Livestock is a lucrative form of agri-business which can deliver high returns if done right and if livestock keepers can access good markets.
Over 60% of the livestock that provides meat in Kenya comes from pastoralists. But, due to their non-commercial inclination, the animals they supply to the market are usually too old (more that 4 years of age) and weigh below their required weight (about 200kgs).
Apart from socio-cultural factors, several underlying factors related to animal husbandry practices contributes to the production of low-quality cattle:
- Less milk is fed to male calves as the primary objective of the pastoral production system is milk production for the family and reproduction to maintain the herd
- There is no special attention given to in-calf cows during their last trimester, leading to calves being born weak, and subsequently exhibiting poor growth rates. This poor feeding of milk, coupled with poor quality feeds available during the dry period leads to loss of weight in the dry season hence extending the age at which livestock reach the required weight,
- Scarcity of water. Animals trek long distance between watering points in dry period grazing areas leading to weight loss,
- Poor marketing infrastructure and poor access to livestock markets information
- Long distance trekking to the markets and water deprivation practice of pastoralists leading to weight loss
- Livestock diseases affecting the performance of the stock and among others.
In order to make a good income, livestock producers should aim to produce good quality cattle that meets the requirement of high-end and export markets. These markets require young animals that attain an optimum weight of 320 kg at a tender age of 24 months. Such cattle meet the quality requirements of tenderness, juiciness, low fat layer and red meat.
Livestock keepers need to improve on quality, if they are to get a good return on their hard work. In order to achieve the desired quality, beef farmers can:
- The animals from the pastoral systems are put in a feedlot for 3-4 months and fed to gain an average daily weight of 1kg per day so as to attain 320kg at the age of 24 months. The animals subjected to the feedlot system are mainly bulls, culled cows and surplus heifers.
- Increase the breeding herd and improve the reproductive rate of breeding cows such that each produce a calf once every year. This is achieved by synchronizing mating or insemination so that calving coincides with periods of better feed availability.
- Supplementing cattle dietary requirements during the last trimester of pregnancy using dry season feed and mineral supplementation, and during lactation phase using wet season mineral supplementation.
Apart from these, there is need to introduce systems that can produce for the market. Such a system requires an understanding of the quality requirements of the market and develops intervention models appropriate for the production environment that meets the quality requirements. Use of feedlots is one such intervention.
Using feedlots to improve quality of beef cattle
A feedlot is a farming operation where animals are put in an enclosure at a certain age and weight. They are then intensively fed on high quality balanced feed so as to attain a certain slaughter weight within a specified period of time. Kenya has several feedlots in operation along the main livestock trade routes.
Feeding of calves
If you are interested in using the feedlot system to produce high-quality cattle, you need to begin by feeding and caring for your animals in the right way.
For calves, aim at getting minimum growth rate of 320g per day so as to attain 200kg at 20 months of age. This is achieved by weaning them at an average age of 8 months and carrying out dry season supplementary feeding for 183 days, followed by wet season mineral supplementation for 182 days until they are a maximum of 20 months old. In seasons where pasture is available, wet season supplementation is not important as there is no significant change in weight gain (100g/d).
Entry into feedlot
When the animals attain the weight of 200kg they can be taken to a feedlot for finishing. The feeder cattle at the feedlot should aim to attain an average daily weight gain of 1kg /day for a period of 120 days so that they reach cumulative weight of more than 320kg by 20 months of age.
This can be achieved by feeding the most balanced total mixed rations, including minerals, and regularly weighing the animals. Feed intake is regulated in three phases as indicated below:
- Starter phase: for the first 14 days, feed intake should be 2.2 -2.7 % body weight on a 90% dry matter basis to give an average daily gain of 0.75kg. This feed to contain 17-20% roughage, 13% protein content, lower carbohydrate at 50-55% of total ration from high starch ingredients of Agro-industrial by-products and vitamin A plus mineral premix.
- Growers phase: for 76 days, animals are fed on 3.2% of body weight on a 90% dry matter basis so as to attain an average daily gain of at least 1.00-1.20kg. The feed should contain roughage at 12-15% of total ration, protein content of 12%, higher carbohydrate at 58-63% of total ration from high starch ingredients of Agro-industrial by-products and vitamin A plus Mineral Premix.
- Finisher phase: this is the last 30 days in the feedlot where you feed 3.2% of body weight on a 90% dry matter basis and expect average daily gain of 1.2-1.5kg by feeding 12% roughages of total ration with protein content of 12% and higher carbohydrate of 64-68% of the total rations from high starch ingredients of industrial by-products and vitamin A plus mineral premix.
Deputy Director, Livestock production, State Department for Livestock
Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and Cooperatives