Dairy cattle: Chakanaka chakanaka, mukaka hawurungwe

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A RECENT article I read stated a British dairy farmer gets more money for his cow dung than he does for milk.
Can this be true in Zimbabwe where milk production failed to meet national demand of around 120 million litres, (or between 4,5 and five million litres per month), despite a slow increase, forcing the country to import milk, mainly from South Africa.
Milk’s high nutritional value makes it an important part of the local diet. However, Zimbabwe has one of the highest milk prices in the world, which unfortunately comes with the highest cost of production in the region; making imported products cheaper than locally produced ones.
Zimbabwe produces a variety of dairy products using both local and imported milk. These include: UHT milk, powdered milk, yoghurts, ice cream, cream, cheese, butter and juices.
During the 1990s, with the dairy herd standing at around 104 483 head, annual milk production reached 300 million litres, compared to 55,5 million litres produced in 2014, with the small scale dairy sub-sector producing 262 million litres of milk.
Commercial dairy farms in Zimbabwe compared very favourably with dairy farms in Europe and North America. The national herd stood at 28 000 head, as of 2013.
At its peak, the milk industry was dominated by 338 registered large scale farmers.
These occupied approximately 80 percent of the specialised and diversified farming area in the intensive farming regions of Zimbabwe, with over 50 percent of all large-scale commercial land being located in the high-to-medium potential regions – natural regions one to three.
The predominant dairy cattle breeds were the Holstein-Friesian breeds, followed by Jersey, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Redpoll, Simmental and Red Dane.
Feeding for dairy cattle was based on maize and its by-products for energy with soya beans and cotton seed cake for protein, natural grass, standing (range) hay and maize silage. Where irrigation was available oats, rye and lucerne was grown as the major sources of roughage.
For the smallholder dairy farmers, the veld is often the most abundant and cheapest source of forage for dairy cows and remains the main source of nutrients for the animals in summer, while conserved veld hay and crop residues are used during the winter.
It provides the least in terms of dry-matter and nutrient intake. Moreover, the availability and quality of veld has a significant effect on the amount of milk that can be produced from it.
Communal grazing does not allow the ration of veld use and there remains a need to limit livestock numbers to sustainable productive stocking rates.
In 2009, milk production dropped to a low of 34 million litres annually, with imports having a negative effect on the country’s efforts to revive production to between 140 million litres to 150 million litres annually.
Raw milk production has continued to stabilise since 2010, however, it is still far below annual demand.
The dairy sector is governed by the Dairy Act of Zimbabwe 1977. Smallholder dairy farming in Zimbabwe was initiated after independence by the Dairy Marketing Board (now Dairiboard Zimbabwe Private Limited), before the programme was handed over to the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA) under the Dairy Development Programme (DDP).
Over the years, the smallholder dairy sector in Zimbabwe has grown to a membership of 2 000, out of which 800 members produce and sell milk and are currently concentrated around 35 milk collection centres in five provinces namely: Manicaland, Mashonaland, Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland South.
This sector’s contribution of marketed milk has increased from zero percent in 1983 to two percent in 1998 and an estimated five percent in 2002.
A survey conducted to identify constraints and opportunities faced by the smallholder dairy farmers in semi-arid areas of Zimbabwe showed that the major constraints faced by smallholder dairy farmers, especially in the semi-arid areas, were shortage of feed and transport.
Milk production was the most important livestock enterprise in the areas surveyed.
Here, half of the respondents kept herds of between six and 10 cattle, with an average of five lactating cows.
In response, small-holder dairy farming developmental programmes were initiated by the Government in 1983, mainly concentrated in the medium-to-high rainfall areas of Zimbabwe.
In 1998 they were extended to semi-arid areas, with potential to grow fodder, initially described as unsuitable for dairy farming.
Here, the major crops grown were maize, sorghum and groundnuts.
Fodder was considered to be the major factor limiting smallholder dairy farming in the semi-arid areas though milk producers are recommended to resort to lower-cost and locally available multi-purpose trees and agro-industrial by-products to augment the inadequate grazing resources.
Cattle in the smallholder dairy sector were dominated by Nkone cattle (35 percent), followed by Jersey (30 percent) and crossbreeds (25 percent).
The majority (60 percent) of the farmers used communal bulls to mate their cows.
Rangelands were the major source of feed for dairy cattle. 
Tick-borne diseases (87 percent) and bacterial diseases (53 percent) were the most prevalent diseases — more so in some semi-arid areas.
Dr Tony Monda holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. He is a writer, lecturer, musician, art critic, practicing artist and corporate image consultant. He is also a specialist art consultant, post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. E-mail: tonym.monda@gmail.com

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