WINDHOEK – Independent studies have now once and for all answered the million-dollar question whether it is viable to feed Nguni cattle profitably in feedlots.
Ngunis are the favourites of Namibian communal farmers for their low production cost and ability to market a good grade carcass off the veld. Feedlots prefer medium- to late-maturing breeds and discriminate against Nguni cattle, which is an early maturing breed. They pay less per kilogram live mass than for other breeds. Major feedlots are either not accepting Nguni weaner calves or pay significantly less for them.
Farm Namibgrens operates as a full economically working Nguni cattle farm. Nguni cattle, which were introduced to Southern Africa by the Zulu people, are indigenous to Africa and require little or no human intervention to thrive. They are known by their resistance to disease and high fertility.
Nguni hides are extremely popular because of their colours and variety of patterns. The Zulus have over 300 words to describe the colours of their cattle. “Izinpugane ebisini” means “flies in the milk”, the name given to a white skin with small black spots. Another interesting name given to the mottled skin with marks and colours resembling the eggs of the Crowned Plover is “Amaqanda we titiyoya”. Patterns on the cow hides also serve as inspiration for many folk tales and analogies with night skies and life.
The aim of the latest study by the Nguni Cattle Breeders Society SA was to determine the most suitable ration and performance for Nguni calves under feedlot conditions. The trial was run at Sernick feedlot, near Edenville in SA. Two hundred Nguni young male calves were sourced from 24 breeders from five provinces and divided into four groups of 50 each. Each group was fed a different feeding regime: starter (high roughage), grower (medium roughage), finisher (low roughage) and a feedlot grower commercial (low roughage) ration.
They were backgrounded in the pre-conditioning phase for 32 days and received ad lib Eragrostis grass. After 105, 120 and 135 days these calves were slaughtered when they reached acceptable carcass subcutaneous fat classification (A2) according to their weight, body condition and visual appearance.
The most important findings of the study were that given adherence to some basic conditions, Nguni cattle can be fed profitably in feedlots and results indicate that the precondition for minimum weights to be considered at arrival (or at the end of preconditioning or backgrounding) to be close to 200kg with an absolute minimum of 180kg for profitable.