Value added calf management programme important for smallholder livestock farmers
LAST week we discussed on the bovine respiratory disease in calves, focusing on the causative factors and how it can be prevented. This week we continue looking at the management of calves as an important component of a beef production enterprise.
We look at the value added calf management programme and how it contributes to the performance of the beef production enterprise. A few facts currently obtaining will help ground the concept of value added calf management programme among smallholder livestock farmers.
Firstly the majority of smallholder farmers have no specified calf management programme. In the majority of times the calf is only managed to protect it from being killed by predators and most importantly to separate it from the dam so that we can milk and feed ourselves! Secondly most smallholder farmers have no knowledge of key indicators of properly managed calves, especially calves that are managed for profit.
As an entry point into the value added calf management system smallholder farmers should avoid excessive milking. Actually if I had my way I would say no milking at all. Cows do not produce milk to feed you and your kids but to feed its calf. It’s that simple. A comparison between the growth rate and even the general thriftiness between a calf whose dam is excessively milked and the one which is not milked at all reveals glaring disparity in favour of the none milked calf.
A dam’s milk provides for the majority of the nutrients that a calf needs and excessive milking depletes those nutrients and hence your calf will get the nutrients in inadequate quantities. Keeping in mind that dams will be struggling to produce the milk because the veld is not in good condition and hence they are not getting enough feed themselves. I have seen farmers who milk a cow which can hardly stand on its own because of malnutrition. You are basically killing two animals, your dam and its calf.
Calves gain weight most efficiently and economically when nursing dams of adequate milking ability, grazing good quality range or pasture. The second aspect in value added calf management system is to manage high weaning weights. High weaning weights have an influence in the subsequent life of the weaned calf. If it is a heifer it is likely to reach reproductive age faster if it weaned at higher weights and if it is a steer it will reach feeder weights earlier and heavier.
However, it is important to note that weaning weight is not only a function of post calving management but also a function of genetics of the calf. Hence it is important to infuse good quality genetics into your herd so that you have bloodlines that have such desirable traits as fast growth rate and higher weaning weights. I will not belabour the genetic improvement component on this instalment because we have discussed it extensively before.
Simply put get a good bull with the traits you want, to run with your herd and you have the calves you want! Another important aspect in value added calf management programme is to control internal parasites in your herd including your calves.
Calves that are suckling from an unhealthy dam are also generally unhealthy. It is very rare to find the dam is sickly and the calf is thrift, clean and lively. Internal parasite control especially on calves that are now grazing is very important so that calves are not burdened by a heavy infestation of internal parasites.
Calves also need to be vaccinated against common diseases so that they get the immunity. Your local veterinary officer can advise you on which vaccines to buy for your calves. Another important but often ignored component in calf management is stress, especially the weaning stress. However, I must point out that this is not common among smallholder farmers in communal areas because of their production system.
Calves are weaned running with the dams and hence the stress is minimised. The weaning stress is pronounced on paddock systems where calves are driven to a separate paddock.
In this case fence line weaning should be adopted. This refers to putting weaned calves to a paddock adjacent to the one holding the dams. The stress of separation is minimised. Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo.
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