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Planned Health Programs for Small-Scale Livestock Farms in the Philippines
Jose Q. Molina
Department of Zootechnics,
College of Veterinary Medicine,
University of the Philippines at Los Baños,
College, Laguna 4031, Philippines, 1991-09-01


This Bulletin describes programs in the Philippines designed to give the livestock of smallholders the benefit of planned, continuous veterinary attention, rather than occasional crisis intervention when animals are already sick. The economic returns of such a program are analyzed by comparing two groups of dairy farmers (cattle and buffalo), one of which took part in the program while the other did not. Program farmers found that their buffalo and dairy cows had a shorter calving interval and produced a higher income per head than those of non-program farmers. The methodology of a suitable health program for smallholder dairy cattle and buffalo is presented, and also for small ruminants raised on small-scale coconut plantations, based on a survey which identified the most common diseases and their rates of morbidity and death.

Abstracts in Other Languages: 中文(752), 日本語(1217), 한국어(1072)

In order to control animal diseases effectively and maintain animals in good health, veterinary services should be well planned and continuous, rather than the traditional "fire brigade" or emergency type of service. The type of program popularly known as herd or planned health has as its main objective the prevention of diseases through timely intervention. To achieve this, it is necessary to have reliable information on the occurrence of diseases in a specific animal population, in order to identify their patterns and causation. Systematic action can then be directed against the diseases, to reduce their prevalence or even to eradicate them. Intervention against diseases does not then cease at this point, as is usual with the emergency type of veterinary service. The effectiveness of such action is monitored and evaluated, in terms not only of its ability to reduce the incidence of disease, but also of its capacity to increase the profitability of production.

Planned health programs are used mostly on commercial farms. They can however be adapted for use on small-scale farms and this paper discusses their application to smallholder dairy, water buffalo and small ruminant farms in the Philippines.

A Planned Health Program for Small-Scale Dairy Farming

The Philippines produces only about 2-5% of the dairy products it requires, and thus spends a lot of foreign currency importing supplies to meet the deficit. Recognizing the problem, the government has adopted a policy of promoting local dairy production. One of the programs undertaken towards this objective is the establishment of milk collection schemes, wherein farmers are encouraged to engage in backyard dairy farming. At the present time, there are six milk collection schemes in the Philippines, and there are plans to establish more of these in the future.

The productivity and profitability of the farms taking part in these milk collection schemes is generally low. Average milk production per cow is only two liters per day, compared to the average of 16 liters per day in Western countries. The frequency of calving and consequently of lactation is also low. This low productivity is mainly due to disease problems, which cause infertility, sickness and mortality among the dairy herds. Productivity can thus be increased if these disease problems are systematically controlled, using a planned health program.


Thirty-seven pairs out of the 200 farmers belonging to the Sta. Maria Milk Collection Scheme were selected, on the basis of similarity of the dairy herd owned by each of the two farmers (breed, whether buffalo or cattle, age) and their geographic location. Each of the paired farmers was allocated randomly into either a program or a non-program group. The non-program farmers served as a control, and continued to receive the traditional veterinary service.

The program farmers took part in the planned health program with regular monthly health visits, according to the following schedule:

  • 1. Postnatal Examination I (30 days after calving). The veterinarian diagnoses any infections, assesses the status of the ovaries (which should be normal in size and tone, with regression of the corpus luteum) assesses body condition and feeding management, and if necessary, recommends improvement in feeding.
  • 2. Postnatal Examination II (60 days after calving). On this visit, the veterinarian assesses whether involution of the uterus is complete, and checks whether the uterus is of normal size and tone, and free of any abnormality, especially infection. The ovaries should be of normal size and tone, with full regression of the corpus luteum, although perhaps there is no follicular development yet. There is another assessment of the quality and quantity of the feed being given the cow.
  • 3. Pre-Breeding Examination (90 days after calving). Animals by this time should have come into heat (first postpartum). The veterinarian checks the ovulation fossa or follicles in the ovaries, assesses the increasing tone of the uterus, predicts when the next heat will occur, and advises the farmer on estrus detection and mating management.
  • 4. Examination If No Visible Estrus (120 days after calving and every month thereafter). All cows which have not come into estrus should be examined for any pathologic abnormality in the genital tract, and treated if necessary.
  • 5. Examination of Cows which Fail to Conceive (120 days after calving and every month thereafter). All cows which were bred but showed estrus afterwards should be examined by rectal palpation to diagnose any abnormality. If such an abnormality is found, suitable treatment is given.
  • 6. Pregnancy Diagnosis. All cows which were bred and did not show estrus afterwards should be checked for pregnancy within seven weeks of the time of the recorded service.
  • Emergency Farm Visit. Like the non-program farmers, farmers in the program were visited when their animals needed urgent attention, on a call-service basis.

