The Sunday News
THIS week we discuss a seemingly simple but often neglected cow management practice. I am referring to weaning of calves. Most smallholder communal farmers are not even aware of the appropriate age at which weaning should be done.
Others simply do not care about weaning preferring calves to self-wean. This is a poor management practice especially for most smallholder farmers who are mostly strained for grazing pastures. Weaning is a critical cow management principle which should be observed by any self-respecting farmer.
I have discussed the different methods of weaning calves before, their advantages and disadvantages and therefore, I will not repeat that part on this week’s instalment. In one district I saw a farmer who had a cow which was still lactating a feeder steer, an animal which outgrew the calf category several months ago.
Needless to say the cow exhibited a strained body condition score and hence it had a very long inter- calving period.
Ideally calves should be weaned at about seven months of age. Weaning at the right time ensures that your cow will not deteriorate in body condition due to excessive nutrient demands. If your cow deteriorates in body condition because of nutritional drain of the over grown calf, it will stop circling and this extends the inter-calving period.
If the inter-calving period is extended you begin to have cows that skip a year or two before dropping a calf.
Rather than focusing on continuing to get milk for your tea through milking a cow with a year-old calf, farmers should appreciate the loss in organic herd growth that happens because of not weaning at the right time.
If a cow goes for two years without giving you a calf then it is cheating you because the amount of resources that you spend on it cannot be justified.
Imagine a herdboy that you pay up to $800 in a year to look after the cow and it gives you nothing for two years.
You have spent $1 600 on a cow that you can only sell for a maximum of $400.
So in order to reduce passenger cows in your herd you need to ensure that the cows have access to a working bull, they maintain a body condition score of three and above.
Weaning your calf early means the nutrient demand from your cow is reduced and hence it will start improving its body condition.
There is also less pressure on your veld as dry cows consume much less forage compared to lactating cows.
Weaning at the right time provides the cow with ample time for udder tissue re-growth and it also helps in priming the reproductive system so that the cow goes back to its ovulation circle early.
In summary therefore weaning at the right time helps your cow to maintain a body condition score which allows it to circle early enough to reduce the inter calving period and give you a calf every year.
Talking about management practices, it is important to highlight that there are other management practices which do not necessarily relate to production but are essential for animal handling.
One such practice is continued regular interaction with your animals such that they do not become apprehensive when there is need to handle them for an exercise such as dosing.
Some farmers tend to avoid working their animals and this gives your animals a wild instinct as it were because they cannot be easily handled when a need arise.
I know one farmer who would have a buyer to come and shoot his animal before ferrying it to the butchery simply because it could not be hoofed to the loading rump.
His animals were simply wild and dangerous to any handler, including the owner.
Therefore a farmer needs to work his animals at least once a month so that a cattle race, crush and such related facilities are not strange to the animals.
We have seen animals at the market that charge at people and send buyers under the tables simply because they are not used to being handled.
Imagine failing to sell your animal because you could not hoof it to the market or it jumped over fences because it was too nervous.
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