The profitability and sustainability of livestock farming is under severe pressure. Fortunately, top farmer Mecki Schneider has excellent advice for extensive cattle and sheep farmers. This is the third delivery in a three part series on ten tips for the restoration of livestock farming.
7. Utilise and apply technology
There is plenty of modern technology available to assist the farmer with the management of his farm:
- Automatic weighing stations calculate information about feed intake and growth. Mecki and his brother-in-law, Ebbi Fischer, installed a GrowSafe feeding station on Ebbi’s farm at Hochfeld last year. They use it to meticulously calculate how effective a bull’s feed intake is compared to its growth. Their aim is to select more efficient animals.
- This is accompanied by electronic ear tags that register on a computer when the cattle are weighed so that the weight can be automatically added to the relevant animal’s information for items such as births and vaccinations.
- Ultrasound scanning measures carcass traits so that those animals can be selected to improve meat quality.
- Computer programs are used for numerous applications and record-keeping.
- Cellphone apps allow a farmer to record data, such as weight and genetic characteristics, and even to do advanced selection.
- Information on fertility must also be recorded on a computer.
- Remote observation by means of satellite technology allows a farmer to keep an eye on the condition of his grazing lands.
8. Genetic progress
The improvement of a herd’s fertility is only possible if a farmer uses bulls and rams with good fertility figures.
As far as beef cattle are concerned, he must select cows that calved early and early-maturing heifers to be mated with those bulls. This ensures genetic progress and improves profitability.
Mecki stresses that every female animal’s reproductive performance should be recorded. Select cows that can fall pregnant again easily after the first calf, because first-calf cows often need a longer time to fall pregnant again. In the selection process, the farmer should give preference to cows with a low estimated breeding value for the number of days to calving (if available) and bulls with a large scrotal circumference. Both are characteristics of high fertility.
Avoid cases of accelerated growth and concentrate instead on cows with an estimated breeding value of a low adult weight.
Breed Plan has estimated breeding values for desired carcass characteristics, such as large eye muscle area, rib fat and intramuscular fat. Other meat quality characteristics are currently being determined. “It’s about a better eating experience for the consumer.”
Other estimated breeding values for which the farmer must select include economic indices (in Rand value) for the production environment and markets, feed efficiency (net intake) that increases profits because more efficient cattle eat less to achieve a given growth target, as well as genomics and genotyping. The latter two are the latest tools being developed for Southern Africa so that farmers can select for desired traits even more accurately. Participation in the beef cattle genomics programme in cooperation with the Agricultural Research Council is essential for breeders so that commercial farmers can eventually farm more profitably with better breeding stock.
Farmers can increase their income by adding as much value as possible to their product. This includes steer- and wether production. “Be proud of your product and follow-up sales in order to monitor customer satisfaction. Always think of the final product that will end up with the consumer. You need to supply a top-quality product, not a commodity.”
Selection for superior genetic traits is the first step in adding value.
10. Get involved
Mecki, who has been involved for the past 18 years in organised agriculture, says it is essential that farmers support agricultural institutions in order to have their voices heard at national level and by co-stakeholders in the value chain. This forms an important link between farmers, the industry and government. “We have to stand together in agricultural organisations, get the structures in order and support them. No one will hear us if we do not have a collective voice.”
Enquiries: Mecki Schneider, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.