IN my interactions with a number of smallholder livestock farmers across most parts of the Matabeleland region, I find one common thing concerning their enterprise.
It is the lack of records and unavailability of a concise budget which is being followed.
The livestock enterprise is run on ad hoc basis with no proper tracking of the income and expenditure.
The records are simply non-existent with most critical information kept in human memory.
Smallholder farmers simply have to be taught and they should learn to keep records of their enterprise.
You find that farmers are not able to give you accurate information about when they dosed their animals, what dosing remedy they used, which animal they treated when, with what chemical. The effect of this is that even when you want to give the farmer some technical advice it becomes difficult due to the information gap. Record keeping is one section which must be strengthened.
Through record keeping, farmers are even able to make informed decisions with regards to selection, culling and even selling.
Selection by a farmer is always against or for a certain trait. A farmer may select against temperament or select for milk yield.
This means if the farmer keeps accurate records of mating he can tell which cow or bull is producing temperamental offspring.
There are many traits that a farmer can select for or against but all these need accurate record keeping. Record keeping can even trace the lineage of an offspring and provide important information for decision making.
In tracking performance of your animals through records, it is easy to make culling decisions and subsequently selling.
Selling an animal should not be a thumb sucked decision or a decision made through a throw of the dice but based on observed shortcomings through kept records.
Record keeping for farmers should begin in proper identification of your animals. This can be done through a registered brand mark which does not need one to understand calculus in order to have it!
A lot of animals have been lost through sales as stray animals by the ever predatory local authorities simply because the animals do not have brand marks.
One important aspect of the beef production enterprise which is linked to record keeping is budget formulation. Budgeting as a farmer helps you to understand what costs you are incurring in the enterprise and how much income you are realising.
In simple terms it can help you to assess whether your venture is profitable or not.
While I appreciate that the majority of our communal smallholder farmers do not produce livestock as a business I still contend that an appreciation of how much you have spent to raise your animal can help you to know whether you are selling your animal at a loss or you have actually made a profit.
Most farmers always scream blue murder after they sell their animals. The general consensus is that farmers are being ripped off by middlemen but what you will struggle to get from such a farmer is how much it cost them to raise the animal and hence what is the basis of whatever figure they were demanding.
The animal is valued in terms of how many years the farmer has had it and of course the nature of the financial challenges the farmer is facing.
It simply has no mathematical relationship with what was spent raising the animal. It is my contention that if smallholder farmers really analysed all the costs involved in producing a steer or a nine-year-old ox, they would have a clearer understanding of the value of their commodity and they would not be easily ripped off their commodity.
On a separate note I feel Government should take the decision to focus on quality of animals seriously as this is another area that is lagging behind.
One can also argue that the negligent attitude that farmers exhibit towards their animals is probably related to the quality of the animals they are keeping.
Farmers who are keeping good quality animals and have put their skin and sweat into the enterprise tend to look after their animals properly.
They tend to observe all the animal husbandry practices to avoid unnecessary losses.
I hardly find good nice looking Brahmans roaming the highways aimlessly but I find our indigenous breeds all over the roadsides. Is it a quality issue?
Just a thought.
Feedback firstname.lastname@example.org/ cell 0772851275