Indigenous cattle can save farmers as climate changes

Farming with indigenous cattle breeds adapted to extreme conditions, linked to global warming and climate change, can be the salvation of future cattle farming.

During an information day at the Armoedsvlakte bull test centre, Mokgadi Seshoka, animal scientist from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Animal Production Institute at Irene, said climate change is already noticeable in the recent droughts in South Africa.

Seshoka said infrared technology is used to measure the increase and decrease of temperature on the skin of animals. It shows that their breed and frame size determine the animals’ reaction to heat stress. Small to medium-sized indigenous cattle is hardy and fertile and adapted to tough conditions.

“In the long term we recommend that farmers rather farm animals that are genetically adapted, like indigenous Afrikaner, Bonsmara and Nguni,” she said.

Research at the Vaalharts experimental farm clearly showed the advantages of these breeds with regards to their reproductive and production levels.

By 2050, temperatures will be approximately 2-3°C higher and 4-7°C higher than current temperatures, if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.

In most cases, livestock is negatively affected by climate change. Fluctuations in temperature and weather conditions – and especially heat waves and droughts – cause heat stress. Animals’ breathing quicken and they eat and drink less.

Seshoka said heat stress leads to lower fertility due to decreasing testosterone levels, and causes an increase in sperm mortality and the number of abnormal sperm cells. After animals experience heat stress, it takes about eight weeks for semen to normalise.

In cows, heat stress decreases the oestrus cycle, the cows don’t ovulate, the post-partum period becomes longer, oocyte growth is affected, puberty in heifers is delayed, abortions increase and birth weight decreases.

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