IT seems many farmers still need a lot of orientation to appreciate that the “new normal” in cattle rearing entails adopting an approach which pushes away the mentality of keeping the animals for sentimental value and replace it with a business attitude.
Livestock farming is a business and should be treated as such.
This means that they have to get an income at regular intervals from the sale of their animals while making sure there is continuity of business activities through proper breeding practices and the right animal husbandry initiatives.
Cattle farmers must always remember that there are many factors competing to decimate the herds once given the chance so they should always be on their toes monitoring the day-to-day welfare of the animals.
And this involves making drastic decisions that may even include disposing of a few of them to save the rest.
This is usually the most difficult decision the majority of cattle farmers can have the nerve to do, as what usually matters most to them is the numbers of beasts to their names yet this can change in an instant in the event of a disease outbreak or natural disaster like a drought.
Recent reports in which farmers from Chipinge in Manicaland province are selling cattle for as little as US$300 ,with goats and sheep going for between US$20 and US$30, speak volumes of the agony they are going through every time they have to do it.
But the reality on the ground is that they still have a lot to offer in deciding the fate of their animals.
Cattle are reportedly dying of hunger because of water shortages coupled by diseases that normally manifest once the animals’ nutritional reality is compromised. These farmers only need to be business-minded and think about the future of their beasts, as their wealth and source of livelihood and invest everything at their disposal to save them.
Low-lying areas in Chipinge that are always susceptible to droughts are among the hardest hit across the country while in recent years they have even witnessed rampant outbreaks of diseases resulting from malnutrition.
We hear that farmers in Chipinge’s lowveld areas are now faced with the challenge of buying supplementary livestock feeds, which are expensive, a development that is forcing them to sell their livestock at give-away prices.
The lowveld areas include the likes of Bangwe, Tanganda, Kondo, Manzvire, Checheche and Mahenye that lie along Save River whose very low water levels have also not helped the situation as the animals have to travel long distances in search of water. The same situation is also happening in the Matabeleland region where farmers are reportedly sourcing baled hay from some areas in the Mashonaland provinces where grass is available.
Farmers in Chipinge, as alluded previously, are now so desperate to get some cash to save their herds from a possible decimation that they are accepting low prices offered by unscrupulous buyers capitalising on the unfortunate circumstances.
For now, the battle to save the animals has become very costly for the farmers as they have to part with the animals they so dearly loved for a song yet they could have made a handsome amoun on one or two of them before committing part of the proceeds from the sale to buying supplementary feeds for the entire herd.
They also could have easily bought dipping chemicals to protect the remaining cattle from tick-borne diseases like January disease or theileriosis that have claimed hundreds of thousands of cattle leaving some farmers without even a single beast for draught power.
It is worth noting that Government has since embarked on a national restocking programme through programmes such as the heifer pass-on scheme, which is targeting to both improve the quality of the herd and empower the farmers at the same time.
It is laudable that Government’s efforts have even culminated in the procurement and distribution of hay balers to some provinces with farmers expected to cut grass and stock as hay for use during those times of the year when there is no pasture to nourish the animals.
Farmers also need to be proactive and form livestock development committees that seek partnerships or even sponsorship for the drilling of boreholes to water their cattle during the dry periods of the year. This will save cattle from travelling long distances in search of the precious liquid.
The case of farmers in Beitbridge east where farmers take cattle for relief grazing in areas with A2 farms easily comes to the fore and makes incredible sense but should serve as a springboard for innovativeness on the part of the farmers.
It will only take the pooling of resources from the sale of a few beasts from a few farmers to finance the drilling of boreholes and take care of the perennial water shortages that threaten the viability of cattle rearing in those arid regions where there are no natural sources of water.
This idea of always leaving everything to government is removing the sense of responsibility from most farmers and in most cases when they receive aid, there is not enough sense of ownership, which dilutes the levels of care for infrastructure. If farmers are to fund the drilling of boreholes for their use, then the amount of care devoted to the boreholes will inevitably be higher than that given to donated ones.
After all, every successful business venture requires the person running it to invest before picking benefits later. It is possible for farmers to water or irrigate pastures where they have reliable water sources.
Actually they can establish their own pastures and maintain them then introduce controlled grazing after setting up paddocks.
This is also one way of reducing chances of their cattle getting diseases from other herds that roam freely, which in a way guarantees continuity of the business.
Farmers should also develop a habit of storing crop stover or even making fodder in the course of the season to give their cattle when vegetation eventually dries up during the dry seasons.