I OFTEN discuss with smallholder farmers on the importance of keeping and using records for their beef production enterprises.
Record keeping is one neglected aspect by most communal smallholder farmers.
You can hardly find a farmer who will produce records for his/ her beef production enterprise and worse still demonstrate that the records are being used for the management of the enterprise.
Most farmers hardly record anything down but that is not to say they are not aware of what happens to their herd.
They are fully aware but they are not able to give you concise details of what transpired especially in terms of quantities and exact time.
He/ she may be aware that animals were dosed but may not give you details as to the name of the chemical, the date of dosing and the quantities used.
Farmers rely mostly on records kept in their memory and this presents challenges as important details tend to be forgotten with time.
This week we want to discuss the importance of keeping service records as a management tool in your herd.
Service record refers to records relating to when your cow or heifer was given to the bull for mating.
This is one record which is always hazy with farmers. All the farmer tells you is that my cow was serviced in winter or summer or any such vague description. Such a description of the time does not give one a precise time of occurrence and hence it may not be usable information at all.
Knowing service dates for your cows or heifers is a very important management tool for a farmer because it helps you to plan and prepare for the calving from that cow or heifer.
Firstly, if you record the date when your cow was serviced you can quickly notice if there is a problem such as a cow which repeatedly comes on heat.
Instead of waiting for almost two years to realise that you have a cow that keeps coming back on heat even after taking a bull, you can actually notice it much earlier and take action.
Secondly, if you are able to record exactly when it was serviced it means you can also record with accuracy which bull serviced it.
This is important in tracking the genetic lineage of your animals especially in a communal set up where cows are serviced by bulls from neighbouring herds.
Above all the most important reason for noting the date of mating for your cows especially in a communal set up is to prepare for calving.
Preparing for calving in a communal herd simply means making sure by the expected dates of calving down your cows are kept close where monitoring can be done and supervision carried out when calving.
This is very important and most smallholder farmers are found wanting regarding this important management practice.
Unsupervised calving increases calf mortality rates in your herd. Firstly if it’s a heifer which is calving down you need to supervise for a number of reasons which include to be sure there is no dystocia problem.
There are higher chances of dystocia cases on heifers than on cows especially when bigger bulls are used against smaller framed heifers.
Also you want to observe and make sure its mothering instincts are properly functioning and it is behaving and doing what is expected of a cow which is delivering.
Some heifers, including cows may actually try and deliver in a standing position especially when the calf is now half way out.
You see the cow standing up and turning round and round and wiggling its behind trying to check what is happening there.
A calf may be dropped and injured in the process and your timely intervention may help.
In some cases the cow or heifer may deliver the calf, stand up and walk away to join the rest of the herd, leaving the calf behind.
This may kill the calf because the dam usually has to lick the calf soon after birth.
This helps create a bond between the calf and the dam but also it helps to open up places that may be blocked such as nostrils and therefore, enable the calf to breath.
So if you kept accurate dates of when your cow was serviced and therefore when it is due for delivery you could then make sure it is grazed close by during the expected dates of delivery.
You will then be able to monitor and provide timely intervention and prevent the death of your calf. Your newly born calf is protected from predators in the bush and critical issues such as ensuring that it gets the colostrum are supervised.
However, most communal farmers do not track the exact days of delivery and are only pleasantly surprised to see a cow which has been away for five days coming back to the kraal with a calf on foot.
What if the cow could not produce milk because the teats are blocked? The calf could have easily starved to death in those five days.
Observing your cows during delivery will also ensure that in cases of dystocia, help is rendered timely and both the calf and dam are saved from death.
It also helps you to document which cows have poor mothering ability especially during the actual process of delivery and immediately post delivery and hence help you to pay extra attention during subsequent deliveries or cull it.
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