By MAKELI PHIRI
EVERY cattle farmer, especially those keeping beef animals should not be content at their level of rearing cattle, letting nature do everything. Our small and emergent cattle keepers should graduate from the lower level or subsistence level of production to some other higher levels.
In subsistence cattle farming, calves are born at any time of the year and to crop a reasonable number of young animals for the market is not feasible.
Hence, if animal production is synchronised by this category of farmers, they could crop a reasonable number for the market. Therefore, they should look at fattening some of these younger stock for the market.
Good looking beef cattle would fetch higher prices than an animal that has grown naturally. A step to fatten such cattle should be an alternative.
During the rainy season, it is easier to fatten cattle when good grazing is plentiful. However, from the month of June to December, grazing is very poor.
It is the time the farmer should think of fattening cattle by feeding them with concentrates. It is in the dry season when the price of beef is high.
The butcheries when presented with well fattened cattle would readily pay the farmer and the cost of raising the animal on concentrates as well as labour incurred would easily be covered by the extra price the butcher would pay.
Then how should these animals look like if they are to attract good buyers and fetch a good price?
They should be well fleshed and should have an even covering of fat standard grade of cattle, these can be females or steers of an age which are well fleshed and carrying an even covering of fat over the loins.
What is fattening then? Fattening is the intensive feeding of cattle on agro by-products in readiness for marketing. Fattening improves the grade and weight of the animal making the farmer earn more money for it.
In most cases the butcher buys cattle on live-weight, so the heavier the animal the better the cash that would be earned. Fattening improves the quality of meat which the consumers look for. As already mentioned, well fattened cattle fetch better prices during the dry season and so it is profitable at this time of year. Effective fattening would need to confine the animals in an enclosure or pen.
This kind of practice makes the animal spend less energy in movement and therefore, most of it is used to put on more weight and desirable fat.
When in confinement, the animals must be provided with clean fresh water to drink always. A good supply of roughage such as hay, silage if available, Stover etc, these are important in digestion when an animal is being fed on concentrates.
As already mentioned, suitable animals for fattening are steers. These, when under fattening, produce the best carcass. Fattening cannot be restricted to younger animals, older and culled animals can be fattened although they do not respond well to fattening before marketing.
The length of time it takes to fatten an animal like cattle depends on the condition of the animal at the beginning of feeding. Hence, restriction cannot only be based on the young stock.
Generally, fattening takes about 90 to 120 days. During this time of confinement, the hip bones of such animals undergoing fattening should be covered with flesh. The thighs and buttocks should be plump and well fleshed from hips to hocks.
The skin for well finished and well fattened animal should feel soft and pliable and should have an even covering of fat below it.
One thing that should not be forgotten. Before fattening begins the cattle must be dosed against internal parasites. Equally before they are put in an enclosure, they should be checked for any diseases.
Again while under confinement, they should be sprayed or dipped regularly against ticks which may be carriers of diseases.
This is how a cattle farmer on a lower level of production can earn some good income from such fattening activity. This is adding value to the stock so reared. Good looking animals can attract any buyer.
Cattle in rural parts of the nation forms an important part of the rural economy and are kept for a variety of reasons. They are used for plowing, transport, manure and of course for meat and milk.
The multi-functional roles can equally be improved as suggested, the fattening part to increase rural income.
In addition to this, cattle that are in good condition have better chances of surviving long periods of under-nutrition and disease outbreaks.
Once again this brings higher returns (that is well built and good quality cattle when sold). Ultimately this would lead to improved general welfare of the rural community. So be it. More money in the pocket.