MANY times I am confronted with questions from farmers and followers of this column. One such question is whether livestock farming is a profitable enterprise to venture into.
My standard answer has always been that the profitability or viability of an enterprise does not only depend on the nature of the commodity but also on the management practices that are observed by the owners of the enterprise.
This week I, therefore, wish to look at factors that determine profitability of a beef production enterprise. The first and primary determinant of profitability in a beef production enterprise is the cost of feed. Feed is the singular cost driver in a beef production unit and any other livestock unit for that matter.
It is important therefore, for farmers to manage their source of the cheapest feed which is the rangeland.
While most smallholder livestock farmers hardly use commercial feed, it is the recklessly and haphazard use of their pastures which results in some of them being forced to buy commercial feed to supplement their animals.
The rangeland has to be managed in such a way that it is able to carry your herd throughout the year. Secondly, uncontrolled breeding can affect your enterprise especially when your cows start to calve down during wrong seasons such as peak of the dry season.
You are immediately compelled by circumstances to supplement the dam or else the strain of lactating during a lean season can take it down. The preferred time for calving is during summer when there is enough grazing to sustain the dam and its calf.
Another important factor to take note of is the fertility of your cows. Your most fertile cows should drop you a calf every year.
Fertile cows also have a short inter-calving period which results in a quick organic growth of your herd. Alongside cow fertility is bull fertility.
It has been recorded that 25 percent of bulls are subfertile and hence you need to be sure that your bull is tip top fertile so that it can properly service your cows.
Another factor which may impact negatively on the profitability of a beef production enterprise is poor animal selection and culling habits.
A lot of farmers are plagued by calving difficulties, diseases, poor conception rates, and inefficient cattle that have trouble gaining weight. All this is due to poor culling and animal selection habits. You have to make sure you select for best production traits and cull without hesitation any animal that presents management challenges one way or the other.
Any cow that needs assistance to calve needs to be culled. No exceptions. No heifer or bull calf that was always being treated for a health issue should ever be allowed to join the breeding herd.
No cow whose calves are always being treated for health issues from the time they are born until they are weaned should ever be kept in the breeding herd.
Calf deaths at or shortly after calving can be high in some herds and this inevitably affects profitability. Pay attention to cows with calving problems and render assistance, monitor cow condition and nutrition from drying off to reduce incidences of calving problems.
The mortality rate from then until weaning also needs to be kept to a minimum.
Animal nutrition management is also important. This is seldom given attention by farmers.
Not many small holder livestock farmers take time to consult animal nutrition specialist.
To them buying either coarse salt or mineral lick is an answer to every nutritional problem within their herd.
Sadly this is not true. It is important at times to seek expert advice as it relates to nutrition management within your herd.
The last important factor to consider is the farmer’s mind itself. Change starts with the farmer and their beliefs about how things ought to be done are often the limiting factor to creating meaningful change to the farmer’s bottom line.
The cattle industry is notorious for its strongly held beliefs about how things should be done. However successful cattle businesses are born from both an openness to new ideas and the cautious restraint required to delay implementation until every last detail has been planned out.
This is especially so in the existing circumstances of technology changes which are happening daily and revolutionalising ways of doing business.
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