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Photo K. Dhanji/ILRI

Important knowledge gaps among pastoralists on causes and treatment of udder health problems in livestock in southern Ethiopia: results of qualitative investigation

Background Ethiopia has high prevalences of udder health problems including clinical and subclinical mastitis across production systems in different livestock species. Previous studies on udder health problems have largely focused on identification of mastitis causing microbial pathogens and associated risk factors. However, relatively little is known about the knowledge and beliefs of livestock keepers regarding udder health problems. An understanding of the beliefs on the other hand would facilitate effective communication between livestock keepers and animal health professionals. Therefore, this study aimed at exploring the knowledge and belief surrounding the causes, clinical signs and treatments for udder health problems in (agro-) pastoral communities in southern Ethiopia using qualitative investigation. Results The result showed that udder health problem, locally known as ‘dhukkuba muchaa’, which translates to ‘disease of teats’, was classified into three main types: (1) tick infestation (dirandisa), (2) swelling of udder often with pus discharge (nyaqarsa) and (3) acute mastitis caused by evil eye (buda) with ‘bloody milk’. Tick infestation was perceived to directly cause mechanical damage to udder tissue or to resulting in swelling leading to nyaqarsa. Our analysis also revealed the strong misperception that acute and severe swelling of udder was caused by evil eye. According to the pastoralists, cows with large udders in the late pregnancy are prone to evil eye infliction upon giving birth. The pastoralists often treat udder health problems by combining both modern and traditional methods. Removal of ticks by hand and acarcide application were the preferred methods for limiting tick infestation while swelling and evil eye cases were treated with antibiotics (e.g. oxytetracycline). The study also revealed that specific herbs, only known by the herbalists, were used for traditional treatment of udder health. Although this information could not be divulged at the time, it should form the subject of further investigation. Traditional treatment for evil eye was often administered through nostrils, raising questions about its effectiveness. Conclusion The narration given by the pastoralists in associating tick infestation with udder health problems was compatible with existing scientific evidences. In this respect, such local knowledge can be better utilized for the educational messages targeting control and management of tick infestation in livestock. However, the misperception of causes for acute udder swelling as evil eye can be problematic as far as the application of appropriate treatment and management of the problem is concerned. The misperception can significantly impact the welfare of animals and highlights the need for capacity building of the pastoralists on the causes and treatment of udder health problems.