Patchy rains leave livestock farmers  in the Omaheke region hesitant

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 By Deon Schlechter

GOBABIS – Sporadic and patchy rains in the Omaheke region have forced livestock farmers into a catch-22 situation when it comes to feeding animals and preparing them for auctions.

A travel through the region last week, has revealed just how patchy the rains have been so far this season with not much hope of decent and prolonged downpours in the days to come. Grazing differs from area to area in the region and one  can clearly observe where and how nmuch rain has been falling. Flip du Plessis, former technical advisor for Feedmaster and now  Manager of Agri Mark (Market) in Gobabis, is an expert on feeds and licks for livestock and he has been a busy man dishing out advice to farmers in the heartland of the cattle industry of Namibia, known as ‘Cattle Country.’ He says dried grass and lucern are in great demand in the communal areas while commercial farmers are in need of certain types of licks to round off stud animals for auctions. Phosphorus is by far the most valuable type in the current situation.

Du Plessis says because of the patchy rainfall, producers find themselves in diffrent situations in the different areas. “This means producers must now decide wheter to sell or hold back in anticipation of more good rains or the prospects of their grazing deteriorating further in the absence of rains. It is always a catch-22 situation and there is no real one answer for it,” he notes. The current rain fall season has once again reminded Namibian farmers about the country’s  relatively low and highly variable rainfall. Due to this the nutrient content and availability of the natural pastures fluctuate from year to year, and between the wet and the dry season.  The most difficult period is August until October, when the nutritional value of the natural grazing is at its lowest, and the cows are in the final trimester of pregnancy. But dry spells in January and February compounds to the problem, says Du Plessis.

Typical licks used in Namibia are winter, summer and production licks. Their use is advocated in both farming sectors, since the benefits have been proven over many years. Communal farmers are reluctant to use the licks as prescribed due to the high initial costs. Advantages are only recognised later but an immediate response is not always visible. Licks are only used to supplement the most limiting nutrients. It is thus important to keep the animals on the pasture and not to substitute pasture with lick. Licks should directly supply minerals, protein and energy to the animal or improve digestibility, and thus increase energy and crude protein availability.

Summer lick (Green veld lick):

Large parts of Namibia are phosphorus (P) deficient, especially the northern and eastern sandy areas. A phosphorus supplement is recommended during the active growing season of the veld (December -April). This coincides with the main growing period of cattle due to the availability of high quality grazing. Since P-excretion is an “energy sapping” process, P-supplementation in winter is reduced or totally left out, so as not to supply an excess. P is supplied at six g per animal per day and usually together with trace elements.

Production lick:

This usually expensive product supplies the animals with energy in a combination with protein and/or P and trace elements. It is offered to young animals being finished off for the market, or pregnant or lactating cows to help them maintain their body condition for reconception. Intake typically varies between 1.5 to 2.5 kg per animal per day, supplying 150 g CP, 12 MJME and six g P per day.

The utilisation of crop residues, together with the provision of a balanced lick, provides good grazing for the fattening of steers or for cows during late pregnancy, when the natural grazing cannot supply their nutritional needs.

Supplementary feeding

Supplementary feeding, is only practised on a small scale, by stud breeders, for preparation of show animals. Some commercial farmers who produce maize for their own consumption, utilise the stover and grain to fatten their oxen on the veld in order to obtain better grading, higher slaughter masses and ultimately higher incomes per animal.

During normal years, farmers very seldom supply their animals with supplementary feeding. In Namibia this practice is normally only practised during times of severe drought, when additional grazing is not available.

Though not widely practised, the utilisation of planted pastures, especially Cenchrus ciliaris, a species well suited for dry land production, during the dry season, produces excellent results in the higher rainfall areas (± 400 mm and higher). Hoffmann and Mouton (1990) indicated the potential of this planted pasture in the northern parts of Namibia. The animals are withdrawn from the natural veld during the active growing period, and placed in small camps under Cenchrus ciliaris. This practice greatly enhances the stability of the production unit and increases the carrying capacity of the farm. It is however advised not to increase animal numbers and to rather utilise the benefits of improved available grazing during the dry season.

This practice can really be advocated to farmers, in rainfall areas of above 400 mm per annum, for it can be started on a very small scale and then expanded over time.

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