HomeThe ProfessionalZimbabwe holds inaugural Beef School

Zimbabwe holds inaugural Beef School

FOR the first time in Zimbabwe, the livestock industry has come together under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Herd Book (ZHB) to organise the Beef School. 

ZHB represents all registered breeds of cattle and sheep in Zimbabwe.

The idea to host this event was stimulated by the huge success of the Stockman’s School in South Africa which has become an annual event.

National Foods was the major sponsor of the Beef School and their support of, and interest in, this event is sincerely acknowledged.

Carswell Meats, Freddy Hirsch, Animal Breeders, Taltec, Ice Feeds, CC Sales, World Wide Sires, Livestock Identification Trust, African and Wildlife Development Consultants, Fivet, Coopers, Solomombe and Agrifoods were also sponsors of the event and their contributions and assistance are gratefully appreciated.

The event was held at ART Farm over two days in September and the theme was: “Introduction to Good Management Practices”.

The stud industry is the cornerstone of the livestock industry. It is at the forefront of breeding and selection to make available top quality genetics to meet ever-changing production and market demands.
While it is encouraging to record the stability and growth in the stud industry represented by 71 active stud breeders with 7 800 animals across 16 beef, two dairy and one sheep breed, it is disconcerting that most breeds are represented by one or two small studs.

The Herd Book and Breed Societies proudly announced the commissioning of Breedplan®, the world’s leading performance evaluation scheme in 2010 and look forward to availing the latest breeding technologies to the cattle industry.

World-wide, beef production is seeing rapid changes and Zimbabwe is no exception. Dramatic changes have occurred in the production and marketing environment over recent years. The Beef School brought together local, regional and international experts to present a wide range of topics that influence beef production.

There was an excellent turnout of 108 producers, extension agents and service providers who were treated to two days of intensive lectures and practical sessions covering world beef trends, advances in genetics, practical management, health, nutrition, economics of production, production systems, as well as live cattle and carcass quality demonstrations. In Zimbabwe, cattle play important economic and social roles including production (tillage, manure, transport); consumption (meat, hides); finance (savings and investment of income) and social obligations (rituals, status and pleasure).

The beef cattle industry therefore has high potential to directly and indirectly contribute to the economic development of the country.
Zimbabwe has a long history of producing top quality beef meeting very stringent market requirements of lucrative local and external markets. Over the past decade the country has seen a major shift in the meat protein industry from a predominantly beef producing and consuming nation to poultry production and consumption.

While the beef cattle propulation has remained fairly constant between five and six million, 90% of these animals are in the small-scale and communal sector. This has important ramifications from a beef production perspective since cattle in the smallholder sector perform many functions apart from provision of animals for slaughter. Farmers in this sector keep cattle for tillage, manure, transport and as savings or an option for investment of income.

Because of these many functions, slaughter off-take is low at 3,3% compared to the national target of 15%. In addition, sales from this sector are very seasonal in response to a shock on the household income (as a coping mechanism) or to obtain funds for assets, building, payment of big debts such as hospital bills or school fees. Similarly, there has been a reduction in average carcass weight from 200 to 165kg.

The enourmous changes in Zimbabwe’s production and marketing environment neccesitate paradigm shifts in management, inputs and marketing. Improving the competitiveness of the beef sector in Zimbabwe will require farmers to raise their management levels to achieve greater productivity. This includes achieving higher calving rates, lowering age at first calving, enhanced use of superior genetics, lowering mortality rates, increasing off-take rate and improving carcass yields.

Zimbabwe has one of the highest cattle population densities in the region — more than twice those in Zambia, South Africa and Botswana. Thus any increase in beef production has to come from productivity improvement. The Beef School provided a valuable and much needed venue for producers and professionals to deliberate and share ideas to foster the growth and expansion of the beef industry.

The Beef School boasted an impressive line-up of speakers. The event was officially opened by Chenjerai Njagu, deputy director Veterinary Field Services, on behalf of the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Ngoni Masoka.

Today the three most important market traits are all quality traits: food safety; eating satisfaction; and information on how and where cattle are raised. The US beef herd is dominated by the Angus breed which accounts for 60% and 73% of local and export semen sales respectively. 65% of US cattle are black, emphasising the importance of the Angus in the US beef market.

Prior to the 1970s cattle were selected on visual appraisal. Since then cattle have been selected on performance which has been augmented with ‘Estimated Progeny Differences’ (EPD’s) on a wide range of traits. Current traits of importance are disposition, calving ease, performance, maternal traits and carcass merit.

