Isa Salisu has been rearing cattle since childhood – from a year he could not remember. The trade which he inherited from his father subjects him to a monotonous lifestyle; graze his cattle on nearby field in the latter part of the year, and move further to the upper Niger in the dry season.
It is a lifestyle the herder, in his early to mid twenties, intends to pass on to generations after him. For Mr Salisu, cattle rearing goes beyond the normal herder tradition, it is the way to survival.
This was the routine until it all changed a few years ago when Isa’s family found another means of feeding their herd of 25 cows, 19 calves. He now feeds them on a large refuse dumpsite along the Jikwoyi/Karu road, at the Maraba/Nyanya axis of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Mr Salisu did not see anything wrong with feeding the cattle from the dumpsite. For him, it makes the cattle healthier than the conventional grazing on the field.
“It’s not our fault,” he told PREMIUM TIMES, betraying no emotion. “It’s not like we come here all the time, it happens once a while,” he said, rummaging with his hands through some refuse as if looking for some food particles for his cattle.
“It’s just that the rains this year have delayed and you will hardly get fresh grass anywhere. These cows even get the same nutrients and energy as they get from eating grass.”
Mr Salisu’s day is routine and starts as early as possible. He leads the herd to the site, waits for refuse to be dumped, then leaves in the evening after he might have been satisfied that his cows are fed enough for the day.
By the evening, h moves the cattle to a place he called ‘forest’ to catch a sleep of six to seven hours. The dawn of the next day, the routine resumes.
When PREMIUM TIMES reporter first visited the site in April, Mr Salisu was seated under a temporary tent erected to shield him and other scavengers who frequent the dumpsite. He sat watching his family fortune feed on dirt.
The cows were seen feeding on decayed food, fruits, insects, worms, human and animal faeces, which littered the ground.
A few metres away from this refuse dump is a small stream which flows through a bridge especially when it rains. The cows rely on this stream for water. The stream also serves as restroom for close-by residents who early in the morning line the drainage to do their toilet business.
This reporter talked to some of the herders and their responses showed they found nothing wrong in feeding cows on waste.
Mr Salisu was the first. He attributed the practice to the weather. He said lack of rains this year had made grass scarce in the neighbourhood, hence, the need to find alternative means of feeding. He said the cows get as much (and even more) nutrients from the refuse dump as they do from eating grass.
For him, whatever the cows eat from the dumpsite does not make them fall sick. ‘It keeps them healthy,’ he said.
He mentioned what the cattle eat to include remnants of foods from restaurants, cabbage, carrots, among others.
The cow is a ruminant animal with a multi-chamber stomach. A cow’s stomach is divided into four parts; rumen, reticulum, omasum and omasum. The chambers of the stomach play different roles to aid digestion of food.
Each chamber, especially the rumen, helps to process plant cell walls like cellulose in various forms, generating a full range of nutrients for growth and maintenance.
According to animalsmart.com, an average cow needs to feed on roughage, oil-seed, grains and by-products – all of which is contained in grass or silage.
The above types of food recommended for a cow contains carbohydrate, protein, mineral, fats and vitamins which also give the cow all the required nutrients and energy.
A senior researcher from the University of Zaragoza in Spain, José Manuel Lou-Bonafonte, was quoted saying “grass has proteins, essential lipids, nucleotides, minerals, vitamins and cellulose. Cows, thanks to the bacteria of the bowel, can digest cellulose and obtain glucose. They get all the necessary nutrients from eating grass.” (www.researchgate.net).
Nathan Handan from the University of Ilorin, also said “grass exists in varieties with different nutritional contents. By depending on grass alone as well as feeding on variety of grasses, cows get the needed nutrients for growth, development and for other requirements.” (www.researchgate.net).
Further research shows that by eating animal carcasses or rotten organic materials, a cow can be infected with botulism.
Botulism is a usually fatal disease caused by harmful toxins. These toxins are usually found in these rotten organic materials in soil, water and marine sediments.
Typical signs of botulism include hind limb weakness progressing to paralysis, collapse and death.
Other clostridial bacteria are found in these toxins which cause diseases like blackleg, black disease, swelled head, tetanus and enterotoxaemia in animals.
All these bacteria produce long-lived spores, which ensure survival in the environment. Spores germinate in moist, low-oxygen environments such as rotting carcasses or decaying organic material and under favourable conditions proliferate and produce botulinum toxin, leading to intoxication if consumed.
Irrespective of these nutrition facts, Mr Salisu insists feeding his herd from refuse dumps does not just keep them healthy but also gives them more nutrients than they get from eating grass.
COOKING MEAT ESSENTIAL – HERDER
Mr Salisu’s younger brother, Umar, was around one of the days this reporter visited.
