Strategies for Improving Cattle Production

The Situation: Communal cattle production grazing of the natural range is the primary source of herd nutrition and there is an inverse relationship between actual stocking density and range carrying capacity.

This is largely due to the incidence of tsetse fly which requires a certain degree of humidity to survive so that infested areas have relatively good rainfall and a high natural forage growing potential.

Serious overstocking occurs within these areas of cattle concentration to the extent that malnutrition is the single most important disease affecting cattle in Nigeria at present.

The fact that overstocking occurs is a function of both communal land ownership and the propensity of cattle owners to increase their herd numbers.

Various reasons account for the latter including prestige, security, and the frugal demands of cattle owners for cash income other than that required for the welfare of their stock.

This notwithstanding, two overriding factors must be borne in mind.

• Provided that mortality is less than infection and the demand for cash income is low, it is economically rational to build up herd numbers rather than increase off-take

• Even if overstocking is a generally recognized problem amongst cattle producers, no one producer would be encouraged to destock without the assurance that other producer would not build up their numbers to fill the vacancy that this destocking has created.

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In consequence of the above, herd numbers, even in areas of serious overstocking, continue to rise party as a result of natural herd increase but possibly, due to in-migration of herds from neighboring countries.

The effects of overstocking are that the carrying capacity of the range itself declines, herd productivity deteriorates to a level that counterbalances or exceeds the effect that the increasing herd numbers would otherwise have on off taken that nutrition becomes such a limiting factor that the opportunity for raising herd productivity using other technologies, such as veterinary and genetic improvement is very limited.

The Options: To a large extent, therefore, production improvements from the increase in the national herd will only materialize if:

The areas of cattle distribution are extended either by control of the tsetse fly, chemotherapy, or wider use of trypanotolerant breeds

Natural range production is supplemented by the use of purchased feeds, or

Natural range production is improved either by controlled grazing (which would generally imply some stratification of the transhumant pastoralist system) or, more importantly, through pasture and forage production.

Nutritional Improvements on Cattle Production

Extending the Range Area: While significant progress in physical control of the tsetse fly has been made, eradication is expensive and can induce undesirable environmental changes when the technique is based on persistent toxic insecticides.

Control procedures are also becoming increasingly more complex as the fly-free front moves southwards.

Chemotherapy is effective in areas of medium to low tsetse challenge but correct dosage and regular application are necessities which poses considerable organizational problems when applied to large numbers; incorrect or indiscriminate drug usage also runs the risk of certain stains of trypanosomes becoming resistant to chemotherapy.

The alternative of using trypanotolerant breeds faces a severe and expensive supply problem since most of the breeding stock would need to be imported.

Although the productivity of trypanotolerant breeds such as the N’Dama is comparable with that of Zebus which have a much large body size, their importation is beneficial only in terms of improving domestic meat supply rather than resolving the problems.

Nigeria’s significant cattle population is 96% Zebu unless a crossbreeding program with N’Dama bulls is carried out over successive generations. Importation of these breeds also requires a high degree of organization and control for their tolerance does not make them immune to tsetse challenge.

During the last decade, there have been a significant build-up of cattle numbers in hitherto regarded tsetse infested areas in the Middle belt due both to the pressures of overstocking in more northerly areas and to the natural control of the savannah species brought about by rising population pressure and expanded settlement.

There remains, however, a considerable risk of severe trypanosomiasis problems if cattle numbers were substantially increased in these areas without being preceded by a formal tsetse clearance program.

Supplementary feeds: The use of supplementary feeds must be viewed to a large extent as a short-term solution and is in any case constrained by supply. It does not address the root cause of overstocking and therefore does not prevent the continual degradation of the range that overstocking causes.

Agro-industrial by-products are in very short supply in the context of national herd development, and that which is available is to a large extent already accounted for.

The prospects of a domestic grain and vegetable protein surplus becoming available for conversion into cattle feeds is extremely doubtful particularly when an account is taken of the demands that the more efficient monogastric are also likely to have on feed supplies.

For the ruminant group, the economic and foreign exchange implication of using imported feedstuff to supplement the national range is highly disadvantageous.

Cattle Production

Strategies for Improving Cattle Production
Cattle Production

Notwithstanding the above, agro-industrial by-products have a major role to play in specific development schemes, and given the constraints on national supply, mechanisms must be introduced which will encourage their most e effective use.