The program was based on the University of Melbourne Dairy Herd Health Program, adapted for Philippine conditions.

Individual record cards were kept for each dairy cow, so that its performance could be monitored. Significant events such as occurrence of heat, breeding, pregnancy and calving were indicated by color-coded paper clips, so that animals lagging behind in performance could be quickly identified by visual examination of the record cards. When the record cards were started, baseline data were obtained by interviewing the farmer, and the cards were updated with each farm visit.

Performance in the herds of program and non-program farmers was compared, in terms of calving interval, calving-to-conception interval, lactation length, dry period length, milk production and profitability, using the Student's T-Test and Gross Margin Analysis. In the profitability analysis, income sources included milk sales, changes in the stock inventory and sales of livestock and produce. Variable costs attributed to the planned health program included the drugs used, and the cost of improving the nutrition by e.g. pasture development and feed supplementation. The difference in performance between the program and non-program farmers represents the benefit derived from the program.

The study was conducted from November 1983 to April 1987, and covered a three-year production period.

Results and Discussion

Dairy Buffalo

The comparative performance of program and non-program farmers raising dairy buffalo is shown in Table 1(1420). The calving interval of the program buffalo is on average, 2.2 months shorter than that of the non-program buffalo. Twenty-six program and 14 non-program buffalo calved during the study period.

The mean calving-to-conception interval of the program buffalo is shorter than that of the non-program buffalo by 2.6 months. During the study period, 37 program buffalo were diagnosed as having conceived, compared to 24 non-program buffalo. This explains the similar calving interval of the two groups. There were more observations of the interval from calving-to-conception than the calving interval, because some of the pregnant buffalo have yet to calve.

The average lactation length of non-program animals is slightly but not significantly longer than that of the program animals. The reason for this is the practice of farmers to continue milking their cows regardless of the level of milk production. Thus, since the non-program buffalo had a longer calving interval, consequently their lactation period was also longer.

However, the program animals had a shorter dry period than the non-program animals. The non-program buffalo were dry for an average of 1.48 months more than their program counterparts. As to milk production, the program buffalo produced 0.2 kg more milk per day than the non-program buffalo. Although the difference between the two groups is small, it is statistically significant (Student T-Test, P<0.05).

With regard to profitability, the program farmers earned on average US$15.46 a month from one buffalo cow, while the non-program farmers earned only US$10.71. The variation in income of the non-program farmers was greater, and some of them actually lost money during the study period.

Dairy Cows

Table 2(1167) shows the comparative performance of the program and non-program farmers raising dairy cows. The program cows had a much shorter mean calving interval than the non-program cows. The difference of nine months between the two groups is in fact approximately the gestation period of the animal.

This difference is because of the longer mean calving-to-conception interval observed in the non-program cows. Program cows needed only 3.5 months after calving to conceive again, so that they were due to calve before their non-program counterparts had even become pregnant.

The mean lactation length of the program cows is significantly longer than that of the non-program cows, unlike the buffalo. The mean dry period of the non-program cows is very long _ 13.8 months, or more than a year, while the program cows had a mean dry period of only four months.

As to milk production, cows in the program had a marginally higher production and their owners earned $7.50 more per month from each cow than their non-program counterparts.


