Improving nutrition in tradition cattle

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 13:10:21 +0000


The talk today is all about agriculture, the nation must grow crops (food) in order to adequately feed itself and the surplus for export to neighboring countries where food is especially in short supply and agricultural crops are the answer to the food shortage currently being experienced.

However, what we should know is agriculture is not only growing crops, it also calls for the rearing of livestock. This country has in the majority small or traditional livestock farmers; it is this category of livestock farmers who should improve the rearing of their livestock. Cattle is a measure of wealth amongst the traditional farmers.

Therefore, if they are to contribute positively to the food security of this nation and if the aim of keeping cattle especially beef animals is the production of meat, then production must be judged on the weight of meat produced from a given area of land.

A herd of cattle that is struggling to keep alive is an unproductive liability, although still counted an asset by these same traditional cattle owners.

What these farmers need to know is that when an animal losses weight over a period of time, its basic needs are supplied by withdrawing body reserves.

Therefore, supplementation to meet seasonal deficiencies should include destocking so that there is at least enough graze for all stock and must be accept as the most economical way of ensuring maximum productivity from the communal grazing land.

Let us look at the natural grass from which most of these traditional cattle get their food needs. The veld grasses are tall and very fibrous in the mature stage.

 The first veld grasses reach the flowering stage within two months of the start of the rains. The production of the flowering culms results in a fall in the leaf to stem ratio, as stems only contain approximately half the quality of protein found in leaves, the increase in bulk will be of lower quality. Furthermore, if the flowering heads are not grazed, they will inhibit the production of new leafy and nutritious shoots. Much of the nutrients become concentrated into the seeds which are then lost due to scattering.

The national veld during the dry season will definitely be critically low in protein, and since this is a normal seasonal occurrence in its growth cycle even good management cannot prevent it. Hence, introduction of improved herbage legumes such as siratro and styto and glycine will help overcome protein shortage as their leaves grow and keep green throughout the dry season. The yield from natural veld is low, supplementation in the traditional sector has to be done with the help of establishing improved pasture which would supply some feed to save the animals from starving. The wandering in search of grass would be minimized with enough feed animals would also lose less energy in that food would be under their own noses.

To help the traditional sector to produce good animals and in this case cattle the government must look at the various nutritive needs of the cattle. Firstly, the extension officer must understand that cattle in the traditional sector entirely depends on natural grass, it is this natural grass which provides the bulk of feed. But natural grass on its own in most cases would not provide or supply high quality feed all year round.

Therefore, a varying degree of reliance should be placed on other feeds and in this case introduction of improved pastures. Who does this? It is the agricultural extension worker he/she has a bigger part to play in the teaching of pasture production to increase food availability of cattle.

The constituents of all feeds whether pasture or not are the same. Let us look at these basic constituents especially from pasture.

(a)    Fiber – this is the coarse portion of the plant as already mentioned elsewhere above which is largely responsible for its shape and rigidity. Plants usually develop a higher fiber content with increasing age, it is needed by the ruminant (a ruminant animal is an animal that has a stomach composed of four portions that is rumen, reticulum, abomasum and omasum before the food goes to the small intestine. The cud that is food from the first stomach is taken back into the mouth for further chewing before going into the second stomach) to maintain healthy rumen function, however, as fiber content increases digestibility of the feed is reduced.

(b)   Protein –  it is essential for growth and production of both meat and milk.

This constituent cannot be stored and needed daily in the feed. I have already mentioned legumes above, these if introduced in pastures would provide the required protein during the critical periods the animals may face. Remember that if an animal has no source of protein supply it uses its own body protein that is its own meat.

(c)    Energy – this is composed of carbohydrates and fats, energy is the fuel for food gathering, normal body functioning, tissue repair and replacement it is also needed in the conversion of other feed constituents into meat and milk.

(d)   Minerals – these are essential for normal rumen and metabolic function and for production. Most of the minerals are taken in by the animal as it scavenges, in the field or veld, through wild legumes and licking of soil especially by the anti – hills.

(e)   Vitamins – vitamin A, D and E need to be considered in animal feeding as others are made by the animal. A is stored and is available from green leaf feed, vitamin D is manufactured in the body with the help of the sun, this wound only be a problem if cattle are housed and not ran on pasture.

(f)     Water – requirement depend on whether the animal is eating dry grass or green soft grass. Basically it would be between 20 – 45 liters of water every day. Therefore, water is also a very important constituent of any given feed whether supplemented or on natural pasture, water should be provided.

looking at the basic constituents of what cattle may need we may proceed at improving out pasture in order to give the necessary nutrients to our traditional cattle. An improved pasture would give more feed for many animals than our natural veld, with pasture improvements it will mean moving closer to satisfying the animal during the dry season and therefore alleviate total starvation.

For our traditional cattle farmer to understand the government’s efforts, he should be told that for each land that he opens in order to plant maize or any other crop is a reduction in grazing land for his own cattle and the livestock farming community as a whole.

 Hence, this will require in turn a reduction in the number of cattle in order for the natural land if to comfortably support them.

However, if abandoned land is put to or planted with improved pasture we shall be doing some justice to the local animals in that we are replacing what we are destroying. This is the only favor we can do to the traditional cattle other than supplementing with factory formulated expensive feed which the majority of the traditional farmers would and cannot bother to buy from their pockets.

For the sake of comparison. What are the differences between natural and improved pastures?

Natural Grazing

Improved Grazing

  1. Mixture of grass species with different palatability and nutritive value.
  2. Usually one or two species.
  3. Most grasses mature early.
  4. Species have high nutritive value, which persist longer.
  5. Often a space plant population

3 High plant population.

4 Unfertilized, so low dry matter yield per ha.

4 Give high yield dry matter per ha.

5 Carrying capacity varies from 2 –  6    ha/livestock unit.

5 arrying capacity varies from 1 – 8 livestock units per ha.

 Improving the nutrition status of the local traditional cattle in order for them to be very productive before health can be considered is very important. Nutrition is primary in cattle management.

Improve the local pasture wherever, cattle are being reared, improve nutrition, improve cattle condition and you improve the quality of meat on the market.

The prime necessity before embarking on a strong structure, is to lay a solid foundation, similarly any livestock development should be preceded by a good nutrition cover. Pastures can be started on a small scale just like any other crop which is introduced by the extension worker.

Start small using contact farmers, setting up demonstration fields and as the years go by this would be adopted by many farmers as they see the need of good nutrition in their cattle. The government especially the Department of Fisheries and Livestock should consider the pros and cons of nature and improve pastures for our traditional cattle farmers.


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