Those would include directing available supplies towards those classes of livestock that will generate the most significant impact on production, and also ensuring that priority is given to cattle owners who are to receive an integrated package of technological improvements, the benefits of which would be severely constrained by inadequate nutrition. These opportunities are expanded later in the report.

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Range Improvement: Various possibilities exist for improving the carrying capacity of the natural range.

These include introducing grazing practices that are in harmony with the agronomic characteristics of natural range species, stratifying production into a form that exploits the comparative advantages of different agro-ecological zones and planting improved pastures to replace the natural species.

Consideration problems however are encountered in the application of this technology to the pastoralist cattle owner.

First and foremost is that to be effective requires control of both stock movements and stock numbers s and the record of success in both of these is particularly not encouraging.

Pasture improvement faces the additional problem of the seasonality of production and the need to either conserve wet season surpluses to meet the critical shortage of the dry season or to use pasture species with the ability to produce green foliage in the dry season, the former, in the context of pastoralist units on the communal range, is extremely difficult to apply.

Land Reform: While the ability of the pastoralist communities to exercise traditional control measures on the number and movement of cattle should be fully exploited, the record of success is extremely poor.

It must therefore be anticipated that under a system of communal land ownership cattle owners will wish to maximize their herd size rather than optimize returns to land.

Without an incentive for the lather, which would require fundamental land reform, all measures to improve herd nutrition must be considered partial or short-term solutions.

Furthermore, in the absence of individual incentives to invest in land improvements, rangeland development will depend heavily on public sector services which will further limit the scope for development from the standpoint of manpower, finance, and logistics constraints.

To date, there has been no progress on land reform that offers any means of resolving this pressing problem for cattle development. This subject will be further pursued later.

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But the need for government to seriously address this issue must be continuously stressed. In any event, however, progress will be a long-term undertaking and the scope for improvement within the existing tenure system must be exploited.

Other Opportunities on Cattle Production

Genetic Improvements: Compared with twelve indigenous breeds under similar management, the Bunaji is above average in main productive traits.

However, the breeding program as Shika between 1929 and 1959 which has as its main objective an increase in genetic potential for milk production of Bunaji, gave an annual increase of only 1-1.5 percent.

Improvement genetic potential however will not be realized if other factors of production are in limited supply and exotic breeds, particularly as purebreds, are generally more susceptible to disease, climatic and adverse management practices.

Since the lower genetic potential of local breeds is in most cases not fully utilized of inadequate nutrition, genetic improvement will only be applied to areas where these more fundamental problems of production have been successfully resolved.

Veterinary Improvements: While nutrition may be regarded as the most important livestock problem in Nigeria today, the development package must be implemented within the framework of a comprehensive veterinary health program.

Veterinary services are also in high demand and have affected a higher proportion of livestock owners than any other development technology component; veterinary technology is far more advanced than production technology and its benefits are more immediately visible to the livestock owners.

Production technology must therefore be extended within an integrated package in which disease prophylaxis and treatment are key components.

Pregnant Cow Recovery

Considerable improvement could also be made in building up the national herd by culling of unproductive stock and alternative stock and altering the ratio of adult males: adult females from the current estimated figure of 1; 1. 25 to about 1:20.

Additional contributions to the buildup of the herd can also be expected from a successful salvage program of pregnant cows bought for slaughter. Based on surveys carried out in Zaria and Kaduna areas.

About 300 percent of cows have been slaughtered monthly in each of these areas. Spread over the country, such losses constitute a major constraint to the achievement of a rapid buildup of herd numbers and the growth of the national herd.

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Do you have any questions, suggestions, or other contributions? Kindly use the comment box provided below for all your contributions. You are also encouraged to please kindly share this article with others you feel can benefit from this information if found useful enough as we may not be able to reach everyone at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing!

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Benadine Nonye

An Agric. Consultant & a Writer (With over 12 years of professional experience in the agricultural industry) - National Diploma in Agricultural Technology - Bachelor's Degree in Agricultural Science - Master's Degree in Science Education... Visit My Websites On: - It's All About Agriculture, The Way Forward! - The Most Reliable Global Agricultural Forum! - The Most Reliable Nigeria's Agricultural Job Board! - For Everything Premium Agriculture! - For Proper Waste Management and Recycling Practices. Join Me On: Twitter: @benadinenonye - Instagram: benadinenonye - LinkedIn: benadinenonye - YouTube: Agric4ProfitsTV - Pinterest: BenadineNonye4u - Facebook: BenadineNonye

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