HomeOpinionFarmbiz: Livestock at deep end

Farmbiz: Livestock at deep end

By Kudakwashe Gwabanayi

THIS week marks exactly seven months since we went out of the rainy season.  In other words, this is the longest stretch because in less than a month, we will be in the rainy season again.

While this is good news for those who have plans to put some crops on the ground, the same cannot be said for those who are into animal husbandry, whether on a small-scale or on large-scale basis.

Drought

Currently, pasture is scarce because cattle, sheep, goats and other grazers have been on them since February. The water situation is also getting dire with each passing day as small dams and other surface water bodies are drying up while some streams have not had running water in a while. Even the 120m deep boreholes are now dry.

Crossing over Runde River in Masvingo gives a perfect example of what is obtaining in most parts of the country as far as water for livestock is concerned.

However, the coming of rains does not necessarily mean that the food problem has been solved because pastures need about two months to replenish themselves after the first normal rains.

The rains themselves also bring diseases and other complications for animals. So, even those that are practising zero grazing are at the deep end with their livestock.

Fortunately, because of climate change, this year’s September and October did not bring with them their usual scorching high temperatures that would have made the situation worse.

Supplements

Farmers practising free-range grazing are encouraged to give supplementary feeds to their livestock during this difficult season.  This will help boost their immune system so that whatever threat comes their way may be mitigated.

This year, maize, soya beans and other field crops are in abundance because of the 2019/20 season bumper harvest. The obtaining prices are quite fair compared to other years. However, one has to remember to take them to the grinding mill for crushing so as to reduce the fibre content.

It is also important to note that when introducing feed to animals, it has to be done gradually so that it does not choke and shock the digestive system.

For goats, cattle and sheep, salt leaks and stockfeed are the best as they help improve the appetite of the animals.

Pigs and chickens will need extra care as we get into the rainy season because if their shelters are not well drained, they may die in numbers. Fortunately, they have no pastures to worry about as they are always being fed.

Births and deaths

Farmers are currently experiencing animal deaths, some of them as a result of birth complications. Unfortunately many are unaware of the causes. Generally, most livestock without supplementary feed lose weight around this time.

This weakens their immune system. So, ordinary diseases that may not cause death may actually be fatal because the animals have not been having a good diet.  Weight loss is not particularly good for pregnant animals because they will not have enough strength to push as they give birth.

It is also important to note that farmers need to give extra attention during this time so that diseases can be detected early and diagnosed. In addition, always make sure that livestock get enough doses, vaccinations as well as dipping to prevent diseases.

Feeds

This is the best time to consider putting optional feeds on the ground for livestock as the rains start to fall. Instead of planting the traditional roundnuts, millet and groundnuts, farmers should consider supplementary feeds for their livestock.

According to Wikipedia, there are two basic types: fodder and forage. Used alone, the word feed more often refers to fodder. Animal feed is an important input to animal agriculture, and is frequently the main cost of raising animals.

Farmers typically try to reduce cost for this food, by growing their own, grazing animals, or supplementing expensive feeds with substitutes, such as food waste like spent grain from beer brewing.

Fodder refers particularly to foods or forages given to the animals (including plants cut and carried to them), rather than that which they forage for themselves.

It includes hay, straw, silage, compressed and pelleted feeds, oils and mixed rations, and sprouted grains and legumes. Feed grains are the most important source of animal feed globally.

The amount of grain used to produce the same unit of meat varies substantially. Cows and sheep need 8kg of grain for every 1kg of meat they produce, pigs about 4kg. The most efficient poultry units need a mere 1,6kg of feed to produce 1kg of chicken.

Farmed fish can also be fed on grain and use even less than poultry. The two most important feed grains are maize and soybean. Other feed grains include wheat, oats, barley, and rice, among many others.

Traditional sources of animal feed include household food scraps and the by-products of food processing industries, such as milling and brewing.

Material remaining from milling oil crops like peanuts, soy, and corn are important sources of fodder. Scraps fed to pigs are called slop, and those fed to chicken are called chicken scratch.

Brewer’s spent grain is a by-product of beer making that is widely used as animal feed.

Compound feed is fodder that is blended from various raw materials and additives. These blends are formulated according to the specific requirements of the target animal.

They are manufactured by feed compounders as meal type, pellets or crumbles. The main ingredients used in commercially prepared feed are the feed grains, which include corn, soybeans, sorghum, oats, and barley.

Compound feed may also include premixes, which may also be sold separately. Premixes are composed of micro ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, chemical preservatives, antibiotics, fermentation products, and other ingredients that are purchased from premix companies, usually in sacked form, for blending into commercial rations.

Because of the availability of these products, farmers who use their own grain can formulate their own rations and be assured that their animals are getting the recommended levels of minerals and vitamins, although they are still subject to the Veterinary Directive.

Forage is a plant material (mainly plant leaves and stems) eaten by grazing livestock. Historically, the term forage has meant only plants eaten by the animals directly as pasture, crop residue, or immature cereal crops, but it is also used more loosely to include similar plants cut for fodder and carried to the animals, especially as hay or silage.

While the term forage has a broad definition, the term forage crop is used to define crops, annual or biennial, which are grown to be utilised by grazing or harvesting as a whole crop.There are so many other crops one can grow like lucerne, catambora or rhodes grass or even the traditional musekesa tree but the big idea is to make sure that when the next rain season comes, your livestock is healthy.

  • Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or gwabanayi@gmail.com

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