Farmers should adopt other forms of draught power to preserve value in their cattle
ONE of the painful things I meet as a livestock farmer and advisor during this time of the year is the avoidable death of cattle especially cows. This is the time of the onset of rains and it is generally a busy time for smallholder livestock farmers in communal areas. It is the time of tilling the land and cattle assume their other most valuable role among the smallholder farmers, that of draught power. It is an acceptable fact and reality that cattle have a multiplicity of functions to a smallholder livestock farmer.
The roles include being a source of meat and this is proving to be a very rare function only becoming common during the peak of the dry season as livestock mortalities increase due to starvation. What is known as poverty deaths. If you go around the communal areas during this time of the year there is a lot of dried meat from cattle that have been dying due to severe emaciation. Lots of forced biltong around the villages if you like! Again cattle provide milk, manure and draught power. They are also an important currency for important functions such as lobola. It is the use of cattle as draught power which is my subject of discussion this week. This pen suggests and pleads with livestock farmers to adopt other means of draught power especially during ploughing and carting of luggage.
It is very common especially in Matabeleland North districts to see farmers carting all sorts of consignments using scotch carts drawn by cattle and from there the same animals are called for duty in the fields to drag along the plough. Would it not be prudent for farmers to adopt other means of draught power such as use of donkeys for scotch carts as well as drawing the plough? This will ensure that your cattle, which is your bank from which you would want to withdraw money, is kept in good condition and does not deteriorate in value. Some farmers are so ruthless in their use of cattle as draught power such that the oxen that have been on duty that farming season are basically left as spent cartridge at the end of the farming season. I meet such animals all the time in my communal feedlot projects with smallholder farmers in various districts of Matabeleland North Province.
The animal is brought for pen fattening like others but it is nothing more than a skeleton of bones decorated by a skin! Bringing that animal from its current grade which is below manufacture (the last grade) to the commercial grade is a huge task which demands a lot of stock feed thereby eroding the margins for the farmer. I am aware that not many communal farmers have an affection of keeping donkeys simply because not many of us consume donkeys hence their value is only mechanical. Maybe that abattoir would have changed the pot value of this species!
However, retiring your cattle from manual duties is a proven good management practice as this helps to keep your animals in good body condition for a good part of the year. Also your animals especially the younger one such as steers will grade well at the abattoir because they simply have not been wasted by the plough. Again some farmers because of an imbalance in their herd composition end up using cows as draught power and these are the animals that often have recorded deaths especially at the onset of the rainy season. Every farmer will agree that it is cows which tend to lose condition severely in the herd primarily due to lactation duties.
Therefore, at the peak of the dry season, which technically is the same time as that of the onset of effective rains, your cows are in a far much worse condition compared to other animals in the herd. Then you take such animals and call them to the plough duty and worse still lack the presence of mind to use them very sparingly till they gain in condition. The result is an inevitable death of your cow and hence it is all too common in the community to hear stories of cows that died soon after been discharged from the plough drawing duties and all sorts of theories and superstition are thrown around as an explanation to this untimely death!
My plea therefore, to farmers is that let’s use other forms of draught power such as donkeys to protect the value of our cattle. However, if for any reason we are unable to use donkeys, let’s use our animals sparingly at the time of their weakest body condition to allow them to recover as the veld condition improves.
Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo. Feedback mazike[email protected]/cell 0772851275.