subsidies for improved management, insurance systems and supporting income diversification practices could benefit adaptation efforts (IFAD, 2002).

In order for producers to make decisions regarding disease management, they must understand the options that they have. These options depend on disease biology, prevention techniques, tests for infection and their costs, treatments available, market reactions, as well as industry and government programmes and policies. Disease biology includes transmission modes and rates, disease evolution (for example, length of time to infectious period), production losses associated with the disease, and mortality rate (where applicable).

Practical training for farmers should include:

  • Principles of anatomy and physiology of the livestock animals.
  • Principles of nutrition and pasture ecology.
  • Animal diseases of local importance: clinical and post mortem signs, epidemiology, prevention, treatment. Applying first aid, the use of basic veterinary medicines (wound treatments, dips, anthelmintics, antibiotics, trypanocides, babesiacides, vaccines, care and storage of medicines and vaccines, and the use and care of syringes).
  • The basic principles of sero-surveillance campaigns ─ how to draw blood and store sera.

Modelling disease outbreaks and spread can provide valuable information for the development of management strategies. Modelling involves studying disease distribution and patterns of spread to determine the scale of a problem.This information is used to develop a model that can predict the spread of disease. Disease modelling requires prior knowledge of animal population distributions and ecology, diseases present and methods of disease transmission. Modelling can be used to assess potential disease impacts and develop contingency plans.

Geographic Information System (GIS) software can play a key role in livestock disease management. The main advantage of GIS software is not just that the user can see how a disease is distributed geographically, but also that an animal disease can be viewed against other information. For example, maps that show possible impacts of climate change on rainfall patterns, crop yields and flooding. The disease presence can then be related to these factors and more easily appreciated visually.This is important in relation to managing and responding to the changes in distribution of diseases due to changing climate (FAO, 1999). The role of indigenous knowledge in livestock disease management under climate change is shown in Box 2 below.

Box 2: The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Livestock Disease Management under Climate Change
Indigenous knowledge about livestock disease management has been shown, in certain cases, to be cost-effective, sustainable, environmentally friendly and practical. Practices include:
  • Utilisation of local plant remedies for prevention and cure of diseases.
  • Avoiding certain pastures at particular times of the year; and not staying too long in one place to avoid parasite build-up
  • Lighting smoke fires to repel insects, especially tsetse flies
  • Mixing species in the herd to avoid the spread of disease;
  • Avoiding infected areas or moving upwind of them; spreading livestock among different herds to minimise risks; and quarantining sick animals
  • Selective breeding. As an example from the arid south of Zambia, restocking and promoting the rearing of drought-tolerant goat breeds are adaptive measures already being undertaken

(Source: Niamir-Fuller, 1994; Moonga and Chitambo, 2010; Environmental Council of Zambia, 2009)

Barriers to implementation

A lack of strong institutions and political will to monitor disease status effectively can produce a considerable barrier to livestock disease management. Difficulties in eradication of disease may also be exacerbated by many small-scale and backyard producers, infected wildlife, smuggling, and cockfighting (FAO, 2003). If there is no compensation for stamping out disease through slaughter, then producers, particularly small-scale producers, may be reluctant to participate. If they do participate it may mean that they no longer can afford to produce (FAO, 2003).

Opportunities for implementation

Where the disease organism has built up resistance against vaccines or the animal has built resistance against the disease there is an opportunity for incorporating simple, high-tech genetic approaches such as selective breeding. National planning for livestock disease management also presents an opportunity to improve agricultural support services in rural areas and to incorporate indigenous knowledge into formal prevention and control plans, thereby unlocking the potential of low-cost interventions and disseminating information on traditional lessons and experiences to a wider audience. Trans-border collaboration can provide an opportunity to strengthen veterinary services and can improve the effectiveness of disease management programmes through harmonisation of prevention and control measures, such as disease reporting and surveillance.


  • Environmental Council of Zambia (2009) Second National Communication under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Lusaka. Republic of Zambia.
  • FAO (1999) Manual on Livestock Disease Surveillance and Information Systems, FAO, Rome
  • FAO (2003a) Trade Reforms and Food Security: Conceptualizing the Linkages, Commodities and Trade Division, FAO, Rome, 2003.
  • FAO (2003b) Project on Livestock Industrialisation, Trade and Social-Health-Environment Impacts in Developing Countries; FAO, Rome, 2003.
  • IFAD (The International Fund for Agricultural Development) (2002) ‘The Rural Poor’ in World Poverty Report, IFAD, Rome
  • McInerney, J. P., K.S. Howe and J.A. Schepers (1992) “A framework for the economic analysis of disease in farm livestock.” Preventive Veterinary Medicine. 12:137-154.
  • Moonga, E. and H. Chitambo (2010) The role of Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity in Livestock Disease Management under Climate Change, paper presented at the 2nd International Conference: Climate, Sustainability and Development in Semi-arid Regions August 16 - 20, 2010, Fortaleza - Ceará, Brazil
  • Niamir-Fuller, M. (1994) Women Livestock Managers in the Third World: Focus on Technical Issues Related to Gender Roles In Livestock Production, Staff Working Paper 18, Rome, IFAD
  • Wobeser, G. (2002) Scientific and Technical Review of the Office International des Epizooties 21(1), 159-178.