Key steps when starting  small livestock farming Many farmers have expressed a strong interest in small-stock and are eager to commence sheep and goat farming

Farmer’s Diary with Sheuneni Kurasha

We have received significant feedback from our readers regarding the proposal made in our inaugural instalment urging farmers to consider small livestock, specifically sheep and goats, as a viable alternative to cattle, especially as part of climate-proofing strategies. 

Farmers have expressed a strong interest in small-stock and are eager to commence sheep and goat farming.

In light of this feedback, this week’s column is dedicated to providing practical considerations that farmers should take into account when venturing into small livesstock farming.

Indeed, small livestock production is emerging as a viable option for many farmers, including budding ones. 

However, venturing into small stock farming profitably requires meticulous planning, strategic foresight, and a range of other considerations, just like any business activity.

One of the first and indispensable steps that aspiring small-scale livestock farmers need to decide on is the model of small livestock farming, specifically the pivotal decision between prioritising stud breeding or commercial production.

Stud breeding involves selectively breeding animals with superior genetics and conformation to produce high-quality breeding stock for sale to other breeders or to improve the genetic traits of the herd for commercial farmers. 

Stud breeders typically aim to produce offspring that exhibit desirable traits, whether for commercial purposes (such as meat or milk production) or for maintaining specific breed standards (in the case of purebred animals).

Through careful selection of breeding pairs to maximise the inheritance of favourable traits and minimise the occurrence of undesirable traits, stud breeding plays a crucial role in genetic improvement of livestock production. 

This contributes to the development of high-quality breeding stock and enhances the overall productivity and profitability of livestock farming operations.

Not only does stud breeding involve meticulous record-keeping of pedigrees, performance data, and genetic information to track lineage and assess hereditary traits passed down through generations, but it also requires considerable capital since breeding stock is expensive to start and maintain. 

Rigorous maintenance of accurate records about pedigrees, performance metrics, and genetic data is indispensable for the credibility and building of a reputable stud.

Commercial production, on the other hand, focuses on raising animals for meat production on a larger scale, with the primary goal of maximising profitability. 

In commercial production, the emphasis is on efficient production practices, such as achieving high feed conversion rates, optimising growth rates and maximising the number of marketable animals. 

Farmers can utilise pedigree bucks and rams and crossbreed them with commercial does and ewes to capitalise on hybrid vigour.

This brings me to another equally important consideration that prospective small stock farmers should explore, namely understanding local market dynamics and identifying trends.

 It is essential to analyse the demand for sheep and goat products, such as meat, milk and wool in the country’s markets. This involves understanding the preferences and purchasing behaviours of local consumers.

Having their fingers on the pulse of consumer preferences is crucial for small stock farmers, as it allows them to tailor their production methods and product offerings to meet market demand.

Furthermore, would-be small stock farmers must identify emerging trends or shifts in consumer preferences, such as a preference for lean meat with

low cholesterol, organic or grass-fed meat among health-conscious consumers. 

This can provide valuable insights for targeting niche and emerging markets and adapting production accordingly to command premium prices for their products.

Understanding local market dynamics and consumer trends is essential for the success of small stock farming ventures as it allows them to align their production

methods with market demand and maximise profitability.

To succeed in small stock farming, farmers require a comprehensive understanding of various aspects of livestock farming, including a solid grasp of animal husbandry practices such as feeding, housing and healthcare, tailored specifically to the needs of sheep and goats. 

As Strive Masiyiwa aptly puts it in one of his writings, “Entrepreneurship without skills limits your growth potential”. 

This observation aptly captures the importance of possessing the requisite knowledge and skills to succeed in farming. 

The beauty of knowledge and skills lies in their attainability through the investment of time and resources; they are acquired, not innate. Just as in any other

business, farmers must invest both time and money in acquiring the relevant knowledge and skills to thrive in their field.

When my wife and I decided to venture into livestock breeding about eight years ago, we faced the challenge of transitioning from our backgrounds in non-farming professions, despite being raised by farming parents. 

We recognised the need to acquire specialised knowledge and decided to enroll in short courses covering various aspects of agriculture. 

We deliberately chose short courses because they were tailored to address specific areas essential for our farming success. 

These topics included farm management—covering business, economics and financial management—livestock production, animal health, farm infrastructure, forage production and rangeland management.

This decision proved to be the most pivotal step in our farming journey, serving as a transformative turning point in our success.

One of the most effective ways to acquire knowledge about farming is by visiting experienced farmers who are already established in the type of farming activities you intend to pursue. Interacting with other farmers provides firsthand information based on their rich experience and the journeys they have traveled. 

This significantly shortens the learning curve. In addition, one can learn valuable lessons from their mistakes and avoid repeating them in the future. This is why established farmers still take their time to participate in activities organised by farmers’ associations and hold exhibitions and field days. 

Cross-learning and sharing experiences are crucial for every farmer.

This is why we always borrow from the wise Shona adage which goes, “kugara nhaka kuona dzevamwe”; (we refine our craft through the gentle observation of our peers).

In conclusion, small stock farming presents a lot of potential but requires meticulous planning, ongoing learning, and informed decision-making. 

Aspiring farmers must weigh options like stud breeding versus commercial production and keep abreast with local market dynamics and consumer trends. 

Investing in knowledge, seeking mentorship from experienced farmers and entrenching cross-learning is key to success as we seek to build thriving and sustainable farming enterprises that benefit individuals, communities and the agricultural industry at large.

 Sheuneni Kurasha is the owner of Chivara Farm in Beatrice, a diversified farming operation, which specialises in stud breeding of small livestock (Boer goats, Kalahari

Red goats, Damara sheep and Meatmaster sheep) as well as Boran cattle. For feedback, kindly get in touch on email: [email protected]; X: @chivarafarm or

WhatsApp: +263 772 874 523.

Investing in knowledge, seeking mentorship from experienced farmers and fostering cross-learning is crucial for success as farmers seek to establish thriving and sustainable farming enterprises that benefit individuals, communities and the agricultural industry as a whole.I

n conclusion, small stock farming holds significant potential but demands meticulous planning, continuous learning, and informed decision-making. Aspiring farmers must carefully consider options such as stud breeding versus commercial production and stay updated on local market dynamics and consumer trends.

 Sheuneni Kurasha is the owner of Chivara Farm in Beatrice, a diversified farming operation, which specialises in stud breeding of small livestock (Boer goats, Kalahari

Red goats, Damara sheep and Meatmaster sheep) as well as Boran cattle. For feedback, kindly get in touch on email: [email protected]; X: @chivarafarm or

WhatsApp: +263 772 874 523.

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