The Sunday News
ONE of the things that I have learned over time as I contribute to this column is that lived experiences tend to communicate better and are more relevant to other farmers and readers alike than generic concepts.
I have also learned that there is almost an endless wealth of experience if one pays attention to issues coming out from their farming operations. There is almost everything new to discover about your animals and how they behave every day.
I have shared some nuggets of such experiences on this very platform and the feedback has been great. I wish I had a way of tapping into your own experiences and learn even more about smallholder livestock production. One fascinating aspect to observe in your cows, is the mothering ability and how it manifests from one animal to another.
You will have some very aggressive cows which do not want anyone and anything near the calf, especially during the first week after parturition. I have one such Brahman cow. Executing simple management aspects like driving it home after calving down in the veld, is a serious high risk rodeo and painful mission.
The cow has very aggressive temperament when there is a newly born calf, stockmen have been sent sprinting for dear life and there have been near misses with the horns when trying to take the calf to the calf pen. However, the temper always goes down after about five days and the cow becomes friendly and easier to work with.
The lesson being that, eventually the cow realises that there is no harm intended for its calf, whatever is done, is simple routine management and it complies. Then I have this cow which has decided that it does not want to share its calf milk with anyone. Now, milkers know that before you milk your cow, you will release the calf so that it goes to nurse on the dam and this has an effect of stimulating milk let down, then you come in, push the calf aside and milk the cow!
This cow has decided it cannot be tricked each time to let down its milk for greedy humans, it will have none of that! So, the cow refuses to let the calf nurse during the milking time. It will kick the calf away, more like a cow which has weaned its calf and does not want it to suckle anymore. The calf will not nurse and so you cannot milk this cow because there is no milk coming. You then let the cow and calf to go out because its now time to graze, viola the calf is now nursing from its mother with no restraint at all!
The cow decided my milk is for my child and my child alone, no sharing with thieving humans! We have since learned to let it be and its calf is growing remarkably well, cashing in on the biological protection by the mother. We wanted to observe whether this behaviour will continue even when the grazing has improved and there is plenty grass to graze, unfortunately because of poor rains we will not have that luxury of plenty grass.
Then a new bull in our herd has been giving us lessons as well. We took it to the communal dip tank for branding both personal and dip tank brand. Hot iron branding is a painful process and ever since that exercise was done, the bull won’t go anywhere near the dip tank, even for plunge dipping. It has since associated the place with pain and it will not have none of that! This is a bought in bull which came in as already a working bull.
So, the lesson could be that, better buy a young bull which you can groom to your specifications. They probably handled it differently where it was born and raised and it is finding it difficult to adjust to new ways of doing business. The long and short of this article being that, there are a lot of lessons we can learn from our animals , these creatures are very intelligent and well discerning, we just need to be observant. Uyabonga umntaka MaKhumalo.
Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]/cell 0772851275