WATCH : 12 000 cattle die in 2 months Village Head Dumani and his wife Khulumoni Mhlanga prepare to dry their meat in Malungwane Village in Esigodini yesterday

Flora Fadzai Sibanda, [email protected]

Theileriosis disease, commonly known as January disease, has piled misery on farmers in Matabeleland South Province where it has killed 11 980 cattle since the beginning of the year.

According to Matabeleland South provincial veterinary director Dr Enat Mdlongwa, Insiza District has the highest number of cattle deaths so far at 8 700 followed by Umzingwane, which has lost 2 800, and Bulilima 480. 

One of the farmers in Umzingwane District has been left devastated and could not talk to our news crew when visited at his home yesterday after losing 97 heads out of a herd of 100.

Veterinary experts say January disease is caused by a parasite that infects the blood cells of cattle causing fever, anaemia, and death. It is mainly spread by a brown ear tick, which is most active between December and March when there is a lot of grass, hence the name January disease. The most effective way to beat January disease is by regular dipping of the cattle.

Mrs Khethiwe Sibanda explains how she lost cattle to January disease in Malungwane Village in Esigodini

When the news crew visited Malungwana Village in Umzingwane District, almost every homestead had suffered cattle deaths. Dried and fresh meat could be seen on wires, trees, perimeter enclosures, and objects at every homestead. One of the villagers, Mrs Khethiwe Sibanda, who lost 18 cattle and was sitting under a tree at her home clutching onto a Bible, could not hide her sorrow as she explained how cattle were dying in large numbers, leaving farmers confused.

She said the situation has left farmers desperate as they cannot even sell their live beasts anywhere since meat was all over and demand has dwindled due to the disease.

“As it is, we don’t even know what is killing our cattle. The provincial veterinarians came here at the beginning of this year and advised us to vaccinate our animals. 

“But many cattle died after they were injected and as a result, many farmers who had not yet injected theirs no longer want to vaccinate,” said Mrs Sibanda.

“We are now confused as to what might be killing our cattle.”

She said she was able to detect when a cow has been hit by the disease through symptoms like failure to graze, loss of weight within a few days, and dripping of saliva from the mouth.

“It’s a strange thing as these cattle don’t die in an open space but tend to hide in the bush and you will be told by those who see it dead. This is why you found me holding my Bible because l am not sure what kind of evil this is and l am afraid of losing the remaining heads,” said Mrs Sibanda.

Another farmer, Mr Raphael Ndlovu, who is also the village dip tank attendant said he was scared the meat they are eating could infect people as some families were not disposing of carcasses of affected animals.

He said he has so far lost four cattle out of 50 after he managed to vaccinate his herd on time.

“When the cow dies the offals will be rotten but the meat will still be fine. Many people throw away these and keep the meat,” said Mr Ndlovu.

“The challenge is that many refused to go and vaccinate their cattle and those who vaccinated are safe. Some just blame the veterinary officers, but we were told that if you see your cow dying after vaccination it means it had already got the disease before.”

Village Head Madumane said the level of cattle deaths this year were unprecedented hence some farmers were even selling their cattle for a song with give-way prices of about US$250 just to salvage something instead of losing their animals.

“We usually sell our cattle for US$600 going up but now we have no option and we are selling them for such a small amount. Things are bad because these cattle are our livelihood and without them, we have no hope of surviving,” said the traditional leader.

While January disease was causing havoc in the province, Dr Mdlongwa said measures were being taken to arrest the situation and urged farmers to adhere to dipping schedules. Livestock production is a critical economic activity for many families in the Matabeleland region. — @flora_sibanda

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