Heterogeneity in a communal cattle-farming system in a zone endemic for foot and mouth disease in South Africa

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Ockert Louis van Schalkwyk *
Eva M. De Clercq
Claudia De Pus
Guy Hendrickx
Peter van den Bossche
Darryn L. Knobel
(*) Corresponding Author:
Ockert Louis van Schalkwyk | lvs@vodamail.co.za


In South Africa, communal livestock farming is predominant in the foot and mouth disease control zone adjacent to the Greater Kruger National Park (KNP), where infected African buffaloes are common. During routine veterinary inspections of cattle in this area, a large amount of production and demographic parameters were being recorded. These data were collated for a five-year period (2003-2007) in three study sites to better understand the temporal dynamics and spatial heterogeneity in this system. A decreasing gradient from South to North with respect to both human and cattle population densities was observed. Rainfall and human population density alone could explain 71% of the variation in cattle density. Northern and central sites showed an overall decrease in total cattle numbers (15.1 and 2.9%, respectively), whereas a 28.6% increase was recorded in the South. The number of cattle owners in relation to cattle numbers remained stable during the study period. Only 4.0% of households in the South own cattle, compared to 13.7 and 12.7% in the North and Centre. The overall annual calving rate was 23.8%. Annual mortality rates ranged from 2.4 to 3.2%. Low calf mortality (2.1%) was recorded in the North compared to the South (11.6%). Annual off-take in the form of slaughter averaged 0.2, 11.7, and 11.0% in the North, Central and South sites, respectively. These figures provide valuable baseline data and demonstrate considerable spatial heterogeneity in cattle demography and production at this wildlife-livestock interface, which should be taken into consideration when performing disease risk assessments or designing disease control systems.

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