In recent years globally, there has been an increasing trend in keeping livestock (primarily cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, horses, donkeys, and mules), and poultry (chickens, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowl, geese, quail, pigeons, ostriches and pheasants), in urban and peri-urban areas, as more people seek self-sustainable lifestyles. Knowledge on owning and caring for these animals is often not intuitive. As such, it is important to understand certain risks, and have easy access to resources that can assist owners in good husbandry practices.
It is advocated that animals are only kept by a person, who has the knowledge, ability, and means to provide them a good life, where they experience positive welfare, and their physical, health and behavioural needs are met. Each animal has its own specific needs, and this varies greatly from species to species. There are also risks of disease transmission from animal to farmer as well as the community. The first step to owning and maintaining healthy and ‘happy’ animals within your house, is to familiarise yourself with your local laws and regulations. Some areas may have restrictions on the type of animals you can keep, the number allowed and locations where they can be housed, among others. etc.
Owning a property does not grant the freedom to keep any desired animal. Equally important is purchasing new animals from certified sources and knowing the herd and health status of the sources. New animals being introduced should be separated from resident animals, and a 14-30 day isolation period implemented to prevent transmission of diseases. Animals must be provided suitable shelter that is safe, secure, and has comfortable resting area, adequate ventilation, lighting, and space to exercise. Each species of animal has different space requirements, and it is important to ensure your property can adequately accommodate them. For instance, chickens only need a few square feet of space, while pigs would need to be fenced in properly, as they enjoy rooting.
For poultry, a coop, which is a shelter where they can sleep, lay their eggs, and seek protection from weather elements, such as wind and rain, should be provided. The size would depend on the number and breed you intend to keep. Generally, each chicken needs about 2-3 square feet of space inside the coop, and an additional 8-10 square feet of outdoor space per chicken, so they can move around freely. The environment should be secure enough to keep animals safe from predators, which come in all shapes and sizes. Everything wants to eat your chickens, from your neighbour’s dog, birds of prey such as hawks, to a passerby. Steps should be taken to ensure that substances that can cause injury or are detrimental to the animal’s health, such as sharp objects or poisonous plants, are not in the environment. The environment itself, including the soil, facilities, and fomites, inanimate objects that carry pathogens from one susceptible animal to another, can be a source of harmful bacteria and viruses. Maintaining proper hygiene and sanitation is also necessary to prevent the inception of disease and possible spread.
Animals must be provided with adequate and suitable diet, and should have access to fresh water. The amount of food given must be appropriate for the animal to maintain its correct body condition (not too thin or too fat), and this vary at different stages of life. For example, dogs are carnivores (animals that eat meat), sheep and goats are herbivores (animals that eat plant), while pigs eat variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, as they are omnivores. One does not expect a dog fed on mainly beans to thrive! All animals should be provided adequate socialisation, training, exercise, mental stimulation, and social companionship appropriate to the individual animal. The ability to play and interact is particularly important for many young animals such as dogs, horses and pigs, as it allows them to learn how to socialise, communicate and interact with other animals and humans.
Being able to express normal behaviour also helps to prevent animals becoming bored and stressed. For example, providing a scratching post for a cat to scratch, rather than trying to stop it. It is also important that an animal can escape to a safe area and not be subjected to bullying from others. Where many animals are fed together, sufficient feeding space must be provided to ensure all animals can get a fair share of the food. I must say that there seem to be a significant increase in cases of ‘domestic violence’, leading to grave injuries, amongst dogs cohabiting and fed together. Another worrisome situation is where people travel for days and weeks, leaving their pets alone, and expect everything to be alright when they return.
Our duty of care is based on the internationally-recognised ‘5 freedoms’ of animal welfare – freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury and disease, freedom from fear and distress, and freedom to express normal behaviour. Animals would require preventive and/or therapeutic health care such as vaccinations, parasite control, treatment and monitoring of health problems, at some point in their life time. It is recommended that they have regular vaccinations, routine veterinary care, and are closely monitored by owners. If signs of illness are detected, the separation of healthy animals from sick ones is crucial in stopping further spread of diseases. Owners must ensure veterinary drugs are only used when necessary, that animals get an effective course of treatment, only allow people who are trained and/or competent to administer animal treatments, and keep drugs in a place safe from animals and children.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of owners to seek information from reputable sources. Veterinarians and other animal care practitioners can educate owners and families on the merits and demerits of keeping animals within the household. This would ensure that ownership is not only physically and emotionally enriching, but safe too. Specialists can be invited to schools and other transdisciplinary fora for educative programmes such as teaching students on choosing an appropriate pet, general animal welfare and husbandry, the importance of identification and registration, confinement and housing, exercise and training. In addition, they could be educated on safe ways to interact with dogs, how to approach and greet a dog safely, when dogs should be left alone, and understanding other emotions such as happiness, fear, or aggression.
Finally, owning animals is a life-long responsibility, as they require care and attention throughout their lives. It is the responsibility of owners to prevent their animals from negatively impacting other animals, people, and the environment. Pet owners should ensure that their pets do not stray, and obey all relevant laws, including licensing and noise control. When walking with pet outdoors, they should ensure that the animal is equipped with a collar and tag for identification purposes, and on a leash for adequate control. On the other hand, cruelty to animals is a no-no. There have been instances of animals being killed or maimed due to trespassing on owners’ property. The case of Roxie, an eight-month-old dog, who wandered into a neighbour’s property in an Estate in Lagos State, and was shot by Estate security men, is a recent example.
While Nigeria does not have a stand-alone legislation regarding animal welfare, Section 495 of the Nigeria Criminal Code Act (1990) prohibits acts of cruelty to animals. These include, under 495(1)(a), cruelly beating, kicking, over-loading, infuriating or terrifying an animal, or as the owner, permitting this to happen. Section 450 of the code states that any person, who willfully and unlawfully kills, maims, or wounds, any animal is guilty of an offence. “Die die nimu elede fi n wogba”, literally meaning, one should attend to a small problem before it becomes uncontrollable. There is no gainsaying that cockerels crowing, dog poo at the entrance, pigs turning land into a mud bath, pungent odour from pens or muck heaps, would infuriate your neighbours. Notwithstanding, it is high time we be our neighbour’s keeper. Wishing our esteemed readers, happy Eid-El-Kabir and Barka De Sallah!
Dr. Adenubi, an Associate Professor and Veterinarian, is a columnist with FarmingFarmersFarms, +2348025409691; firstname.lastname@example.org