Markets guide choices in livestock production

09 Jun, 2024 - 00:06 0 Views
Markets guide choices in livestock production Mhlupheki Dube

AS a livestock enthusiast, I belong to several social media groups with an interest in livestock matters. I get to learn a lot about livestock from these groups and also get access to latest information and news on matters to do with livestock.

One thing that always captures my attention is the divergence of purpose between livestock farmers and animal scientists. To help frame the difference between the two groups of people, a little loose definition will help here.

Animal scientists for the purposes of this instalment are people trained in animal science to various levels including post-graduate and are mostly in the academic and research fields.

Livestock farmers on the other hand are those who produce animals and get their hands dirty in the process.

A few people could be doing both. My experience in these groups, which forms the import of my submission this week, is that there is a world of difference between what some animal scientists view as important and what livestock farmers see as important. One such difference is on the type of animals that should be promoted and reared by farmers.

Livestock farmers in the majority of cases are simply looking for an efficient animal that easily ticks most if not all production traits boxes. A fertile animal grows fast to attain desired weaning weights, produces sufficient milk for its offspring and household consumption, is tolerant to harsh production environments and many other traits.

Animal scientists especially geneticists and breeding zealots, will on the other hand go to town about the preservation of the indigenous genotype which is well adapted to the local environment and how these are being pushed to extinction by farmers’ preference for fast-growing and heavier exotic breeds and their crosses.

 

Livestock Farming

What seems to always elude the scientists and genetics zealots is that there are very few farmers who produce animals for the national cause of preserving dying genetics.

Most farmers are in it for income and hence they simply want an animal that will grow fast and attain heavier weights to give him or her a good earning at the point of sale.

Animals when being sold for slaughter which is the ultimate and the majority market, are paid for weight and the grade of meat, not genetics!

As long as our indigenous breeds take forever to attain weights which fast-growing exotic breeds attain in less than a year, then they will continue to face stiff competition from these breeds.

As it stands the only selling point of indigenous livestock breeds is that they are generally hardy, which means they can withstand harsh environmental conditions including livestock diseases. These, however, can be achieved on other breeds through strict management regimes.

My view is that animal scientists should do more than merely eulogising about the beauty of indigenous breeds based on what was but rather invest in breeding and improving indigenous breeds which can go toe-to-toe with the exotic breeds.

Otherwise, without an improvement in its production traits, it is not long before these indigenous livestock breeds disappear from the veld.

As we speak one has to visit stud breeders to see Tulis and Nkones yet these are true indigenous breeds which means they should be found in abundance among smallholder communal farmers.

What we find now are mostly nondescript breeds but largely leaning towards the hard Mashona breed.
It therefore, goes without elaborating that no amount of journal publication and eulogizing of local breeds will make them compete at equal footing with improved exotic breeds for as long as the market pays for kilogrammes of meat and the grade of that meat.

Those who have gone to livestock auction sales will tell you that nothing sells easily like the Brahman breed in this country because it easily ticks all the production trait boxes and it has the aesthetics as well.

Can we therefore as animal scientists breed an animal that still keeps the good quality of indigenous breeds but borrows also the good from the exotic breeds for optimal production performance? If we do, then we can easily win the war against the disappearing indigenous genome.

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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