The email from Greg of Narok was very specific.
It stated he needed an audit of his pig farm. I marked the email as one that required analysis, a well-considered response and follow-up.
I put it pending to first read the others that were comments and questions on livestock farming challenges from readers of this column.
I was yet to respond to Greg’s request when he called me on phone. He said he wanted to know if I could visit his farm for the requested audit.
I had already seen the issues on the farm that had made him conclude he needed an audit but I asked him to give me a direct history of the farm and its challenges.
Greg’s farm is about 300km return journey from my Nairobi office. Under normal circumstances, I would have preferred to review the farm’s challenges remotely and make recommendations to manage cost and time.
However, the issues Greg had enumerated could only be sufficiently addressed with my physical visit. I agreed with him he needed an audit of his farm. In veterinary professional terms, we refer to the audit as a herd health assessment. This term has now morphed into an “audit” because it encompasses all aspects of livestock production and agribusiness.
I visited Greg’s farm last week with my colleague Dr Vero. The farm is located in one of my favourite areas of the county. I call it the “Scotland of Kenya” due to its scenic undulating grasslands, cool weather and wool sheep.
It was Vero’s first visit to the area and she could not hold her excitement. Our farm audit started from the main entrance. I could tell from the fencing and housing structures that Greg had started the farm from an informed position.
There was a barbed wire perimeter fence around the entire farm. The main gate was made of concrete and steel. There was a standard disinfection water bath with a high roof.
We stopped the car in the water bath and disinfected the soles of our shoes before proceeding to the parking lot.The pig unit was marked “Pig Department” on a clearly visible signboard while some arrows indicated the direction to the fish and poultry departments.
At the pig compound entrance, there was a board showing the number and categories of pigs on the farm. These were all good signs of professional and commercial farming.
Owuor, the farm manager and his chief supervisor Kimani, welcomed us and informed Greg we had arrived. We quickly went into the spacious farm boardroom and officially started the rigorous audit. Moses, the assistant farm manager, also joined in the discussions.
In a farm audit, the idea is to first get a full history of the farm and its performance from the management. This is followed by a statement and explanation of the challenges encountered, the interventions instituted and their outcomes.
The management should provide documentary evidence of the interventions made. The audit is concluded with a tour of the farm and its facilities to assess the health of the animals and farm practices in feeding, management and waste management. The audit also looks at farm revenues to determine whether the farmer is doing profitable agribusiness and if there are ways of improving.
Greg explained they needed an audit because they had been doing very well with pigs since starting in 2017. The piglet and weaner mortality had increasingly escalated from a few piglets per month to up to 50 every month between June and August.
Treatment had not helped much. Some animal health service providers had said the piglets were having “digestive problems”.
The farm had got to the conclusion that the pig population would drop severely if the trend continued unabated. I agreed with them. The piglets started with diarrhoea, followed by shaking and uncoordinated walk.
Some would have swollen eyes or just drop dead without showing signs of sickness. Sometimes grower and baconer pigs would also drop dead without showing any sign of sickness. The problem appeared to affect the healthiest of the older pigs but none of the breeding pigs had been affected.
This was the greatest challenge on the farm. Vero and I checked the records of interventions and concluded the farm had an outbreak of a bacterial infection called gut oedema.
We explained the appropriate treatment and prevention. Other signs of sickness on the farm included sneezing and abscesses or boils on the snouts of piglets causing deformation, wasting and death.
We diagnosed another bacterial infection which should be detected at the sneezing stage and treated before progressing further.
The other major problem was mange where pigs kept scratching continuously against walls. It is caused by a microscopic skin parasite and treated with anti-parasite injections or skin washes.
We finally toured the farm and confirmed the problems we had identified in the discussions.
The structures and management practices were well done. We assured Greg and his team the challenges they were having were normal with pig farming, especially as the numbers on the farm increased towards their target of 2,000 pigs.
I would provide them with the full audit report with appropriate solutions.