Build your beef farming enterprise gradually

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The article ‘Raise bull calves and sell them for meat’ generated interest from readers. Many of the enquirers wanted to know the breeds suited for beef, what feeding options are available to farmers, and general information on what it takes to establish a beef rearing enterprise.

In this article, we provide more information on how to manage a beef enterprise.

First, breed selection is important, especially for farmers who are in the arid lands. Poor choice of breed can compromise your investment. Basically, there are three main types of cattle: Those bred for milk, those breed for meat and those kept for both meat and milk. Fresians are bred for milk, boran is kept for meat, and sahiwal is a dual-purpose breed that gives both meat and milk in fairly good quantity and quality. The dual purpose, pure beef and crossbreeds do well in arid and semi-arid grazing systems, while the milk breeds are better suited for intensive systems where feed is adequately catered for.

Options for raising beef Cattle

A farmer can focus on raising calves and weaners. It is important to know that calves will take at least 15 months before they can grow to the age and weight that will make good money in the market. Depending on the breed, others may take as long as 24 months. This means the farmer must have enough feed for the animals for the entire period.

Perhaps, the easiest way for those who are not patient enough to wait for that long is to fatten mature animals for the market. This can be done in grazing systems or in feedlots, where animals are confined and provided with feed and water.

Sourcing animals

The simplest way to build your beef enterprise is to buy animals during the lean months; when people are disposing their animals to pay school fees for their children or during the dry months when farmers dispose their animals because they do not have enough fodder to sustain them through the dry season. During these times, the price of animals is relatively low because of the high supply of animals in the market.

Visit the nearest State Department of Livestock office to find out dates for cattle auctions in your locality or neighbouring counties, and buy animals for fattening. Make sure you buy animals that you can keep for a maximum of 5 months. Normally, feedlot animals will take about 3 months to improve their body condition and attract favourable prices in the market. If you have enough pasture you can select animals that are not very attractive in the market because they are thin but are otherwise healthy. Feed them to gain weight and improve on body condition, then sell them off at a profit.

Caution

When sourcing for animals during the dry season, be careful not to buy sick animals. Consult a veterinarian to determine whether an animal is just emaciated because of lack of feed or disease.

Tips on feeding beef animals in a feedlot

Illustrations of feedlot feeding troughs

Roughage is important in the diet of ruminants as it enables normal rumen activity. Grass (hay) is the common source of roughage and is the first feed to consider if the animals are confined in a feeding area. Good quality grass hay and protein hay like lucerne or desmodium is essential. The roughage can be chopped and mixed before being fed to animals. However, care should be taken to ensure the hay is not too fine, which reduces its roughage qualities.

The feeding trough

Feeding animals using troughs prevents feed wastage, particularly in the feedlot. Provide adequate space so that all animals can access the feeding trough. Animals that are used to grazing in the fields may find it difficult to adapt to the feedlot environment. They can be trained through hand feeding with hay before the feeding trough is introduced. Once all the cattle in the herd are eating the hay, gradually introduce grain supplements mixed with the hay.

Feeding grain

Grain is one of the most expensive ingredients in feed formu lation. The best grains that can be used in Kenya are maize, sorghum, barley, wheat and oats. However, a farmer has to gauge if it makes economic sense to feed grains to his animals.

Grain can be introduced in one of the following situations:

(i) In feedlot

(ii) As a supplement to grazing, and

(iii) As a short-term drought ration meant to see the animals to the rainy season when pasture is abundant. The amount of grain used in the three situationsabove will vary.

Levels of feeding of grain as a supplement range from 0.5% to 1.5% of live weight per day. This means an animal of 300kg can be fed on between 1.5kg to 4.5kg of grain. In the feedlot environment, and where grain is fed as the major component of rations, the maximum daily grain intake animals is 2.5% of live weight.

When grain is fed to cattle, it is important to give time for their digestive systems to adapt gradually. If grain is introduced in large quantities, the digestive system of an animal that is only familiar with grass will not be able to cope with rations higher in grain. The negative effects of introducing larger amounts of grain into the diet include lactic acid poisoning which can easily cause death.

The best way to go about this is to do base feeding on fibrous grains such as oats that are safer to feed than grains with little fibre such as wheat. Also, introduce grains in small amounts. This may not be easy in group feeding where some animals bully others and may end up consuming larger quantities of the provided ration than others. To avoid this, separate aggressive animals from the shy ones or group the animals according to temperament. Animals affected by the grain should be removed from the herd and fed separately on hay until the symptoms go away, then reintroduce them into the herd.

Supplements

When grain is used as supplement in feedlot situations, 1% of ground agricultural limestone should be added t o make up for a shortage of calcium in the grain. For lactating or young animals, 1% of common salt (sodium chloride) should be added to the grain to correct sodium deficiency.

>>Tell us how useful this information is to your farming enterprise. Share your experience by email to admin@theorganicfarmer.org,  leave a comment below this article or SMS to 0715 916 136.

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