The results of the study show that a planned health program for backyard dairy farming is practicable. The program increased the productivity of the dairy animals, as indicated by the improvement in the different performance parameters. The profitability of the farms also increased. It is recommended, therefore, that the traditional type of veterinary service to farmers, in which the veterinarian comes to the farm in response to a crisis, be replaced by a planned health program. This would enable backyard farms to make a greater contribution to total milk production in the Philippines, and consequently reduce milk imports and foreign currency expenditure.

In operating the program, veterinarians should be well-trained in the concepts on which it is based. They must be made aware of the program's requirements, such as above-average skill in rectal palpation or reproductive examination; strict regularity in farm visits; accurate recording, monitoring and interpretation of farm data; good rapport with farmers; and most important, sincerity and dedication in their work.

A Planned Health Program for Water Buffalo on Small Farms

Filipino farmers raise water buffalo primarily as draft animals for crop farming. Secondarily, water buffalo are also used to produce meat and milk, a function which is gaining in importance. Usually, a farmer owns and takes care of one buffalo cow, which is used for farm work as well as being bred to produce calves and milk. More progressive farmers own more than one cow, and perhaps a bull and the offspring. It is usually culled animals which are sold for meat, but more and more farmers are selling young animals for slaughter.

One major cause of production losses on small-scale buffalo farms is disease. Unfortunately, diseases of buffalo have not received as much attention as those of other animals. Our present knowledge of buffalo diseases is limited, and health management programs for this animal are full of assumptions based on findings for other ruminants, especially cattle.

Before developing a planned health program for smallholder buffalo production, the epidemiology of diseases affecting the animal was established through a national survey of farmers and by a more intensive system of disease surveillance.

The results of the survey indicate that the most common disease problems among water buffalo raised by smallholders are infertility, calf scouring, respiratory disease, lameness, bloody urine and emaciation. It is also quite common for buffalo to suffer from reproductive infections, agalactia (lack of milk), skin diseases or bloat.

A major problem with survey data on diseases obtained from farmers is that the diagnoses are subjective, based on the observation of symptoms, but are not specific. The data needs to be validated through more definitive diagnosis and identification of the specific cause of the diseases. To obtain such data, a disease surveillance system for smallholders' water buffalo was established.

The surveillance system was set up in four "barangays" (villages) in Sta. Cruz and Pila, Laguna, where 82 smallholders were raising 116 mature buffalo and their offspring. Village officials and farmer leaders were enlisted to report any disease outbreaks to a mobile team based at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). Visits were made to sick buffalo, at which a treatment regimen was instituted and appropriate specimens for laboratory examination collected. All disease cases were followed up until their resolution _ either the recovery or the death of the affected animal. All data collected were analyzed to give a definitive diagnosis. The accumulated disease data were then processed, and the morbidity and mortality rates computed.

Table 3(1679) shows the common diseases affecting the water buffalo of smallholders, and the morbidity and mortality rates. It can be noted that the diseases recorded as common in the disease surveillance system and in the survey of farmers are very similar — calf scouring, respiratory disease, liver fluke and infertility. These diseases cause the most damage in terms of morbidity and mortality, and their control will give the greatest benefits. Thus, they should be the main concern of a planned health program.


The health program for smallholder water buffalo, focussing on the four most common diseases, recommended the following procedures:

  • 1. The calf should be allowed to suckle enough colostrum, and strict hygiene should be observed for the lactating cow and suckling calf.
  • 2. Calves should be vaccinated against hemorragic septicemia when they are three months old and every six months thereafter, and farmers should avoid exposing the animals to adverse weather conditions.
  • 3. Calves should be dewormed at one month of age and every six months thereafter. Mature buffalo should be dewormed every six months.
  • 4. All mature buffalo should be defluked every three months.
  • 5. Breeding buffalo should follow a planned reproductive health program.

The program was introduced to the same farmers who took part in the disease surveillance system. The farmers received regular monthly visits, at which time they were given training, and advised to implement procedure 1. Procedures 2, 3, 4 and 5 were performed by mobile veterinary team during the regular monthly visits. In addition to the regular visits, the farmers were also visited on an emergency or call-basis to attend to sick animals.

