The Sunday News
ONE of my cows calved down this past week. It gave me a female calf, the third one from its fourth lactation. I bought this cow as a heifer from one lady farmer, a few years ago. It has done well for me and the notable aspect from its reproduction is that it drops a calf every year and so far, it has given more female calves than males.
This is the ideal animal especially for the budding farmer because it gives you two fronts for organic growth of your herd. It will grow your herd by dropping in a new member of the clan every year and by ensuring that it gives you more females to join the band wagon of breeders! By the time it gives you a third female calf, the heifer from the first lactation is ready for breeding.
You then hope that the heifers produced from such a dam will inherit these magnificent reproductive traits and you will live happily ever after! However, genetic and breeding experts will tell you that fertility is one of those traits that have a very low heritability, meaning that there are very low chances that an offspring will inherit its parents’ fertility attributes.
Livestock farmers have been documented to disagree with this academic position, therefore the verdict is yours if you are a practising livestock farmer. What are you observing from your own herd? Is it consistent with what academics tell us?
Just to let you in on a little secret, I will go with what you the practising livestock farmer will tell me! The import of this submission, however, is to encourage livestock farmers to be observant on the performance of our animals regarding important production traits.
This is usually made easy if we keep important records for our enterprises, and I know a majority of the smallholder farmers don’t. You will then be able to select for the good performers in the traits that you are considering. So, if we follow the story of my cow above, it is self-evident that I will keep its heifers as replacement stock. It is highly unlikely that I will sell any of them, my prayer being that the heifers inherit this impressive fertility attribute demonstrated by their mother.
I know that when we talk selection from an animal science point of view, breeders and geneticists have their own high level standard operating procedures, but I will say to livestock farmers, selection is nothing other than choosing which animal to keep in production.
This is based on the characteristics that you desire, for some it could be frame size of the animal, milk production, docility and so on. I would say if you were a budding livestock farmer it is important to select for the traits that will promote organic growth of your herd, such as fertility which is demonstrated by a shorter inter-calving period.
Inter-calving period is the time between the last lactation and the current one. In other words, it is the time it takes for your cow to give you the next calf after the last one. You want animals with a shorter inter-calving period which means you will be able to enjoy the dropping of a calf every year by your cow.
Longer inter-calving periods results in your cows skipping a year or even two before they drop another calf.
While this is a fertility issue, there are other external factors that will contribute to that. So, in simple terms, I would say to the livestock farmer, please select and keep animals that are performing well in important production traits like fertility, milk production and many others, so that you clean your herd and remain with animals that will make you happy all the time.
However, it is highly unlikely that a cow will have all the desired characteristics, reality is that one animal can perform very well in other traits and poor in others, hence you have to prioritise which ones come first for being selected in and which ones for being selected out.
A cow can be dropping a calf every year, but being extremely temperamental to the point of being unable to work the animal, you may decide to select it out based on its temper, especially if you are working with friendly animals.
Selection is a continuous process and hence a keen eye from the farmer, is important so that you pick those animals that exhibit desired characteristics, no matter how silent these are. A properly selected herd will over time mature to be what you want in your animals.
This is, however, not easy in a communal set up because you get constant infusion of external genetics from the communal herd, and some characteristics that will come along with this genetic may not be what you wanted.
Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo. Mhlupheki Dube is a livestock specialist and farmer. He writes in his own capacity. Feedback [email protected]/ cell 0772851275.