Distressed cattle have used up all their spare body fat as the drought on St Helena has left them without adequate grazing.
Island vet Joe Hollins has been handing out feed and salt-licks to help the island’s largest livestock herds survive.
He said: “Most of the cattle have depleted their body fat, and in the worst hit areas have eaten into their muscles.
“Although handouts are really a thing of the past, we’ve gone as far as to import fifty 40kg bags of cattle feed and distribute them free of charge among the larger herds – just something to tide them through until the grass grows.”
He acknowledged smaller producers with only two or three animals might ask why they were not also receiving free feed.
But he said: “We have limited funds and can only do so much.
“Our philosophy is that the smaller producers will do their best to get by cutting fodder and supplementing their few beasts, whereas with the large herds this becomes a logistically difficult task.
“The cattle cube (bagged feed) is no substitute for true fibre anyway – it is a concentrate to supplement calorie intake, vitamins, minerals and so on.”
Members of the Deadwood Syndicate of smallholders have been harvesting flax and grinding it down to feed their animals – using machinery salvaged from the days when flax was grown as an export, in the 1960s.
It provides fibre to be broken down in the rumen of cattle – one of a cow’s four stomachs, used to break down food into “cud”.
Joe said: “A healthy rumen requires a good input of fibre to keep the population of digesting organisms thriving and multiplying.
“They in turn provide a good source of readily digested protein as they die naturally in their billions and overflow into the fourth stomach – the true stomach much like ours.”
- Joe said he was once set an essay at university, describing what would happen to the body of someone stranded on an island with no food, but plenty of water. After converting fat and then protein to carbohydrate, the process was: “Go slightly mad and hallucinogenic, and ultimately die. We’re just trying to keep the cattle somewhere in the middle of that process until nature can pick up where it left off.”