All disease data have been recorded and analyzed, as in the disease surveillance system. Gross margin analysis will be used to determine changes in farm profitability. Reductions in disease morbidity and mortality, and an increase in farm profitability using the disease surveillance data as a baseline, will be considered to be benefits derived from the planned health program.

The planned health program was started in June 1990 and will continue up to May 1994 to cover at least four production cycles.


Disease data for the first year is not yet complete, since the production cycle is due to end in May 1991. Preliminary examination of the available data, however, indicates that there has been less disease and lower mortality during the first three quarters of the year. This decline in the occurrence of diseases is expected to continue: if it does not, it will be necessary to revise the procedures of the planned health program.

Planned Health Program for Small Ruminants Raised on Small-Scale Coconut Plantations

The thousands of hectares of coconut land in the Philippines support a tremendous forage biomass, and offer good potential for ruminant production. Once this potential had been recognized, smallholders were encouraged to take part in integrated coconut-small ruminant production systems in several parts of the Philippines.

As with other smallholder livestock production systems, one of the major constraints is the high rate of disease and mortality. Many individual diseases have been identified in goats and sheep in the Philippines, but their epidemiology has not been established and no planned health program has been developed. This study was conducted to meet such a need.


The study was conducted in four barangays in Sta. Cruz, Laguna and at the College of Veterinary Medicine, UPLB from April 1989 to March 1991. Sixty breeding sheep, 30 breeding goats and their offspring on six farms were monitored for disease incidence. Animals were dewormed twice one week after the farm joined the program and once every six months thereafter, using Albendazole at a doseage of 10 milligrams per kilogram body weight. Kids and lambs were similarly dewormed at one month of age and every six months thereafter.

The health of the animals was monitored, and any symptoms of disease were recorded. Laboratory tests were performed as needed, diagnoses were made and treatment regimens instituted. The mortality rate in diseased animals was also noted.

The morbidity and mortality rates for each of the diseases were computed, based on the number of cases and the number of deaths in relation to the average number of animals during the study period. This data was then used as the basis for a planned health program for small ruminants raised on smallholder coconut plantations.

Results and Discussion


Over the one-and-a-half year period, 42 cases of disease were recorded in goats, giving a morbidity rate of 12.2% ( Table 4(1281)).

These comprised 13 cases of infectious disease (morbidity rate 3.9%) and 29 cases of disease caused by nutritional factors (morbidity rate 8.4%). Among the infectious diseases noted were eight cases of respiratory disease, two cases of parasitic diarrhea, one case of wound infection and two cases of orf. Among the cases of disease caused by poor nutrition were 23 cases of weak kids and six cases of calcium deficiency in bucks.


There were 46 cases of disease recorded in sheep, giving a morbidity rate of 8.3% ( Table 4(1281)). Of these, 28 (5.1%) were infectious diseases, and 18 (3.2%) were caused by nutritional disorders. Among the infectious diseases noted were eight cases of parasitic diarrhea, 17 cases of respiratory disease and three cases of wound infection. Among the nutritional diseases were 17 cases of weak lambs and one case of malnutrition.

Mortality Rates

Among the goats, 27 deaths were recorded, giving a mortality rate of 7.8% ( Table 5(1226)). These included four deaths from infectious disease (1.2% mortality rate), 17 deaths due to nutritional causes (5.0% mortality rate), and six deaths from injury (mortality rate of 1.8%).

Of the deaths from infectious disease, one was caused by respiratory disease, one by orf and two by parasitic diarrhea. Of the deaths from nutritional causes, 14 kids died from general weakness while three deaths were from calcium deficiency. Of the deaths from injury, three were due to trauma (one dog bite, one barbed wire injury, one rope strangulation), two were due to accident (one fell into a deep well, one died from snake bite) and one was lost and presumed dead.

The death rate in kids was particularly high (18 deaths, 14 of which were due to weakness, giving a specific mortality rate of 60.9% (14 out of 23)). Such deaths were almost always because the kids failed to suckle adequate amounts of milk from their dams so that they became hypoglycemic and weak. Laboratory tests indicated that the blood glucose levels of the affected kids was only 20-25 milligrams per deciliter of blood, compared to the normal level of 30-60 milligrams.

