The Sunday News
IT’S now 15 November and still most areas are yet to receive effective rains and the strain is beginning to register on farmers’ faces.
Most Government extension officers usually bench mark with mid-November as the time by which effective rains should have started.
Livestock farmers are hanging by a thread in most areas as most of the veld was long depleted and animals are doing more browsing and grazing, feeding on the new tree shoots in areas where trees have started shooting.
Commercial feed has gone through the roof in terms of pricing and hay bales which are relatively cheaper have begun to be in short supply. In fact, in my small town of Plumtree we have been without hay bales for two weeks now!
This means if one needs to supplement their animals, they have to go the commercial feed route and a bag of pen feeding meal is going for anything in the upwards of $19. November is a very critical month for cattle farmers as this usually marks the peak of the dry season.
It is the month during which most farmers lose animals to poverty deaths. It is also the month when most dry season calving would have happened.
As I write there are a number of livestock farmers with calves on foot and most of these animals calved in October and the first two weeks of November.
It is these animals that present a nightmare to the farmer as they need to be supplemented because the pressure of lactating against a background of poor feed availability is huge and the cow become severely emaciated and can actually die.
Again, those that have not yet calved down and are due this month or early December, are actually at high risk because the last trimester of pregnancy exerts a higher pressure in terms of feed requirement for the animal due to a heavy calf.
It is common during this time for heavily pregnant cows to be found recumbent, failing to rise and if no intervention is done in terms of supplementary feeding, it dies.
The reason why I am describing the situation of this particular period, is to highlight the need for farmer intervention to prevent unnecessary loss of animals over a short period of two or so weeks, simply because the farmer could not make a decision.
This is a period that separates good livestock farmers from bad ones, in terms of critical intervention. Ordinarily we would have received the rains already and with the veld sufficiently grown now to provide adequate feed.
So some farmers get to the point where they lose their animals as they keep hoping and crossing fingers that it rains soon, and as we can see it has not rained yet.
Of course, I know that most organised farmers would say this is not the time to be running around scrounging for animal feed, because the farmer should have known that this period is coming as it surely does every year, and prepare for it.
That’s true, but we are here now and my best advice to this farmer is to stop looking up the sky and hoping for the rains, and go out to find a bag or two to help your animals.
The rains will come when they do, but your animals may not be able to wait that long! Hay bales may not be good enough to boost a severely emaciated animal because technically there is nothing in those hay bales, nutritively speaking unless supported with some additives.
Most of that grass is poor grass which animals would not consume voluntarily on the veld and it is cut past its prime in terms of nutrient content, but it is important to keep the animal alive.
Talking of hay bales, during the livestock conference last week, a concern was raised that these hay bales could also be another way of transporting the deadly disease into your farm or area as these tend to come with ticks and if it happens that the brown ear tick which is infected with the parasite which causes January disease, is transported in hay bales to your farm, you could carry the disease along.
This is not a long stretch at all because the ticks stay on the grass and they have the ability to survive for a very long time before attaching to a host.
So, soon it may become important to know where your hay bales were cut and if the area is free of this deadly disease or else in trying to save your animals you could bring in your worst nightmare.
Uyabonga umntaka MaKhumalo.
Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected] cell 0772851275