Livestock Research for Rural Development 22 (6) 2010 Notes to Authors LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Ethnoveterinary medicine and health management in poultry in Southern and Western Districts, Botswana

J C Moreki, B Poroga*, R Dikeme* and D Seabo**

Department of Animal Production, Ministry of Agriculture, Private Bag 0032, Gaborone, Botswana
* Botswana Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, PO Box 1599, Mogoditshane, Botswana
** Department of Animal Science, Botswana College of Agriculture, Private Bag 0027, Gaborone, Botswana


Ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM) is important in treatment and control of diseases and parasites in Botswana, as the majority of family poultry rearers cannot afford to purchase veterinary requisites (e.g., vaccines, drugs, dips and chemical dusts) and lack knowledge of vaccine handling and administration. Ninety structured questionnaires were distributed to randomly selected rearers across the three districts. The results of this study showed that in order of importance, the major causes of losses were diseases, predation, and a combination of diseases, parasites and predation. In this study, 86.7% of the rearers used EVM and 13.3% vaccines against poultry diseases. Similarly, 57.8% of the respondents used EVM while 42.2% used chemicals to control parasites. Potassium permanganate, aloe (Aloe spp.) and leaf tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) were the common remedies used against both diseases and parasites, indicating that they are broadspectrum. Plant parts used included leaves and roots (tuber) or both. The remedies were administered before the disease occurred or during disease outbreaks.


Ninety percent of poultry rearers said that they never received training in poultry management, indicating that extension service support was inadequate. These results demonstrate that EVM still has a role to play in health management given the lack of cold chain, high price of veterinary vaccines and drugs and lack of knowledge of the use of veterinary medicines.

Key words: Aloe vera, Newcastle disease, traditional remedies, vaccines, Western medicine


Ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM) is a scientific term for traditional animal health care that encompasses the knowledge, skills, methods, practices, and beliefs about animal health care found among community members (McCorke 1986). Matekaire and Bwakura (2004) in Zimbabwe reported that the ethnoveterinary knowledge (EVK) base differs from region to region and also among and within communities. For Misra and Kumar (2004), EVM is the community-based local or indigenous knowledge and methods of caring for, healing and managing livestock. This also includes social practices and the ways in which livestock are incorporated into farming systems. EVM knowledge has been developed through trial and error and deliberate experimentation. In the opinion of Iqbal et al (2005), EVM provides valuable alternatives to and complements western-style veterinary medicine. EVM is of specific value in developing countries where allopathic veterinary medicines are often not accessible to livestock producers. It can play a significant role in grassroots development, which seeks to empower people by enhancing the use of their own knowledge and resources.


Guye (1999) argues that EVM is the only option for most of village poultry farmers in Africa because there are almost no veterinarians in African rural areas. The use of EVM is sustainable and ecologically sound, as plant products with recognised medicinal properties are far more accessible to the villagers than Western medicine (Guye 1999). This implies that EVM is widely used in the developing world than in developed countries. In a recent study in Nigeria, Chah et al (2009) reported that farmers use traditional remedies because they are readily available and at low cost or no cost at all. Also, EVM is partly effective and practicable (Kaikabo et al 2004). In Botswana, the most popular and accessible traditional remedy is Aloe vera and is widely distributed across the country. Many indigenous veterinary beliefs and practices persist in a wide majority of livestock raisers, particularly in the developing countries (Iqbal et al (2005). It is contended (Guye (1999) that all EVK is in the custody of older people, both men and women who transmit it to younger generations by word of mouth, which is still the common means of communication in Africa.


Ethnoveterinary knowledge focusing on ethnoveterinary animal health care has existed alongside human evolutionary history, taking different forms. It comprises all ethnopractises, approaches and traditional knowledge applied by humans with a view to alleviating health constraints that affect livestock and hence, improves their production performance (Wanzala et al 2005). In Botswana, as in other developing countries of the world, family poultry health management is mainly by EVM. Moreki (2003, 2010) in Botswana reported that the use of traditional remedies in poultry management predominated in the villages, especially in remote areas where drugs and vaccines are not accessible. Modern vaccines are used mainly by the commercial poultry enterprises.


There has been little documentation of EVM in Botswana. As a result, a study was undertaken to investigate the use of EVM in poultry health management in Kang, Modipane and Hebron in Kgalagadi, Kgatleng and Southern districts, respectively.


Materials and methods 

A total of 90 structured questionnaires were administered to individual family poultry rearers in Kang, Modipane and Hebron from December 2009 to January 2010. Kgatleng and Southern Districts are in the south of Botswana while Kgalagadi is in the west. Data were also collected through direct observation and interviews with key informants. The main data captured in the questionnaire included demographic characteristics, causes of losses, health management (diseases and parasites) and extension service provided by Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders. Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS) software.