Both kids with parasitic diarrhea died of the disease. Examination of the parasites showed the presence of nematodes such as Hemonchus and Esophagostomum spp.. One kid died from respiratory disease but no specific bacterial pathogen could be isolated by laboratory tests. This suggests that the disease was a non-specific bacterial infection exacerbated by stress. Nine adult goats died, five of them from the physical causes described above (injury etc.).

Six purebreed Anglo-Nubian bucks were affected with posterior paralysis, three of which died (a specific mortality rate of 50%). The bucks were only about a year old, and the disease was diagnosed as calcium deficiency or rickets. The three bucks which died had serum calcium levels of 5.2, 4.8 and 5.7 milligrams per deciliter of blood, compared to the normal level of 10-12 milligrams. Radiography of the affected goats also revealed abnormal long bones, especially those of the hind limbs which had wider growth cartilage plates and thin, less radiopaque bone matrix. The other three bucks recovered after treatment with calcium injections supplemented by calcium in the feed. Their calcium deficiency occurred because the requirements of their larger bodies with their faster growth rates were not fully met by their forage diet, while no mineral supplementation had been given.

There was no observable seasonal pattern in the rates of disease, and death from disease, in goats, except that they were highest in newly bought animals just after they were introduced into the plantations. The goats were not able to adjust to local conditions fast enough, and were vulnerable to disease during the adjustment period.

Twenty-five deaths were recorded in the sheep, giving a mortality rate of 4.7% ( Table 5(1226)). This is a lower rate than that recorded for goats (7.8%). Of these, 11 deaths were from infectious disease (a mortality rate of 2.0%), nine were caused by poor nutrition (a mortality rate of 1.6%), and six were from physical causes (a mortality rate of 1.1%).

Of the deaths from infectious disease, six were due to respiratory disease, three were due to parasitic diarrhea and two were due to wound infection. Sheep had a higher death rate from respiratory disease than goats, indicating their greater relative susceptibility. This may be partly because sheep were observed to continue grazing during light rain, which goats did not.

Of the deaths due to nutritional factors, eight lambs died of general weakness and one from malnutrition. There were fewer weak lambs than weak kids, and the weak lambs had a lower death rate (1.4%) than the affected kids (4.1%). The case of malnutrition occurred in a ewe trying to breed on pasture which was heavily overgrazed.

Thirteen deaths occurred in lambs, giving a specific mortality rate of 41% (13/32), lower than that recorded for the kids (60.9%). Apart from the eight deaths of weak lambs, three lambs died from parasitic diarrhea, one from respiratory disease, and one from trauma when it was trapped between floor slats.

Most of the weak or hypoglycemic lambs were one of twins. As with the kids, the affected lambs had lower than normal blood glucose levels, due to their failure to suckle adequate amounts of milk from their dam. Eight out of the 17 affected lambs died, giving a specific mortality rate of 47%.

The parasitic diarrhea was caused by infection with gastrointestinal nematodes similar to those identified in goats. The disease was often exacerbated by various stresses, such as weaning and infavorable weather. Respiratory disease resulted from exposure to the hot and humid, or cold and wet, weather aggravated by the stress of weaning and transfer to a new paddock. Respiratory disease was more common in lambs than in kids, but few deaths occurred because the sick animals responded to treatment with antibiotics.

Of the twelve deaths found in adult sheep, three were due to respiratory disease, five to trauma, one to malnutrition, one to parasitic diarrhea, and two to wound infection. Two ewes were attacked by dogs while being transferred to another pasture, while another three were bitten by dogs which gained entry into their pasture. One sheep died due to malnutrition when the pasture was heavily overgrazed.

As with the goats, there was no observable seasonal distribution, but sickness and death rates were highest just after sheep had been introduced onto a plantation.

In general, sheep appeared to be more resistant to disease than goats. Sheep had a disease morbidity rate of 8.3%, compared to 12.2% in goats, and sheep had a mortality rate of 4.5% compared to the 7.8% of goats.

