Farm­ers should adopt other forms of draught power to pre­serve value in their cat­tle

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

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.

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