Value added calf management pro­gramme im­por­tant for small­holder live­stock farm­ers

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Front Page -

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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