Crunch-time for farmers with grazing nutrition at its lowest

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Staff Reporter
Windhoek

August to October is the most difficult period for Namibian livestock farmers when the nutritional value of the natural grazing is at its lowest, and the cows are in the final trimester of pregnancy. Due to Namibia’s low and highly variable rainfall, the nutrient content and availability of the natural pastures fluctuate from year to year and between the wet and the dry season.

Typical licks used in Namibia are winter, summer and production licks. 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 should directly supply minerals, protein and energy to the animal or improve digestibility, and thus increase energy and crude protein availability.

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. The country produces very few commercial crops, the main one being maize in the Tsumeb, Grootfontein and Otavi triangle.

In the rest of the country, north of the capital, farmers produce maize for their own consumption. The crop residues in all these areas are utilised, post-harvest, as grazing, mostly for cattle and to a lesser degree small stock, during the dry season. This practice is of great value in the management of pastures and the control of early weeds in the cultivated fields. Other crop residues utilised to a lesser degree; are groundnuts, sorghum and cotton.

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.

The use of commercial or home mixed licks is not yet common practice in the communal areas, especially in those areas north of the Veterinary Cordon Fence (VCF) – the main reasons being the high cost of licks, and the lack of transport. In the Eastern Communal Areas of the Omaheke Region, licks are used, but not in the intended manner with the farmers normally providing too little lick, thus the animals do not benefit from it. Most farmers in the Northern Communal Areas (NCAs), Caprivi and the regions of Okavango, Omusati, Oshikoto, Oshana and Ohangwena cultivate mahangu (pearl millet) fields. The crop residues from these fields are utilised by animals or left to blow away. In the North Central regions it is common practice to fence off (wire or brush) the cultivated fields as protection against animals. In the Caprivi and Okavango regions and the communities around the big towns in the North Central regions, the animals are moved away during the planting and growing season as protection for the crops. After harvesting the animals are allowed to graze the standing crop residues. Unfortunately, many wind losses occur, leaving only the hard unpalatable stems. As most of the northern communal farmers are mixed farmers with livestock and crops (maize/mahango), large amounts of crop residues are available, which are not fully utilised. Over the last few years numerous projects were executed to determine the easiest way in which farmers could treat their crop residues with urea, and then feed it to their animals during the dry season

A source of animal feed often overlooked is the plant material of the failed crop. Even though the crop might be a failure, the green material may yield a total crop of up to six m/t per hectares. If this material is harvested early enough and stored in plastic/polythene bags, it can be conserved as a type of silage, which has improved nutritional value and will be readily accepted by the animals. Another avenue, which is actively propagated, is the system of rotational grazing, whereby certain portions of a headman’s area is rested during the growing season, and then utilised during the dry season. This needs a massive effort, for it needs the co-operation of everybody under the headman’s jurisdiction. The principle can be demonstrated by means of fenced-off plots. A practice currently advocated in the Southern Communal Areas (SCAs) is the planting of drought and saline water-tolerant feed and fodder bushes. These plant materials can then be cut and fed during the dry season as a nutritional supplement to the animals.

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