In view of this data, a planned health program for small ruminants raised on small coconut plantations should consist of the following procedures:

  • 1. Ewes/does expected to lamb/kid within one week should be isolated in a pen or house. After lambing/kidding, the animals should stay in the facility for at least two weeks before they are allowed to rejoin the herd.
  • 2. Lambs/kids should be dewormed at one month of age. Deworming should be repeated after two weeks. Ewes/does should be dewormed at the same time as the young animals.
  • 3. Lambs/kids should be weaned at three months of age and vaccinated with Pasteurella multocida vaccine. Vaccination should be repeated every six months thereafter.
  • 4. Animals of all ages should be provided with mineral supplements, in the form of mineral blocks.
  • 5. A cut-and-carry feeding system should be used in rainy weather when the animals cannot graze.

Such a program should reduce disease morbidity and mortality rates, by controlling major diseases such as parasitic diarrhea, respiratory disease, mineral deficiency and malnutrition, and weakness of lambs and kids.


  • Blood, D.C., R.S. Morris, N.B. Williamson, C.M. Cannon and R.M. Cannon. 1978. A health program for commercial dairy herds. 1. Objectives and Methods. Australian Veterinary Journal 54: 207.
  • International Development Research Centre-PCARRD. 1991. Terminal Report. Small Ruminant-Coconut Systems, PCARRD, Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines.
  • Molina, J.Q. 1988. A planned health program for backyard dairy farming. Proceedings of the 6th FAVA Congress, October 16-19, 1988, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia.
  • Philippine Carabao Research and Development Centre. 1988-90. Annual Reports. Institute of Animal Science, UPLB, College, Laguna, Philippines.
  • Radostits, O.M. and D.C. Blood. 1985. Herd Health. A Textbook of Health and Production Management of Agricultural Animals. W.B. Saunders Co. 456 pp.
  • Schwabe, C.W., H.P. Riemann and C.E. Franti. 1977. Epidemiology in Veterinary Practice. Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, USA. 303 pp.


  • Q. What is the average size of the dairy farms taking part in the Planned Health Programs in the Philippines?
  • A. The average holding is about 1.5 ha.
  • Q. Is there any seasonal fluctuation in fertility and milk production? How big a difference is there between milk production in the dry and rainy seasons?
  • A. Our data is based on a four-season production year. There are some fluctuations between and within production periods, but since our data covers five years these have been averaged out. We haven't studied the seasonal effect yet, but milk production is certainly higher in the rainy season, when there is plenty of good grazing.
  • Q. What are the economics of the more intensive program. Is there any government subsidy for the drugs used for e.g. regular deworming?
  • A. No, and if such programs are to be established on a large scale there will have to be a subsidy, otherwise the farmer would not be able to afford them.
  • Q. What about tuberculosis and brucellosis?
  • A. All animals were tested for brucellosis, and the dairy cows and buffalo were also tested for tuberculosis. None of the tests were positive, which is not surprising with this type of small-scale non-intensive system. The transmission of infection is not such a problem as when a farmer is raising hundreds or thousands of animals within a limited area.

Index of Images

Table 1 Comparative Performance of Program and Non-Program Farmers Raising Dairy Buffalo

Table 1 Comparative Performance of Program and Non-Program Farmers Raising Dairy Buffalo

Table 1 Comparative Performance of Program and Non-Program Farmers Raising Dairy Buffalo

Table 2 Comparative Performance of Program and Non-Program Farmers Raising Dairy Cows

Table 3 Common Diseases Affecting Water Buffalo Raised by Smallholders

Table 3 Common Diseases Affecting Water Buffalo Raised by Smallholders

Table 4 Disease Morbidity Rates in Goats and Sheep Raised on Smallholder Coconut Plantations

Table 4 Disease Morbidity Rates in Goats and Sheep Raised on Smallholder Coconut Plantations

Table 5 Mortality Rates of Goats and Sheep Raised on Smallholder Coconut Plantations

Table 5 Mortality Rates of Goats and Sheep Raised on Smallholder Coconut Plantations

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