Getting bullish about the national herd

Ishemunyoro Chingwere Agriculture Corner
Hello dearest farmer. Do I hear “why dearest” murmurs?Let me put this into perspective. Zimbabwe is reeling from the effects of a cash crunch. To compound the situation, the country has been spending millions importing grain, further straining national coffers.

But thanks to our farmers, the country will import no more after a bumper harvest on the back of good rains that were recorded in the 2016/17 season.

Are there still more “why dearest” murmurs?

In three weeks since the opening of the tobacco auction floors, these farmers I call dearest have earned the country US$47 million and they are promising to surpass the over US$800 million earned last year.

Now, allow me to pop the champagne to the news that ailing meat-processing giant, the Cold Storage Company, which has been operating at less than 10 percent capacity, has received US$18 million in recapitalisation from the National Social Security Authority.

But before focus is lost in the celebrations, farmers should be reminded of the need to rebuild the national herd. Our focus today is on in-calf cows and their general requirements.

Let me start by putting my head on the block and say as long as there is an active bull in your locality and the bull to cow ratio is good, I bet my last cent that as you read this instalment your cow is in-calf or in layman’s language — it is pregnant.

This is so, because in Zimbabwe research and farmer interactions have shown that the bullying season is generally — but not exclusively — between September and March. So chances are that it is currently in the second or first trimester.

Generally, bulls are almost always ready to breed anytime of the year for as long as they are in good health and there is an available female which is on heat. However, females usually go on heat when they are reasonably fat.

In communal ranching, the bullying season is usually around November to end of March, the simple reason being that this is the time cows begin to improve their body condition.

There are many reasons why it is also beneficial to the calf to be conceived during the said time and this will be discussed in future instalments of this column.

A farmer with an in-calf cow must make sure that the cow stays disease-free and gets the best in terms of nutrition so as to support its well-being and the foetus growing in its womb.

The need is even higher in heifers because unlike cows, the former also needs nutrition to support its own growth because heifers conceive before reaching full body weight.

Chances are if the cow gets sick, the first defence line is to dispose of the foetus and face the disease that would have entered the body.

It is also advisable that the in-calf animal should avoid walking long distances in search of water or for any another reason as this might result in stress and pose danger to the foetus.

Most communal farmers depend on cows, who sometimes are in-calf, for draught power but in my interactions with Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Mr Wonder Chabikwa, the rancher said cows should never be used for this.

“Cows must never be used for draught power whether in-calf or not because the benefits of getting a calf outweigh what you get from its draught. They are exclusively there to reproduce and must remain as such,” said Mr Chabikwa.

One of the biggest challenges to the well-being of cattle and livestock in general is ticks and internal parasites.

Internal parasites, in particular, thrive in stagnant waters and with the rain season now over, cattle are more likely to drink from stagnant water bodies thereby escalating chances of them being infested by these deadly worms.

Nodular worms, wire worms and ring worms are the most prevalent. It is, therefore, advisable that an in-calf cow stays free of these parasites.

The challenge that the farmer faces, however, is that some of the de-worming chemicals in the country are not good for in-calf cows and heifers. It is advisable for a farmer with an in-calf animal to make sure that they use chemicals that are clearly marked “safe for pregnant animals”.

Due to the numerous types of worms afflicting cattle and livestock in general, a farmer is better off using a dose that is broad spectrum and most importantly interchange these doses from one season to the other. Most injections and especially antibiotics are not recommended for pregnant animals so farmers are generally discouraged from using these, but in desperate situations where the farmer risks losing both the mother and the unborn foetus it is worth risking the foetus and serving the mother by administering the antibiotic.

To avoid this dilemma farmers should make sure their stock is vaccinated against diseases.

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