By Tsitsi Matope
SETIBING — Livestock-farming in the beautiful mountains of Ha-Chalalisa village in Setibing, has never been this exciting — thanks to the newly established Moleko Ambulatory Veterinary Services Clinic.
The private clinic, owned by Dr Malefane Moleko, was opened in January and provides comprehensive veterinary care, including supplementary feed.
Over the years, local farmers have employed different innovations to save their animals, sometimes travelling long distances to purchase medication. In some instances, the farmers would fall victim to bogus veterinarians, who would sell them fake medicines — only for them to watch their animals die days later.
“Those were terrible times,” Moeti Moeti, who owns eight cows, on Monday told the Lesotho Times. “That is why we welcome this animal clinic because in the past, many animals would die due to lack of veterinary services. We hope the situation is going to change because losing livestock that could have been easily saved through timely intervention, is the most painful thing that could happen to any farmer.”
Having large flocks of the meek merino sheep, charming angora goats and herds of cattle with shiny coats, is not only the pride of every farmer in Ha-Chalalisa village but also a source of livelihood.
“We virtually live on our animals. We milk them, slaughter them for meat, harvest their manure to fertilise our gardens, use them to pay the bride-price and sell them to pay school fees for our children. These animals are our life; they make us complete, hence the need to care for them as best as we can,” Moeti said.
Moeti’s family collects 15 litres of milk from two cows on a daily basis, while cattle sell for between M5 000 and M8 000 in Ha- Chalalisa, depending on the size.
However, for farmers such as Mojela Posholi, it is not only having many cattle, goats and sheep, which is a sign of a man who is seriously in business but also ensuring they are healthy.
According to Posholi, having healthy animals can ensure their survival and high productivity.
For Posholi, having 14 cattle, 30 goats and 14 sheep, is a sensible investment or, as he likes to explain it is “having bucks on fours or money in the kraal”.
However, one thing that makes him stand out from other farmers in the area is how, before they had a clinic in the village, he would hire a veterinary surgeon to vaccinate his animals against diseases.
With a thriving butchery in Maseru (Dion Butchery based in Borokhoaneng), it is no surprise Posholi is enthusiastic about discussing the establishment of a private veterinary clinic in his village — a facility he also helped to facilitate.
“Walking long distances to seek treatment or vaccination of animals is now a thing of the past in our village. We can also now buy safe medicines under the guidance of a professional veterinary surgeon. This is quite a significant development for all the livestock farmers in this area and beyond,” Posholi said.
Posholi further explained although local residents have spent many years without veterinary services at their doorstep, investing in effective animal-health services was of great importance to the growth of the livestock sector and improvement of livelihoods in the area.
“Because we are a livestock country and one of Africa’s exporters of wool and mohair, all stakeholders should see to it that this sector is further developed to help alleviate poverty and create jobs for our people.”
In 1980, Posholi decided to venture into livestock farming, fully aware of its demands, and says he remains convinced he made the right business choice.
“Animals are like human beings; they can get sick and die. Inaccessibility of veterinary services can mean venturing into a very risky business because it is easy to lose all your livestock in case of a disease-outbreak.
But because I grew up tending my family’s livestock, it was the only type of farming that made business sense to me.”
After five years of breeding and selling cattle, sheep and goats, Posholi decided to establish his own butchery in 1985.
According to Posholi, this new development meant he would not only breed his own animals but also slaughter them and sell the meat in his shop.
The last two decades have seen Posholi manage to sustain his livestock-production and meat business to emerge one of the most successful businesspeople in the sector.
At his Dion Butchery, Posholi and his wife, ‘Mabofihla, sell special and high-quality “indigenous beef”, sheep and goat meat. Priced at M80 per kilogramme, Posholi shows a lot of confidence in the quality of meat he produces.
“The difference in what I have to offer my customers is that this is meat locally-produced under typical traditional care, which most Basotho are familiar with. The market and customers I serve, like their meat tough and enjoy that unique stock the meat produces. The stock shows the animals grew naturally and are not chemically hurried to grow.”
On his part, Moleko said the fact that some livestock farmers recognise the role that medicine plays in the growth of the sector, influenced his decision to provide veterinary services within easy reach.
After retiring from the civil service last year, Moleko decided to fill in the gaps he had identified in the sector while he was working for the government.
He said not only were many farmers in some parts of the country struggling to access all veterinary services, some, to this day, remain ignorant of what steps to take at household level in order to improve the health and productivity of their animals.
“We have many livestock farmers throughout the country and many other potential farmers who can join the sector if only they are convinced there are skilled people and enough facilities established to provide comprehensive animal health services,” Moleko said.
He emphasised the need for more education to enhance knowledge on disease-prevention and how to improve the productivity of livestock and production of high-quality meat, milk, wool and mohair.
“Sheep farmers, for example, need to understand how to adequately feed their rams is one effective way of increasing their fertility. Supplements can really help improve this aspect,” he said.
Moleko further explained why he enjoys providing services to places such as Ha-Chalalisa.
“I provide mobile services throughout the country, but I like this area because there are quite a number of cattle-posts here. The area is also strategically positioned and this enables me to reach out to livestock farmers in the distant areas such as Mantsunyane in Thaba-Tseka.”
Moleko further said although the clinic only opens on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he was making efforts to work with a veterinary assistant who would run the facility on a daily basis.
He further said although he charges a “modest fee” for his services, he does not see this discouraging serious livestock farmers from engaging his services.
“Livestock farmers want to rear healthy animals because a healthy animal is productive,” he said.
Although some of the critical veterinary services are not currently reaching all corners of the country, it was important for farmers to be always on the lookout for diseases that are common in Lesotho, Moleko said.
“These are diseases such as the balckquarter that affects cattle and sheep, internal and external parasites and the bluetongue, which attacks sheep and is common during the rainy season. What is of great importance is for the farmers to have knowledge on measures they can take to prevent diseases such as bluetongue. We can effectively vaccinate animals to prevent it and other diseases.”
Moleko, who also provides services from centres in Khubetsoana and Teyateyaneng, also said “more hands” were needed to complement government efforts, in ensuring a thriving livestock sector.
“We sometimes look far for solutions to our economic and social challenges, when all we need to work at is right before our eyes.
“Our livestock sector is a giant waiting to be awakened. With the right strategies that focus on weak areas and interventions that promote increased production and improve quality, Lesotho can sufficiently supply meat and other products to the local market and even for export.
“The private sector, which does not largely see the opportunities in the livestock and meat-production sector, has a critical role to play in supporting the growth of this industry.
“As a country, we really need to put our priorities in good order and focus on developing a sector that already exists and has the potential to accommodate many of our unemployed youths,” Moleko said.
“Government also needs to take veterinary services as a public good.
“That way, they can realise the need to train more veterinarians and para-veterinary personnel, involve private veterinarians in national disease control programmes and subsidise vaccination campaigns where farmers fail to have their animals vaccinated owing to the fees charged.
“However, this is not to say farmers should be relieved of their responsibility to ensure animals are healthy but instead, the government should work closely with the farmers and have a deeper understanding of what is needed for the sector to thrive.”