The Sunday News
ONE important aspects of livestock management that most smallholder communal farmers neglect or pay less attention to is the issue of housing. Appropriate housing is very important for all forms of livestock. Housing has various functions depending on the type of livestock involved.
It provides protection from predators and thieves. It provides shelter from adverse forms of the weather and it also provides a comfortable and safe place for production especially laying hens. Despite all these important aspects with regards to uses of housing, most smallholder livestock farmers pay less attention to provision of appropriate housing for their livestock especially chickens.
It is very common in most rural areas to find a homestead with a substantial number of chickens at the homestead but with no poultry housing at all. Chickens will roost on trees and other elevated structures at the homestead. It is a system that has been in use for a long time in most communities, including my own home, but this needs to be changed or upgraded a bit.
I say upgraded because every system has its own advantages and disadvantages and users would need to find significant advantage for migrating to a proposed new system.
An example is the system of chickens perching and roosting on trees around the homestead and some other elevated structures. Users of this system will tell you that chickens from such structures will easily alert you when they are under attack either from thieves or predators.
They will make noise as they jump or fly from one tree branch to another, alerting people at the homestead in the process. This goes the same way for predator attack while they are roosting.
You can easily tell that there is something bothering my chickens by the amount of noise and commotion on the trees from which they are perching. Also, chickens used to roosting on trees are very agile and cannot be easily captured.
Try slaughtering one such bird for the visitors and see the kind of rodeo involved in trying to capture the bird. You can almost abandon the mission because you need all the athletism you have at your disposal to apprehend the chicken!
However, the self-evident disadvantage of such a system is that there are no laying nests provided and such chickens will lay eggs even in the bushes surrounding the homestead and naturally lose the eggs to predators and thieves.
Therefore, it is important for poultry producers to have appropriate housing that will provide a safe environment for the chickens as well as sheltering them from unfavourable weather conditions like rains and very cold or hot temperatures.
The housing should also provide laying nests so that birds that are in production can find comfortable and protected laying environment. It is such improvements in poultry housing that make a difference between high mortality and low mortality.
Every farmer wants to reduce mortality in their production enterprise as much as possible as this defines the organic growth of the herd or flock and by extension the offtake rates. You will have very less to sell if most of your chickens, goats and cattle are dying as young ones or even at adult stages.
However, if you are losing less calves, chicks or kids, you will have a reasonable number to sell all the time. The same principle for appropriate housing will apply for goats even though the designs will obviously differ.
It is thus important for livestock farmers to get standard designs or guidelines for constructing appropriate housing be it for poultry or goats, from relevant Government extension departments.
They have standardised blue prints which can be altered and customised to the situation of individual farmers. In goats housing also helps to prevent troublesome diseases like foot rot that are a problem especially during the wet season like now. Your housing needs to protect the goats from excessively damp conditions as this predisposes goats to foot rot and you see half your flock limping.
In cattle, it is always good practice to have more than one kraal so that when one gets very muddy due to the rains, you can transfer your animals to another kraal.
Besides causing foot rot to your cattle, like in goats, muddy kraals cause discomfort to your cattle as they spend the whole night standing because it is to muddy and wet for them to lie down. As livestock farmers in our various forms of livestock let us make sure we provide our animals with suitable appropriate housing so that we optimise our production and increase returns realised from our enterprises.
Uyabonga umntaka MaKhumalo. Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]/ cell 0772851275