Like his elder brother, Umar told this reporter that worrying about the health of the cows as a result of what they eat from the dumpsite is not an issue.
“The cows are strong and have the strength to fight diseases,” he said.
Umar said his own job is to groom the cows and that is all.
“People should be mindful of what they eat. That’s why you are asked to wash your meat with salt and cook it properly before eating. But I honestly don’t think these things they (the cows) are eating are dangerous to humans in any way.
“As long as you’re not eating a cow that was sick before it was slaughtered and as far as you cook your meat well, it should not be a problem,” he said obviously to convince this reporter.
UNDERAGE HERDER ALSO IGNORANT
During another visit to the refuse dump, an underage herder, who simply gave his name as Ibrahim, was more than willing to talk to this reporter.
He looked nine or ten years old. He could neither tell his age nor his surname.
Dirty and covered in dust with an oversized shirt, a trouser that was not so far below his knees and a stick twice his height, Ibrahim told this reporter he could only communicate in Hausa as he had no knowledge of English language.
He was not of a different opinion either as he explained that his family has been feeding the herd from dumpsites for as long as he could remember.
“We’ve been taking them to refuse dumps. We only feed them grass when we pass through the bushes to this place.
When asked whether food from the dumpsite makes the cattle sick, he said “We bring them here because they get healthy food here. There’s nothing unhealthy about this food we give them. They get really healthy nutrients from here. In fact, if we let them eat grass for too long, they will fall sick and start emaciating and might even die,” he said admiring one of the fat cows.
“They eat leftovers of restaurant food, corns, cabbages, human foods basically. It’s what makes them this healthy. Some of them get used to food from this dumpsite from birth and can’t eat any other food now,” he added, stressing the only English word he mentioned – restaurant.
He further explained that his family owns over 60 cows and about 40 calves.
“I move with 23 cows and 16 calves. We split them. My father takes some of the cattle to another large refuse dump at ‘Finance’, while my elder brother wanders with the rest (focusing on refuse dumps),” he said.
Beyond feeding the cows with “healthy meals” from the refuse dumps, Umar reveals other benefits involved in feeding the cattle at dumpsites.
He said the refuse dump gives him the opportunity to scavenge through the refuse and find used items like shoes, electrical appliances, among others.
“We search through things that people dump here and find some useful things. I sort out metallic objects and give them to some friends who recycle them for money,” he said.
Meanwhile, health experts did not agree with Mr Salisu and Umar as they pointed out the health implications both on the cows and consumers of beef.
A veterinarian, Abukakar Zubair, said that while it is unhealthy to feed cows from dumpsites, human should endeavour to thoroughly process their meat.
“Food from the dumpsites comes with diseases, that’s normal. Those who feed on the cow, it depends on the way of processing. You’re bound to have diseases if you slaughter a sick cow or a cow that is infected.
“I think the best is to avoid such, including these cows that feed from dumpsites.
“And since we cannot detect which is sick and which has fed from the dumpsites, we have to thoroughly cook the meat and rid it of any possible infection.
“Most times it’s advisable to eat cooked meat than eating roasted meat,” he said.
Another veterinarian, James Adokwe, condemned the act of feeding cattle from refuse dumps as he said germs and diseases from the sites “always have a way of getting back to the body.”
“Believe it or not, these animal contact one disease or another, even of they appear healthy. It’s just like we humans, whenever we eat anything unhealthy, we feel it. Same with the cows.
“It’s is really unhealthy and should be stopped. There are many other options. It poses a great threat to the health of humans.
“It can transmit tuberculosis (which is caused by bacterium and mostly found in cows) to humans. There’s also the risk of worms in the stomach as well as heart and liver diseases.”
The spokesperson for Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), Muktar Ibrahim, who assumed it is an illegal dumpsite, condemned the act which he said could be hazardous to humans.
“That area is under the supervision of the Satellite Town Development Department (STDD). The main dumpsite for AEPB is the one at Gosa, around Idu. I believe it can pose a great challenge for people who consume the meat. I believe there should be a dumpsite management there that should guide the herders properly and also prevent them from bringing their cattle there to come and feed.
“Another thing is, there’s a kind of circle between what we eat and what we dump in the environment. Any hazardous material that is put on the dumpsite there and the cattle eat it, it has a way of coming back to the human. So I think it should be taken seriously.
“It might as well be an illegal dumpsite. Whatever dumpsite is being operated by whatever government agency should be properly managed so as to control the traffic that come into that dumpsite to ensure that it is only the waste products that come in there.
“When we allow scavengers to come and pick up the recyclables, it also has to be controlled. But certainly, it is not a breeding ground for cattle,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES could not reach the STDD as there was no valid contact or social media presence of the department domiciled under FCDA.