By Spy Uganda
Commercial cattle farming forms the backbone of the beef industry in South Africa. Over the past few years, the demand for good-quality South African beef products, both at home and abroad, has continued on a steady upward curve.
In many cases, cattle farming forms part of a diversified farming enterprise, which helps manage production and market risks. Moreover, cattle are often kept on marginal soils that are unsuited to planting crops or are used to complement and add value to grain production by allowing the animals to graze crop stubble after harvesting.
Farming in Uganda, however, comes with an array of challenges. Unpredictable weather and frequent droughts are common challenges that farmers have to deal with.
This, combined with fluctuations on the market and disease management, means that aspiring beef cattle farmers, or producers hoping to diversify into beef production, must carefully consider the financial implications of every decision they make, including what breed to farm and what production system to implement.
Commercial beef cattle production systems can be run under intensive, extensive or semi-intensive conditions. Under an intensive system, cattle are kept in confinement, and must be provided with feed and water.
Under semi-intensive systems, cattle are exposed to a combination of intensive and extensive husbandry methods, either simultaneously, or varied according to changes in climatic conditions or the physiological state of the cattle.
Regardless of the production system you choose to follow, animal selection, nutrition and health remain crucial components of any livestock farming operation.
Animal Selection & Breed Choice
Since livestock farming requires a great deal of capital with a relatively low return on investment, the investment in good genetic material is crucial.
Good-quality genetics are essential to improve the productive capabilities of cows and bulls,
as well as the quality of weaners. Commercial cows are selected according to their size, age, condition, stage of production and market price, and must be largely evaluated on reproduction statistics.
In an article published in Farmer’s Weekly in March 2013, Leslie Bergh, then senior researcher at the Agricultural Research Council, pointed out that there is no ’perfect’ breed. Instead, he said there are better or worse choices for specific conditions and purposes.
Your particular farming environment, production and breeding system, as well as your market requirements, should determine your breed choice. The breed you ultimately select should also match your available feed resources and your specific on-farm conditions.
Moreover, climate and vegetation zones, the seasons and the terrain are also important factors to consider when choosing a breed to farm. These elements should be weighed against the breed’s characteristics and temperament, as well as your beef production strategy, which determines the goals you have for your operation.
As a commercial beef producer, you may want to focus on producing calves with low birth weights and higher weaning weights.
If you’re using an extensive production system, you may also want to focus on improving the walking ability of your animals, for example. Conformation is important in this instance.
Before embarking on a crossbreeding programme, decide what your production goals are, and select breeds that will complement each other to produce the ideal animal for your farm.