Clive Marshall comes from South London, UK. At the age of 16 he embarked on a career in the cattle business and at 17 became the youngest ever winner of the Duke of Edinburgh Trophy for Judging and Stockmanship, an award he won again when he was 19. He worked in South Africa from 1985 to 1993.

He then moved to Botswana where he was in charge of the ranching operations of the Hurvitz Group running 10 000 females and pushing the productivity to an average pregnancy and weaning rate of 90% and 92% respectively over a 14 year period. In 2007 he was employed by the Botswana Meat Commission to run the Livestock Procurement Department with a view to increase throughput.

Marshall presented two excellent papers, one describing the ‘A to Z’ of cattle production covering the principles of profitable production. He highlighted the critical importance of husbandry, noting that this is the single biggest factor influencing success or failure of beef production. Marshall stated that reproductive efficiency amongst females in the herd is five times more valuable than any other trait.

His second presentation was a fascinating discussion of the beef value chain in Botswana and the ‘Direct Cattle Purchase’ (DCP) model that has been put in place to increase the cow herd from a million to 1.5 million. This will increase offtake without increasing the beef herd of 2.7 million head. Since the implementation of DCP, cattle prices have increased by 56%, increasing the value of the Botswana herd by P 2,5 billion.

Bradfield has extensive international experience in the Animal Breeding field and holds a PhD in Animal Breeding from the University of New England, Australia where he was the recipient of an Australian Meat and Livestock Scholarship. He is also the principal architect of the Aldam Stockman’s School. Bradfield gave a stirring address on the potential of modern breeding methods. With improved management, a genetic change of one to three percent per trait per annum is easily achievable in farm livestock. This change is also possible in the Zimbabwe beef industry and will increase the worth and value of the national herd.

He also highlighted three challenges in improving the genetic traits in a herd.

– The commercial producer needs to understand the monetary value that modern breeding methods can add to genetic potential and translate this to financial gain;
– The stud industry must move away from old fashioned methods based on visual appraisal for selection of superior stock. He noted that “if the stud industry is not recording data, a breeder cannot realistically expect the commercial producer to buy genetic material from the stud industry” and “breed societies that do not take on new scientific methods for selecting superior animals will simply become hobby breeds”;

– To have courage and trust to use the modern breeding methods.

Bradfield added that if a producer buys a bull without fertility Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’s) then no progress for fertility will be made in the herd. The livestock industry has moved to selection indexes where traits of economic importance to a particular production system are weighted to yield an economic index. Providing a good recording system across a range of traits must be the first priority of any modern recording system. Exciting new tools offered by BreedPlan® include TakeStock®, a genetic bench-marking tool, MateSel®, to assist with mating decisions and EBVM, marker assisted EBV’s to genetic values of difficult and/or expensive traits to measure, e.g. meat tenderness.

Douglas Bruce is a Zimbabwean veterinarian trained at Onderstepoort Veterinary School of Pretoria University in South Africa. He has broad experience in clinical practice, large scale intensive pig and ostrich production and the animal health industry. His main objective is to improve the efficiency of local producers and make them internationally competitive. He gave a presentation on a cattle health calendar that covered the importance of disease control, understanding the farm environment and creating a disease profile. He also spoke about practical suggestions on preventative and disease control measures and shared aid templates on health, replacement heifer and cattle management calendars.

Japie Jackson, a legend in the cattle industry, qualified with a BVSc from Onderstepoort in 1954. His first employment in 1955 was as ranch veterinarian on Liebig’s Ranch in Beitbridge, West Nicholson, and Nuanetsi districts where he ran a baby calf heartwater immunisation scheme using infected sheep blood and inseminated ranch cows with semen drawn from the first imports of Brahman bulls. In the Government Veterinary Department he was stationed at Lupane for the duration of a FMD outbreak, Gweru and at Chivhu. After transferring to Bulawayo he embarked on an intensive investigation of plant poisoning and its effects on livestock. In 1975, Jackson went full time farming plus veterinary practice.

His main interest since his youth has been the natural veld and the interaction between cattle and vegetation. With cattle, fertility is the measure of their well-being and PDs became the main thrust of his practice. And now, more than one and a half million PD’s later, done over and over again, on so many different kinds of veldt, under so many different kinds of management, in so many different seasons, and on so many different breeds of cattle, a picture has emerged in his mind. It is that picture which has led to giving talks at field days. In March 1997 he was awarded a silver medal by the Zimbabwe Society for Animal Production and in July 2001, he received a Meritorious Service Award from the Zimbabwe Animal and Grassland Society. In 2003 he was awarded The Farming Oscar by the Commercial Farmers’ Union.