Results and discussion 

Demographic characteristics


Of the 90 respondents interviewed 68 (75.6%) were females and 22 (24.4%) males (Table 1). Sixty-eight (75.6%) respondents owned poultry while the remainder indicated that they did not. Forty-eight (51.1%) women and 22 (24.4%) men reared poultry, whereas 22 (24.4%) women said they did not rear chickens. These results are in agreement with Muchadeyi et al (2004) in Kenya.

Table 1.  Respondents age and sex






















Age unknown






Values in brackets are percentages

In this study, two thirds of the respondents attended school. This suggests that it would be easy for the extension service to communicate technical messages to the rearers. Of this number, 27 (30%) had primary education, 27 (30%) secondary education, 6 (6.67%) tertiary education, whereas 30 (33.3%) never attended school. These results indicate that the majority of beneficiaries attended school. Fifty-one (56.7%) respondents were single, 30 (33.3%) married, seven (7.78%) widowed and two (2.22%) divorced. Furthermore, 45 (50%) households were headed by women, 43 (47.8%) by men and two (2.22%) by children.


Main losses in family poultry


The major causes of losses in family poultry are summarised in Table 2. According to Table 2, losses in family poultry are ascribable to diseases, predation and parasites, and a combination of these. Other factors included car accidents, theft and uncleanliness. In the current study, diseases caused more losses (36.7%) followed by diseases and parasites (11.1%), predation (8.89%) and a combination of diseases, parasites and predation (8.89%).

Table 2.  Causes of losses in family poultry


No. of responses

Percent responses










Diseases and Parasites



Disease, parasites and predation



Diseases and predation



Parasites and predation






No answer given






The majority of the respondents (40%) indicated that losses in family poultry occurred in all age groups (Table 3). Losses in chicks were slightly higher than in adult birds. Moreover, losses were lowest (4.44%) in growers. The fact that few losses were experienced in growers than in chicks is not known. Twenty-two respondents (24.44%) said that they did not know or could not recall the stage of growth when losses occurred.

Table 3.  Stage of growth at which losses occur


No. of responses

Percent responses










Adult x growers



Growers x chicks



Adult x growers x chicks



Did not know






Health management


Diseases and control


Only 47 (52.2%) respondents were familiar with the diseases that affected their flocks while the remainder was not. According to the rearers, the common diseases of family poultry were coccidiosis, infectious coryza, fowl pox, infectious bursal disease (IBD) and Newcastle disease (NCD). In the current study, rearers often referred to symptoms/signs including diarrhoea, gall, dizziness, loss of appetite (anorexia), excessive nasal discharge, intestinal ulcers, nervous signs and leg problems as diseases.


In this study, only 12 (13.3%) rearers vaccinated their flocks (especially against NCD) compared to 86.7% that used traditional remedies. This result is in agreement with Moreki (1997) who reported that only two percent of rearers in Serowe-Palapye Sub-district used vaccines. The common veterinary drugs were terramycin, sulphazine and stresspac (electrolytes). The three common traditional remedies used by rearers across the districts were potassium permanganate, aloes (Aloe spp.) and leaf tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum). The medicinal uses of tobacco in humans were summed up by Fernando Ocaranza in Mexico as antidiarrhoeal, narcotic and emollient (Dickson 1954). Charlton (2004) reported that in humans tobacco uses involved external application of tobacco leaf and juice, indicating that it plays a major role in wound healing. Although respondents across the districts, especially those from Kgalagadi did not mention that they used Harpagophytum procumbens (sengaparile) against diseases, it is possible that they could have used it given its abundance in the district. Previous study of Moreki and Masupu (2001) reported the use of H. procumbens against poultry diseases. Other remedies included salty water, exudates from eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) leaves, roots from Senna italica (sebete), and a decoction of Five Roses Tea. Across the villages, sick birds were usually slaughtered for home consumption or offered as gifts to relatives and friends thus contributing to the spread of diseases. Aloe spp., Eucalyptus spp. and Harpagophytum procumbens were also used as human medicine.


