Forward planning; an essential livestock management attribute

28 May, 2023 - 00:05 0 Views
Forward planning; an essential livestock management attribute Livestock

The Sunday News

Farming issues with Mhlupheki Dube

ONE important characteristic of a successful livestock farmer is forward planning. Most parameters that will have a negative or positive impact on the livestock production enterprise, have to be predicted well in advance so that mitigation strategies can be instituted in time especially where negative impact is anticipated. 

Reactionary responses are usually very late for livestock farmers and it is always very difficult to halt effects of the negative impacting phenomena. With regards to positive aspects, planning on how one can maximise benefits of the positive impact, is also very important. Without this kind of planning, an opportunity can pass without farmers exploiting it. 

Sadly, a majority of smallholder livestock farmers hardly make long-term plans about their livestock production enterprise. A very clear demonstration of lack of forward planning, is the fact that livestock farmers will continue to lose animals to poverty deaths despite the fact that they know they received poor rains, the veld did not regenerate significantly and hence a certain support system for their animals will be required during the lean season. 

Droughts are recurrent in our regions and we have learned their effects on our livestock over the years but somehow farmers still lose livestock to poverty deaths as a result of drought. A drought starts loading several months before the effects starts to show. 

You will have low and very erratic rains, poor growth of grasses on the rangeland, rivers and water bodies such as dams and weirs collect negligible amounts of runoff, and you have a complete crop failure with almost no cereal stover to feed your animals. Instead of planning for this self-evident impending calamity, most farmers will wait until the proverbial 11th hour before they decide to lift a finger and needless to say it will already be late. 

Another phenomenon which has been coming over the past decades or so, is that of climate change. This has manifested in changes in weather phenomena over time, with some regions of the world experiencing floods while others experience very high temperatures. It is thus imperative for livestock farmers to be adjusting and planning ahead with regards to mitigation measures against possible long-term effects of climate change. 

One obvious change which will happen to your rangeland as the environment becomes harsh and perhaps drier, is the increase of unpalatable species which somehow tend to have the physiological ability to withstand harsh environments. This may also come in the form of invader species, which will colonise your rangeland, suffocating it of any palatable grass species. 

As livestock farmers we need to start thinking of how we can deliberately promote the proliferation of palatable grasses, especially those that are hardly enough to withstand the climatic changes that are happening. This may be importing totally new grasses from elsewhere and introduce them into our rangelands. 

Active rangeland management and reclamation actions now need to form part of the livestock farmer’s workplan for his/her grazing area. We should be on the lookout for that shrub or those grasses which seem to thrive regardless of the drier conditions which we are now experiencing, and it is not being grazed by our livestock. We need to control such shrubs or grasses before they completely go out of hand. 

Another important aspect which livestock farmers need to plan for because of the changes in climate, is that of drinking water for the animals. Farmers will need to find new water harvesting mechanisms that will help them collect water during the rainy season for their animals. 

There is technology in the market of harvesting water using plastic line earth dams (this may not be the correct terminology), it’s about time livestock farmers explore these for harvesting water for their animals. This may not be an appropriate example, but the point is we need to think about how we can harvest that water which always flows to the seas and we are left with empty rivers all the time, especially now that rains are becoming more erratic. 

Lastly climate change will come with the increase in certain diseases and pests and you begin to find pests that were never a problem, becoming a serious challenge for farmers. This could be the same with diseases. One can postulate that the migration of Theileriosis from its traditional zones, in Zimbabwe, could also be a factor of climate change.

Admittedly there are animal movement issues but one may be persuaded that changes in climatic conditions may have seen the concerned vector evolving to accommodate new kinds of habitat such as drier areas of the country. 

This is not yet scientifically proven, hence it should not be cited as a fact! However, it is not disputable that climatic changes may result in new disease and pest challenges for the farmer. Livestock farmers therefore need to always anticipate challenges and plan mitigation measures well in advance to avoid losses. 

Uyabonga umntaka MaKhumalo.

Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected] /cell 0772851275

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