Farmer's Weekly (South Africa)

Communal farming


Animal husbandry has become a tough game due to ever-increasing input costs. These include the cost of feed, medicine and electricit­y. In addition, livestock owners have to struggle with the general uncertaint­ies of farming, such as market price fluctuatio­ns and droughts. Because of all these factors, producers need to ensure that their profit margin is as wide as possible, says Shane Brody.

Ihave written in previous articles about the importance of farming with good genetics (that is, goodqualit­y animals). If you are a beef producer, for example, it’s futile to run Jersey crosses, because these are not sought after on the red meat market.

Moreover, it will cost you almost as much to raise these animals as it will to raise good beef animals.

Now, let’s say you have followed my advice and are producing beef animals. The time comes to sell some of them and you go to the next auction or contact a cattle buyer, expecting to get a good price. Instead, you’re offered less money than your neighbour, who is also breeding good beef animals. What has gone wrong?

You may think the buyer is cheating you, but you need to take a careful look at what you’re presenting for sale!


If your cattle are thin, you will earn less that someone who sells fat cattle ready for slaughter at the point of sale.

Thin cattle are bought as one of two types: ‘store cattle’ or ‘factory beef’ cattle.

• Store cattle need to be fattened by the buyer first, and this costs money;

• Factory beef cattle are used to produce cheaper cuts such as mince and sausages rather than the popular (and more expensive) cuts such as rump steak, sirloin or fillet.

Marketing is also linked to grazing management. If your rangelands are depleted of grass, and you don’t buy extra feed, your cattle will not be in a good condition for sale.

Timing is another factor to consider. Livestock are usually fatter during the summer months, when grass is green and succulent. Some farmers seem to keep cattle when fat, and only consider selling them when they start becoming lean; this is unwise.

If you have an upcoming family event or an annual expense such as school fees, and you plan to pay for this by selling some animals, you should plan this process carefully.

For one, you need to invest in some extra feed for such livestock so they are in good condition at the point of sale. This can mean a difference between getting, say, R5 000 for a thin ox or R12 000 for a fat one.

Here are the other important factors to consider:

• Reputable buyer

Always try to get in touch with a reputable buyer who will pay you a fair, market-linked price. Make the effort to learn more about the current prices for red meat.

• Get together

If you have only one or two cattle to sell, get together with a few other sellers so that there are a number of cattle for the buyer to purchase. Reputable buyers will seldom travel long distances to buy one or two cattle.

• Get help

Contact your local extension officer to plan workshops where experts can further explain about different meat and age grades and the prices that are paid for the various types of livestock. This will allow you to better understand the value of your livestock.

• Obey the law

Before selling, make sure that your animals are clearly marked/ branded with your registered brand. It is against the law to sell or buy unbranded cattle.

• Handling and loading

As a community of livestock farmers, you need to make certain you have adequate livestock handling and loading facilities. If you do not have a loading ramp, for instance, the animals cannot be loaded by the buyer after purchase. Most reputable buyers won’t even bother to drive to your location if there are no handling facilities.

• Weigh your cattle

This point links to the one above. The best way to market your cattle is to have them weighed in order to ascertain their true value. This cannot be done if there is no cattle crush or race into which the buyer’s scale can be placed!

• A healthy appearance

Finally, when marketing cattle, ensure that they appear to be in good health (no sore eyes or limping) and are free of external parasites such as lice and ticks. Cattle like these do not look appealing to the eye. Shane Brody is involved in an outreach programme aimed at transferri­ng skills to communal farmers. Email him at farmerswee­ Subject line: Communal farming.


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