The Sunday News
THIS week we want to look at managing your herd composition as a drought mitigation measure in livestock production.
Herd composition simply refers to the disaggregation of your herd both in terms of sex of the animals and their respective ages. It is the age component that we will look at.
There are some smallholder livestock farmers who will keep an animal especially cows until they have a complete broken mouth (no teeth), simply because the cow is very fertile and somehow it manages to drop a calf every year despite the obtaining environmental conditions.
There are two problems with keeping a cow to advanced aging, the first one being that cows tend to give less thrift and vibrant calves as they age. There seems to be a relationship between the age of the cow and the vibrancy of the offspring it produces. So, you will get a calf yes, but these tend to be sickly and with reduced vitality. Another challenge of keeping very old cows is that they are the first victims of drought.
Older cows will succumb first and much earlier in a drought situation than relatively younger ones. Therefore, it is not very prudent to keep a large fraction of our very old cows because this will mean either you lose them during a drought, or you will have to dig deeper into drought mitigation measures.
In that regard, it is standard practice and good management to put any cow that has calved down more than five times on the culling list. Your first and second calvers as well as heifers will provide reasonable resistance to a drought situation. As a livestock farmer you will do well to keep the top level of your cows to be around fourth and fifth calvers and have a larger population of third calvers going downwards.
The same applies for male animals, where it has been demonstrated that your steers and young oxen have a better survival rate in a drought situation compared to old oxen. It is, therefore, prudent to have younger oxen and steers as the bigger composition of your male animals. Older oxen take them to the market and enjoy your sweat! So, playing around with the age composition of your herd can have a very far-reaching impact with regards to drought survival for your animals.
Herd rationalisation is therefore a very simple and perhaps your first intrinsic mitigation mechanism against drought and harsh conditions for your livestock.
On a separate note, last week we spoke about community driven anti-stocktheft committees and the need to adopt the strategy. This week I want to reiterate what I once shared on this very platform regarding the effectiveness of anti-stocktheft measures especially by our police force. The need to close the market valve for the stolen cattle.
Apparently, we are learning that these stock thieves who slaughter animals in the dead of the night and transport carcasses to urban centres, are in fact running some “butcheries” in their houses in the western suburbs. They slaughter the animals and take the meat to their deep freezer and sell off the meat to neighbours who are simply happy to buy cheaper meat with no questions as to the source of it.
These illicit “butcheries” should be raided, and the source of their meat verified. In fact, I am sure the Public Health Act forbids existence of such “butcheries”. I appreciate that people are trying to eke out a living but that does not mean engaging, enabling or facilitating such illegal activities as stocktheft. If the police can arrest these people trading in stolen meat and even butcheries that buy such stolen carcasses, it could be a solution to plug out the troublesome market that is stimulating stocktheft.
Simple, let’s identify the illegal marketing outlets for the stolen cattle and close them out, we can then begin to win the war against stock thieves.
Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]/cell 0772851275