The Sunday News
THIS week we want to consolidate a checklist for a successful beef production enterprise. This list will form a dashboard indicator for a beef farmer such that as you tick the boxes on the checklist any component or indicator that does not check out should jump start you into corrective action.
Number one on your dashboard should be nutrition. Do you have adequate feed to last your herd throughout the year? Would you need to supplement your animals at some point and for how long? Animal nutrition is one of the major costs of a beef production enterprise, more so for smallholder livestock farmers who have limited grazing land. Large-scale ranchers would probably have enough acres of grazing land such that if sufficient rains are received, they have enough herbage to feed their animals throughout the year. Most smallholder livestock farmers have to supplement their animals at least three months of the dry season, that is September, October and November. This can translate into a huge cost especially if not planned for in advance.
The second component on your dashboard is animal health. Animal health management is a proactive not reactive exercise. This means as a livestock farmer you have to vaccinate your animals against known problematic diseases in your area.
Your local veterinary office will help you with this information. Some areas have endemic problems of disease such as anthrax, foot and mouth and one has to vaccinate against these and others.
It is often very costly to try and treat an animal than to prevent it from getting a disease. An example is regular dipping as a management practice. This can look a bit mundane but dipping protects your animals from about five tick-borne diseases. These are very serious diseases that can cause you serious mortalities and hence losses.
Some farmers in other regions of the country had their herds wiped out by theileriosis, a tick-borne disease. Managing your animal nutrition and animal health will help you contain one important indicator on your dashboard, herd mortality. This refers to the number of animals you lose to death per year. As a rule of the thumb your mortality should not exceed three percent, in fact keep it below two percent. Herd mortality affects your organic herd growth. Organic herd growth refers to the increase in number of your animals as a result of reproduction than buy in.
So naturally if you are losing a lot of animals to death, your enterprise will not grow and it will not be profitable. Calf mortality is the main driver of herd mortality in the absence of animal poverty deaths due to drought. Therefore, you need to make sure your calf rearing is tip top so that you reduce calf mortality. Calf mortality will affect your annual earnings often as you will not be able to sell if your herd is stagnant or shrinking in size.
Another important component of the dashboard is your farm human capital. The aptitude and attitude of our farm workers is important for the enterprise. Your workers need to know that they are contributing to the success or downfall of the enterprise and that this has a relationship with their stay at the farm. Firstly, you need to provide your farm personnel with basic hand on training of some routine management practices so that they can handle these in your absence.
They also need to know what action to take or who to consult when faced with a situation they cannot handle. In terms of attitude, your farm helpers need to know that your beef production enterprise is a serious business therefore there are consequences for negligent behaviour. Never think you are being human if you just let your farm employee scot free letting your cow and its calf spend a night in the bush and you lose your calf to predators.
You are not helping him or yourself if you do not take stern action of reprimand. He will continue to adopt an ignorant attitude and you will continue to incur unnecessary calf mortalities. Let the worker pay for the lost calf even if it means deducting the cost from his salary in a staggered manner, do it.
This will help teach him that you mean serious business. Even if it’s a kid of one of your goats that got lost or eaten by predators do not trivialise the loss or else you will proliferate the negligent behaviour.
The last component for our dashboard indicator especially for smallholder livestock farmers is prevention of stock theft. Smallholder livestock farmers lose a lot of their investment to thieves. This is also coupled with straying animals that get completely lost until they are sold as stray cattle by rural district councils. The remedy for this is simple, ensure a tight security of your animals and very regular inspection. Smallholder farmers have this thing of driving animals into the veld and let them go unchecked for weeks especially during the dry season because there are no crop fields to worry about. This opens you up for stock theft. At least every two days know where your animals are, and if they are all there.
Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo. Feedback [email protected]/ cell 0772851275.