His presentation to the Beef School was an intense lecture on the Zimbabwean high veld, grass growth and grass management, an animal’s physiological requirements and matching these requirements with veld nutrition. His talk stimulated considerable discussion during the two days of the school.

Member of Parliament Patrick Zhuwao, producer and legislator, shared ideas on policy options for enhancing local beef production. While the cattle population of Zimbabwe is 5,2 million, off-take, calving rate and mortality is 3,5%, 46% and 4% respectively. He proposed three interlinked options to improve cattle productivity;
– increased focus on pen-feeding, testing and pilot research by the state and public sectors
– increased attention on quality genetics for the commercial herd by established and A2 resettled commercial farmers; and
– strengthened productive capacity in the smallholder sector where 95% of cattle are found.

John Crawford is a Zimbabwean farmer with a B. Ag. Management degree from the University of Natal and he has experience in mixed farming, with his passion being cattle. He had four years of practical experience in Australia working on an extensive beef cattle operation running 16 000 head, where he gained most of the cattle handling skills shared at the Beef School. His main objective is to improve the economic viability of his cattle enterprise and share this knowledge with as many people as possible. He discussed aspects of cattle management and arranged a practical demonstration on how to handle cattle.

Mark Hayter studied Agriculture at the University of Natal and majored in animal science and had the opportunity to work on the in-vitro fertilisation of bovine embryos in his final year thesis. On his return, he joined Animal Breeders Co. Ltd and became the managing director in 1999. He took on the management of CC Sales in 2004 and has trained to be an auctioneer. In a practical demonstration, Hayter discussed the evaluation of fat stock and carcass attributes. He also discussed the pros and cons of castration, dehorning and branding cattle management procedures.

Jaco Erasmus holds a Master of Agricultural Management degree from the University of Natal. He joined the family commercial beef operation in Zimbabwe in1995, primarily geared towards supplying beef for export to the European Union. Between 2002 and 2006 he was general manager of a large scale (15 000 head) beef operation in Zambia.

In 2006 he returned to Zimbabwe to manage the downsized family operation where they run a commercial Mashona/Beefmaster composite herd. He strives to improve both biological and economic efficiency in beef production.

His interests include the economics of beef production and modelling beef production systems. He provided an in-depth review of economics of beef production in Zimbabwe using two case studies of a beef producer and a pedigree producer. In his presentation, Erasmus worked through detailed templates which producers can use to review their own operations. He noted that there is a large variation in production and financial performance between herds which means there is room to improve productive efficiency through management. The case studies emphasized the importance of financial and herd-performance records as “Managing performance requires measuring performance”’.

Mario Beffa’s first employment was at Matopos Research Station where, as Chief Research Officer, he was responsible for the administration of cattle breeding research programmes. His involvement with a long-term selection and genotype x environment interaction study with grade Afrikaner cattle formed the basis of his doctorate that he obtained in 2005. He was also responsible for the genetic conservation and improvement of the indigenous Nguni and Tuli Sanga breeds of cattle.

In 1999, Beffa was appointed general manager of the Livestock Identification Trust that successfully launched the Zimbabwe Cattle Traceability Scheme. The Trust also processes data for the Dairy Herd Improvement Programme and he is the manager of the Zimbabwe Herd Book and Administrator of the Livestock and Meat Advisory Council (LMAC). He presented an overview of the functions and objectives of the LMAC, meat production and consumption trends and findings from in-depth reviews of the poultry, pig, beef and dairy industries.

The LMAC with significant assistance from the USaid’s Zimbabwe Competitiveness Programme (Zim-ACP) is working closely with the Department of Livestock and Veterinary Services on the on-going regulatory review process. Beffa also presented a review of some of the findings from the Matopos Breed Evaluation study highlighting the superior performance of the indigenous breeds of cattle of Zimbabwe, the Mashona, Nguni and Tuli.

The Beef School was immensely successful with lively discussion about the topics presented. Established and new producers, students and public sector representatives had the opportunity to share notes and experiences. It was a well organised event and the Zimbabwe Herd Book Beef School 2013 is eagerly anticipated.


Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading