Lack of government veterinarians affecting livestock sector

Cattle farmer Chris Medford tends to his animals at his Carlsen Field farm. - Angelo Marcelle
Cattle farmer Chris Medford tends to his animals at his Carlsen Field farm. - Angelo Marcelle

Livestock farmers have been challenged with the artificial insemination of animals due to a lack of government veterinarians to assist them, says former president of the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association Shiraz Khan

Speaking with Business Day, Khan said the artificial insemination (AI) service provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries has faced challenges for some years, which has placed the births of livestock and the production of fresh milk on a steady decline.

“We don’t get the vets after 9 am and because of the pandemic they have chosen to stay home or not come out to work at all. A lot of them have also retired and have been sent on vacation, and the AI expert contracts have not been renewed.

“There is one AI guy to satisfy all the farmers in TT — Toco, Mayaro, Cedros, Icacos, Carlsen Field, Wallerfield, Esmeralda and Turure. AI experts were critical for dairy farmers,” Khan said.

He said farmers have had to use private veterinarians but have fallen short in finding artificial insemination experts to assist them to continue their operations.

Jaiye Jack walks his goats after grazing in Charlotteville, Tobago. - Jeff Mayers

Khan said the costs in the livestock industry were very expensive and does not only include grains for the animals but also healthcare, which the public forgets to take into consideration when buying meats.

His comments came after the concerns about price increases in livestock meats and its other processed products. The average cost for a pound of beef is $25, goat is between $55-$60 and lamb $55-$60.

Khan said, “We depend on the AI service to get an animal pregnant and now that is not available, farmers have to find $600 for visits and additional funds for the AI service which varies with each vet. This can run a farmer into additional thousands of dollars in expenditure. Another option for farmers is to rare respective male animals for the purpose of breeding, and that too is costly.

“Antibiotics have increased since 2020, deworms have gone up by 115-120 per cent, feed has gone up at least three times since the pandemic. The farmers continued to be unable to access incentives because they are not getting their leases to become registered.”

Agriculture consultant Riyadh Mohammed said the livestock sector needs extension services to manage the operations to produce meats, milks, and eggs, and deal with the health of the livestock.

He said, “If they can’t service the farms then this would lead to a slower rate of food production, and in addition the food quality would be compromised. A shift system that would allow vets to work during the days, nights and weekends would be very beneficial for the industry.

Mohammed said there should be more vets to service areas where livestock farming was more predominant such as Carlsen Field and Wallerfield.

“The vets in working with the Central Statistical Office to populate data on livestock will allow for better projections in producing feed for livestock and food for human consumption.”

Butcher Oliver Mahabal cuts goat meat at his stall in San Fernando. - Lincoln Holder

President of the Agricultural Society of TT (ASTT) Darryl Rampersad in a Sunday Newsday report said that apart from the increases in grain on the international market, which has trickled down to the local industry, healthcare for animals was another major contributing factor to the recent increase in meat prices.

He said, “Animal healthcare products have already increased between 75-100 per cent on products. This is a cost the farmers tried to absorb as well as maintain the meat prices.”

Additionally, veterinary surgeon Dr Tariq Ackbar pointed out that apart from medication, a lack of government veterinarians has raised the cost of the care of animals, as farmers had to seek the services of private veterinarians, which were costly.

When contacted Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Avinash Singh last week he indicated that there were some issues including manpower shortages with the veterinarians and the division of Animal, Health and Production Division.

Business Day checked in with Singh again on Wednesday afternoon to get further details on the matter,and he said, “I have passed the concerns to my PS, awaiting her responses.”


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