As mentioned earlier, Aloe spp. and Nicotiana tabacum were predominately used remedies for poultry health management. Aloe leaves and tobacco leaves appeared to be used in the treatment of diarrhoea, implying that they could be broadspectrum as diarrhoea is common in most diseases. Mwale et al (2006) state that Aloe vera leaf and juice may be used in animals internally or externally implying that it is used for disease and parasite control. Aloe vera is believed to possess pharmacological antibacterial, antivenin, and immunological properties. Previous study of Mwale et al (2006) demonstrated that Aloe spp. can be used to control coccidiosis, especially among the resource-poor smallholder farmers. The authors reported that Aloe. spicata had the least number of sporulated oocysts at 30% concentration while Aloe vera had the least number of sporulated oocysts at 45% treatment concentration. This indicates that Aloe. spicata is more effective against coccidiosis than Aloe vera. The results of a similar study in Zimbabwe showed that smallholder farmers use Aloe vera and Aloe spicata to treat coccidiosis, fowl typhoid and NCD (Mwale et al 2005). In Lesotho, Lebajoa (2001) reported that chicken rearers used aloe preparation against NCD.


According to Moreki (2003), the little use of vaccines by family poultry rearers may be due to the fact that most vaccines are delivered in large doses (1000 doses) relative to the size of family poultry flocks which are usually small, e.g., 10-20 birds per household. Lack of cold chain also contributes to the scant use of vaccines resulting in frequent outbreaks of diseases such as NCD, fowl pox, infectious coryza etc. Sonaiya and Swan (2004) reported that traditional treatment and control of disease is important, as most developing countries cannot afford to import or subsidize veterinary drugs and vaccines for smallholder farms. The authors argue that there is also increasing concern about the effect of synthetic drugs on animals and the environment.


For birds that suffered from IBD, the bursa of Fabricius was cut and dressed with salt or a mixture of salt and snuff to stop bleeding. The rearers claimed that birds that were treated in this manner recovered from the disease. This practise of trimming bursa of Fabricius is common across the country as it is said to be effective against IBD. According to National Veterinary Laboratory (NVL) Report (2004), effective control of IBD is achieved through vaccination or depopulation of chickens followed by thorough disinfection of the premises.


Parasites and control


A total of 71 (78.89%) respondents said their chickens were affected by parasites, 11 (12.22%) said they were not affected by parasites, whereas eight (8.89%) respondents did not indicate whether chickens were or were not affected by parasites. Furthermore, 73 (81.11%) respondents identified the main parasites of family poultry to be tampans, lice, mites and ticks while 17 (18.89%) respondents could not. These results are in agreement with Moreki and Masupu (2001) and NVL Report (2004, 2005).


Parasite control in this study was predominantly by traditional remedies. Only 38 (42.22%) respondents said they used dips and chemical dusts such as Karbadust (Carbaryl 5%). Karbadust is the common chemical dust used by the rearers across the districts. These results are consistent with Moreki (1997). In order of importance the three common remedies were paraffin, wood ash and Blue Death (multi insect powder used to kill cockroaches, ants and crickets) which were applied on the birds by rubbing. The active ingredients in Blue Death are permethrin and carbryl (carbamate). Warm or cold ash was also applied to the floor of the shelters.


Other traditional remedies used against parasites included aloe (mokgwapha/sekgophana), Jeyes fluid, potassium permanganate and burning (smoking) in the chicken shelters. Usually, burning is performed inside the poultry shelter. Moreki (1997) reported that placing the leaves of Thamnosma rhodesica (moralala) in the chicken shelter repelled parasites. In Kenya, Okitoi et al (2007) reported that farmers used Mexican marigold (Tegetes minuta and Tephrosia vogelia) as insect repellants in poultry houses, whereas these were at times used to treat mites. According to Moreki and Masupu (2001), rearers administer potassium permanganate orally or by bathing birds in its solution. Regular cleaning of the shelters minimized parasite population and was either followed by application of ashes/chemical dusts or burning. The wide use of traditional remedies in this study could be attributable to lack of knowledge in the use of chemical remedies due to inadequate extension service, the unavailability of chemical remedies in the rural areas, as well as, the high price of chemical dusts which renders modern medicines inaccessible to most rural areas. These results support Muchadeyi et al (2004) and Moreki (2010). Furthermore, Muchadeyi et al (2004) contended that the advantage of EVM is that rearers can easily prepare their own remedies. The results of this study show that aloe and eucalyptus are broadspectrum since they were used for both parasite and disease control.


Extension service


Eighty-one (90%) respondents said they have never been trained in poultry management, whereas only nine (10%) respondents said they were trained. These results indicate that compared to commercial poultry, family poultry does not receive extension support probably because of its low productivity. The low number of rearers that underwent some training in poultry management in the current study is consistent with the high percentage of rearers that used EVM.




The authors are grateful to Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) for financial assistance. Also, the Director of Animal Production is sincerely acknowledged for technical assistance. Special thanks are due to all interviewees, who kindly shared their knowledge with us.



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Received 23 March 2010; Accepted 26 March 2010; Published 10 June 2010

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