The Sunday News
LAST week, I indicated that one of the challenges facing the beef production sector is low calving rates which are around 43,5 percent against a possible best practice of 80 percent.
Low calving percentages mean that farmers’ herds are growing at very low levels and so does the national herd.
This is not a good situation as farmers are expected to realise a significant organic herd growth annually.
It is this organic herd growth which translates to the individual farmer annual off-take.
In other words, if your herd is not growing through production of calves you will find it difficult to sell some animals as this will result in your business regressing.
This, therefore means calving rate as a production indicator is a very important indicator which every farmer should work towards managing so that there is growth in his/ her herd.
It is also important to note that calving rate is purely a management issue which can be controlled by the farmer.
Farmers should therefore be able to manage higher calving rates in their herds and this starts with marking fertility of your herd as a paramount production goal.
If the fertility of your herd is not properly managed it will result in low conception rates and subsequently low calving rates.
Therefore, managing for conception should be an important goal for every livestock farmer. This starts from understanding fertility drivers in your herd and ensuring that these conditions exist for optimal performance of the herd.
Firstly, your cows should be free from reproductive diseases such as contagious abortion hence the need to vaccinate your heifers against such diseases.
This is a challenge with smallholder communal farmers as most of them do not vaccinate their animals and their herds are largely carriers of such reproductive diseases which affect conception rates in the herd. Secondly, your breeding cows should be kept on body condition score three for them to be able to cycle and be served by a bull.
This means you should provide adequate nutrition throughout the year so that your animal does not lose condition and become anoestric.
While your animals will forage naturally within the veld, it should not be lost to the farmer that providing adequate nutrition for your herd is your responsibility.
Actually that is the farming part, ensuring that you fend for your animals so that they thrive and produce optimally.
Thirdly, a farmer should have a bull to service his/ her herd when the cows come on heat.
This is a challenge for smallholder communal livestock farmers who tend to prefer not to have a bull but rely on a neighbour’s bull to service
his/her cows during grazing on the veld.
This is problematic in that there tends to be fewer bulls available and hence the bulls are overwhelmed meaning some cows may be missed and this is lost production time.
Again, as a farmer you do not have control on the quality of the bull that is servicing your herd and as such you may get poor quality calves. Again use of very few communal bulls has resulted in serious inbreeding depression and the results are there for all to see.
Fourthly, farmers should cull empty cows after the breeding season. While there is no clearly defined breeding season for communal systems because cows are continuously running with the bulls, it is proper to cull that cow that has gone through the whole year without dropping a calf.
You do not want free loaders or passengers in your herd, get rid of them! A ruthless culling policy for poor performance will definitely improve fertility of your herd.
Coupled to this, farmers should adopt the practice of getting veterinary personnel to conduct pregnancy diagnosis on their herds so that cows that are found to be empty after taking a bull are culled.
These are some of the key management practices that smallholder livestock farmers should adopt so as to manage the fertility and subsequently production of their herds.
Production of a calf in your herd should not be an accident but a result of deliberate management efforts that has been invested in the process. It is therefore very important for every livestock farmer worthy his/her salt to make managing herd fertility a priority production goal. UyabongaumntakaMaKhumalo.
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