Lumpy skin epidemic sweeps nationDisease claims 9,410 cows, oxen and buffaloes in 73 districts, dairy association says.
Indra Subedi, a resident of Hilihang Rural Municipality-7 in Panchthar district, is a dairy farmer. He mostly rears cows and makes a living selling milk. Two years ago, he bought a Holstein heifer, a breed of cow known for high milk production, for Rs25,000. On April 18 this year, the cow gave birth to a calf, and since then, had been producing 10 litres of milk daily. Subedi was excited with the prospect of a proper return to his investment.
That excitement, however, would not last long. On May 16, Subedi’s only dairy cow died due to lumpy skin disease, a viral infection that afflicts cattle.
“My family thought we would see returns on the investment we made in buying the cow and rearing it,” said Subedi. “But just when we had started milking the cow and selling milk, it contracted lumpy skin disease and died. With it gone, our hopes of recovering our investment and making a sustainable income have also died.”
According to Subedi, his family spent around Rs100,000 on the cow in the past two years.
“Soon after the cow gave birth to the calf, nodules had started appearing all over its body. Its urine showed traces of blood. Only much later did we find out it had contracted the lumpy skin disease. By the time we started treatment, it was too late.”
Bhakta Bahadur Shrestha, another farmer from the same ward, had two oxen, which he used for ploughing fields. In the last week of May, one of the oxen fell ill and died on June 10. “The ox had nodules on the skin but it was too late to start treatment. My other ox has also contracted the disease and is currently being treated,” said Shrestha. “I am extremely worried. I invested my savings in the pair of oxen. I don’t know how I will manage my finances this year.”
According to Shrestha, most dairy and livestock farmers in ward 7 have reported lumpy skin disease in their cattle.
Yashoda Katuwal from ward 9 of Khandbari Municipality in Sankhuwasabha district had also bought two cows eight months ago for Rs150,000 each from Dhankuta. Each cow used to give 18 litres of milk per day.
“In mid-April, one of the cows fell ill, and I was told by the veterinarian that the cow had contracted the lumpy skin disease. The cow died a couple of days after the diagnosis. The other cow has also contracted the disease and since the diagnosis a month ago, she has stopped producing milk. Later, a team from the Veterinary Hospital and Service Centre in Khandbari rescued the sick cow and treated her.”
Although Katuwal’s second cow has started producing milk after treatment, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Katuwal to find customers. “People don’t want to buy my cow’s milk because she was sick. They think they will fall sick if they consume the milk.”
Lumpy skin disease has affected animals in most small-scale dairy and livestock farms in all 14 districts of Koshi Province, according to the provincial Directorate of Livestock and Fishery Development. Some of the disease’s symptoms are swelling around the neck, wounds around the tail, belly, and udder, sores forming and water oozing from the wounds, nodules on the skin, and pus in the mouth. The disease is transmitted by the bites of mosquitoes, flies, and other insects.
According to Dr Manoj Kumar Mahato, head of the Veterinary Hospital and Animal Service Centre, Panchthar, farmers have experienced milk losses of up to 80 percent after their dairy cows contracted the disease.
Mahato said that the infected animals should not be taken to public places for grazing and should avoid all kinds of contact with other animals to prevent transmission of the disease to other healthy animals. Similarly, attention should be paid to vaccinations, medication, and barn sanitation.
According to the Directorate of Livestock and Fishery Development of Koshi Province, this disease, which appeared in India and Bangladesh three years ago, reached the hilly and mid-hilly regions of the province two years ago.
According to the directorate, in Koshi Province, a total of 1,129 cows and three buffalos have died of lumpy skin disease in the current fiscal year. Information officer Binod Kumar Sah said around 85,784 cows and buffaloes were taken ill from the disease in the province. It is mostly cows affected by the outbreak. Of the 85,784 livestock taken ill across the province, the number of buffaloes stands at 487.
Ilam, a hill district, is hardest hit by the outbreak in Koshi Province. As many as 435 cattle died in Ilam while 182 succumbed to the disease in Morang, 120 in Jhapa and 120 in Udayapur in the current fiscal year.
