Farmers in West Java, Indonesia, raise their goats and sheep in sheds on
stilts with a slatted floor, and feed them with cut fodder. As a result
the animals have few intestinal worms. If an animal gets ill, the farmer
drenches it with a preparation of herbs using recipes learned from her
parents or husband.
While West Javanese smallholders commonly boil parts from several herbs,
Samburu pastoralists in Kenya often make medicines by soaking just one
These are only two examples of the many ways livestock raisers all over
the world keep their animals healthy and productive. ‘Ethnoveterinary
medicine’ contrasts the knowledge developed by local livestock holders
from the scientific or ‘allopathic’ veterinary medicine taught at
universities. Both are dynamic and changing. Like scientific veterinary
medicine, ethnoveterinary practices have been developed through
trial-and-error and deliberate experimentation. But ethnoveterinary
medicine is developed by farmers in fields and barns, rather than by
scientists in laboratories and clinics. It is less systematic and less
formalized, and is usually transferred by word of mouth rather than in
Ethnoveterinary information is in danger of extinction because of the
current rapid changes in communities all over the world. In fact, many
communities nowadays use a mix of local and modern practices.
Promoting the conservation and use of ethnoveterinary medicine does not
mean downgrading or ignoring the value of modern medicine and attempting
to replace one with the other. However, it does mean recognising that
both types have their strengths and limitations. In some instances, they
complement each other, in others, local practices will be the better
choice, and again in others modern practices should be recommended (see Limitations
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Ethnoveterinary medicine is often taken to mean using medicinal herbs.
However, it has more to offer:
Information: Stock raisers commonly know when their animals are sick.
They can describe the disease signs, which season the disease commonly
strikes, and what types of animals are affected. They also know where to
find the best pasture, how to avoid tsetse-infested areas, where to find
saltlicks, and many, many other things.
Practices: This is much wider than just the use of herbal medicines. It
also covers bone-setting, vaccination against pox and other infectious
diseases, branding, and careful management practices.
Tools and technologies: These range from simple tools such as thorns to
vaccinate animals, to complex animal housing adapted to local
conditions. Farmers are familiar with the various materials available in
their environment, and skilfully take advantage of their various
Beliefs: Beliefs are commonly thought of as superstitious --
negative that has to be suppressed. Still, some beliefs can be very
useful because they improve the animals’ condition or prevent them
from getting sick. Examples are the feeding of salt that has been
blessed, protecting animals against evil winds, and not letting animals
on pastures where other animals have died from diseases such as anthrax.
So it is advisable to have a close look at beliefs and encourage these
if they promote animal health.
Breeds: Local breeds, such as dairy buffaloes, are the outcome of
centuries of selection. At first sight, they may produce less than
introduced breeds, but they may not score as poorly if both input costs
and outputs are considered, instead of only the outputs. Local breeds
are presently receiving increased attention in connection with attempts
to conserve their dwindling genetic resources.
Human resources: Knowledgeable farmers, herders and local healers are
treasurers of knowledge and can be valuable partners in development
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Ethnoveterinary medicine differs not only from region to region but also
among and within communities. Depending on the work division and
professional specialisation, men may know more about large animals while
women commonly are more familiar with small animals or with certain type
of diseases such as mastitis and neonatal care. Hunters may have a
wealth of information on hunting dogs. Knowing about such differences
can be crucial in the selection of respondents in research and partners
for extension approaches, the design of training courses, and the
selection of trainees for community-based animal health workers.
Mathias-Mundy and McCorkle 1989, Martin et al. 2001