Of small grains in cattle production …dry season supplementary feeding

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THE population of different types of livestock in Zimbabwe increased continuously, although it was mainly in the commercial farming sub-sector.
The trend began to change as a result of an increased occurrence of droughts.
Zimbabwe experienced severe droughts in the years 1991-1992, 1998 and 2000-2002.
The 1991-1992 drought, the worst in living memory, resulted in substantial loss of animals of all species.
The smallholder sector was particularly affected because of the limited feed and water resources in this sector of farming.
In the case of cattle, the drought resulted in an eight percent decline in the size of the herd in the commercial sector and a 31 percent decline in the smallholder sector.
Subsequent to the 1991-1992 drought, growth of the commercial beef herd was mainly hampered by viability problems.
It was estimated that the commercial beef herd declined from 1,5 million head of cattle before 1991 to somewhere between 250 000 – 400 000 herd in 2002.
Over the same period, the number of commercial dairy farmers and the size of the national dairy herd also declined from about 190 000 milking cows in 1999 to about 70 000 cows in 2002.
At least 50 000 cattle died from 2001 to 2003, mostly within the Matabeleland South Province, as a result of poor pasture conditions related directly to the drought.
In Zimbabwe, livestock production systems are mainly determined by the agro-ecological region and the type of farming sector.
In the semi-arid natural region four and five as well as parts of natural region three, the main production system is the extensive grazing of cattle and small ruminants on natural rangeland as well as the production of wildlife.
Other specialised systems such as dairying, pig and poultry production and pen fattening of ruminants were also practised where feed and other resources were available. Due to the arid nature of these regions, production was uncertain and success mainly depended on the availability of external inputs such as supplementary feeds as well as breeding stock for restocking after the droughts.
In the smallholder sector, where the production system is mainly of mixed livestock and crop production, livestock production depends mainly on natural grazing with little or no supplementary feeding.
Therefore, the smallholder production system in the semi-arid areas is a low-input-low-output production system; as a result, livestock productivity has been generally low.
Prior to the Land Reform Programme, the system of livestock production in the high rainfall areas (natural region one, two and parts of natural region three), was generally more intensive than in the semi-arid regions. Because of the intensification of production and the opportunity for integration with crop production, at least 60 percent of production of all livestock species in the country was from the high-rainfall areas. The indigenous breeds are numerically the most important animals in all the livestock species in the country.
The main indigenous cattle breeds are the Mashona, Nguni and Tuli, found mainly in the smallholder sector.
Predominant exotic beef cattle breeds, especially in the high rainfall regions, are the Brahman, Simmental, Hereford, Sussex, Aberdeen Angus, Beefmaster, Limousin and Charolais.
For dairying, the Holstein-Friesian is the predominant dairy cattle breed in the country, followed by the Jersey, the Red Dane and the dual-purpose Simmental.
The Jersey is more common in the drier parts of the country, whereas Holstein-Friesian is the more common breed
in the high rainfall areas.
The main ingredients in stockfeed are:
– Grain, mainly maize as the energy source,
– Oilseed cakes, mainly from cotton seed, soya bean and sunflower and
– Minerals and vitamins.
In recent years, the supply of stock feeds has been hampered by shortage of raw materials that has resulted in higher prices for processed feeds.
The resultant high cost of compounded feeds contributed to the decline in the dairy herd, along with viability problems.
Reduced viability in the beef industry led to a substantial decline in the practice of pen fattening of slaughter stock, to the extent that very few, if any, feedlot operations have been undertaken in the country during the recent past.
Very few farmers are practicing dry-season supplementary feeding of beef cattle and small ruminants owing to the high cost of concentrated feeds.
Many of the smallholder farmers have become seasonal producers, rearing the marketable animals only when they have adequate home-grown maize.
As a result of the resultant supply-and-demand situation, a number of stockfeed brands, such as mineral licks and dry season supplements for cattle have not been readily available on the market.
Manufacturers can only prepare them when they have the inputs and when there is sufficient demand from livestock producers, making it difficult for farmers who are trying to cut feed costs.
Agrifoods (Pvt) Ltd and National Foods Limited were the main manufacturers of stockfeed in the country.
The Grain Marketing Board (GMB), a 100 percent Government-owned entity, specialises in buying, storing and selling grains and oilseeds.
In addition, the GMB was responsible for the management of the national strategic food reserves at costs reimbursable by Government. It was thus the main supplier of grain used in the stockfeed industry.
It resulted in oligopolistic pricing policies. The prices of feeds from national depots usually include the costs incurred by the manufacturers in transporting the feeds from the processing plants, thus making stockfeed relatively more expensive for those farmers more distant from the manufacturing plants.
As a result, the establishment of small scale feed processing enterprises in various parts of the country could reduce feed cost and encourage greater use of stockfeed by livestock farmers.
Furthermore, a deliberate use of the more drought-tolerant small grains in place of maize in stockfeed formulation and manufacturing by processors located in the semi-arid regions of the country could promote their production in line with Government policy of promoting small grains in dry areas.
In view of the fact that small grains are less preferred than maize for human consumption, promotion of small grains as livestock feed would reduce competition between humans and livestock for maize and the need to use maize in stockfeed.
In this regard, it is observed that feed manufacturers do use small grains in feed formulation and manufacturing when the cost of the small grains is competitive to that of maize grain.
The problem has been the shortage of small grains on the market for cattle producers.
The long-term Government policy for the agricultural sector as a whole was set out in the Zimbabwe Agricultural Policy Framework (ZAPF), 1995–2020.
Although there was no written blueprint for Government’s livestock policy, the expansion of livestock output was envisaged through growth in production and increased smallholder participation in marketing of livestock and livestock products.
The major objectives as stated in the ZAPF, were:
– To increase the national cattle herd through breeding and sustainable grazing systems, particularly in smallholder areas in the light of the role of cattle in the smallholder farm production systems;
– To increase milk production primarily through developing viable self-sustaining smallholder dairy schemes, supplying both local and urban markets; and
– To achieve greater production of other livestock categories (sheep, goats, pigs and poultry, among others.) in order to increase family farm incomes, particularly on smallholder farms.
Strategies to achieve these objectives included:
– Provision of credit to farmers to restock their herds or flocks;
– Promoting intensive livestock production through pen fattening of slaughter stock and supplementary feeding of ruminants during the dry season;
– Encouraging livestock farmers to produce home-grown feeds in order to reduce feed costs; and
– To develop livestock water supplies.
– To these ends, in 2000, Government launched a Crop and Livestock Inputs Credit Scheme to support agricultural production following the implementation of the Land Reform Programme, whereby farmers were provided with credit for purchasing breeding animals to restock their herds.
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. For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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