The directorate, the veterinary hospital and livestock service expert centres and the local units have been trying their best to control the outbreak, but to no avail. Veterinarians argue that all three levels of government and stakeholders should jointly launch a campaign to control the outbreak.
The lumpy skin disease is also taking its toll in Karnali Province as well.
Kal Bahadur Budha of Kalimati Rural Municipality-5 in Salyan district lost a cow and two oxen to the disease two months ago. After a week two oxen, a cow and a calf belonging to his neighbour Sur Bahadur Khatri also died.
“Nodules appeared in the body and started festering. We attempted to cure the disease through traditional medicines. But the cattle died within three or four days of the symptoms,” said Khatri. “We had no insurance for our cattle. We have been visiting the rural municipality office and agriculture office seeking help but they have not taken our issues seriously.”
Budha regrets not insuring the cattle. “I incurred a huge loss. I would not have to face such a loss if I had insured the cattle. The agriculture office was indifferent to providing timely treatment at first because I didn’t have insurance,” he said.
The local farmers are hugely affected by their cattle loss since it's time to plough the fields for the paddy transplantation season. “The veterinarians came to the village after the spread of the disease. They did not give any medicines or vaccines to control the disease. They just urged us to use locally available medicinal plants like Asuro and Titepati (mugwort). But our efforts to save our cattle failed,” said Budha.
According to the Veterinary Hospital and Livestock Service Expert Centre in Salyan, around 1,200 cattle died of lumpy skin disease in Salyan in this fiscal year. As per the data available at the centre, around 31,000 cattle have been infected by the disease in Salyan. The centre said it mobilised technicians in all 10 local units but their efforts to control the disease failed to bear results.
It is estimated that around 31,600 farmers have been rearing 70,000 cattle in Salyan, a hill district of Karnali Province. The farmers are highly dependent on oxen to plough the fields for planting crops. “We don’t have any healthy ox left in our barns,” said Sher Bahadur Budha of Bangadkupinde Municipality-9. He had two oxen, a cow and a calf. All of them perished in the outbreak. “There is also a shortage of milk in the villages as the disease claimed many cows,” he said.
Govinda Bahadur Mahat, chief of the Veterinary Hospital and Livestock Service Expert Centre, said that the Karnali Province government provided 2,000 doses of vaccine to Salyan to control the disease. “We demanded 3,000 doses of vaccines for Salyan. Around 1,000 doses are yet to arrive. We started administering vaccines to the cattle by mobilising technicians in every local body. However, the outbreak is yet to come under control,” said Mahat.
The disease has been spreading also in Humla, a mountain district. According to the provincial Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperatives, a total of 1,005 cattle died in Humla alone. Krishna Bahadur Rokaya, acting chief at the Veterinary Hospital and Livestock Service Expert Centre in Humla, said that almost all the cattle were infected with the disease although the vaccination drive is underway. According to him, farmers rear around 9,000 cattle in Humla.
“Livestock and dairy farmers rear around two million cattle in Karnali Province. Nearly 60 percent of them have been infected with the lumpy skin disease,” said Dhan Bahadur Kathayat, spokesman at the Ministry of Land Management, Agriculture and Cooperatives. “We have been launching awareness and vaccination programmes simultaneously. The farmers are in panic as their cattle started dying. Discussions are on regarding providing compensation to the affected farmers,” Kathayat said.
On Thursday, the Nepal Dairy Association issued a press statement demanding the government control the outbreak at the earliest. The association urged the federal, provincial and local governments to take the problem seriously and provide compensation to the affected farmers. “The disease has spread in 73 districts and killed 9,410 cows, oxen and buffalos across the country,” reads the statement.
Indrakala Khanal of Khandbari-3 in Sankhuwasabha has only one Jersey cow. The cow is the only source of income for the Khanal family. “I bought the cow for Rs 150,000. She used to give 16 litres of milk daily. I used to sell milk and support my family,” said Khanal. “She contracted the lumpy skin disease and although she has been treated successfully, her milk production has decreased significantly.”
According to Khanal, her cow currently gives 2 litres of milk a day. “But I haven’t been able to sell even two litres of milk because my regular customers don’t want to buy milk from a diseased cow,” said Khanal. “If this continues, my family of four will face financial ruin.”