Welcome dear reader to this column where we explore all things farming.
Last week I focused on how to prevent, control and extinguish veld fires in view of the impending fire season, which runs from 31st July to 31st October every year. This week we tackle another crucial aspect of livestock farming — record keeping.
The importance of record keeping in livestock farming, just like in any business, is aptly captured by the words of management and thought leader, Peter Drucker, who said that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” and that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
What Drucker means is that, unless clearly defined from the onset and consistently tracked and documented, success in any business is difficult measure. In such instances, it is even more difficult to mitigate and adapt in the face of challenges. Thus keeping well planned and organised records in livestock farming is a very important element of good business management.
Farming records are useful, inter alia, in determining profitability of every business activity, making timely decisions especially at strategic levels, comparing efficiency in the use of inputs such as land, labour and capital, informing future business strategies, improving efficiency of farm operations and ensuring compliance with any food safety and traceability requirements.
The imperative of record keeping in livestock farming places a responsibility on the farmer to constantly collect and document relevant information regarding important activities and tasks at the farm, performance of the animals, economic developments and production.
Records must be kept simple, accurate, systematic and user-friendly. The method of collection and storage of such records should not be expensive. Of course technology has helped significantly in making the collection, analysis and storage of livestock farming records more accurate, simpler, readily available and even cheaper. Gone are the days where if you lost the hard copy of your file then you know all your records are gone. Records can be stored online and be accessible from any part of the world. There are various paid-up and free electronic applications available, which allow for integrated livestock information management systems.
Records are essential for various reasons, including helping in identification and tracking of all animals on the farm, evaluation of livestock for selection and culling, breeding planning and control of inbreeding, selection of animals with the right characteristics for breeding, improving the herd or flock, rationalising labour to ensure efficiency and feed planning and management, particularly formulating economic feeding strategies for optimal production.
In addition, records also help in ensuring easy detection of abnormal conditions or disease status of the herd, identifying commonly occurring diseases and help to devise timely precautionary measures, assessing profitability and losses, improving overall supervision and management of herd, ascertaining the income and expenditure of the farm, estimating the cost of production and comparing efficiency of labour and herd with other farmers, determining appropriate prices of animal meant for purchase and sale and accessing credit and loans.
The main types of records a livestock farmer should keep include identification records, breeding records, production records, feeding records, disease and treatment records and financial records.
On identification records, farmers should choose a cheap identification method and one that is permanent, can be ready easily from at least two metres away and does not harm the animal. Identification of animals is usually through use of numbering. Common permanent identification includes tattooing on the ear or under it, branding using hot iron and ear ear-tags. Non-permanent identification methods such as collars or neck or leg straps and paint or dyes may can also be used.
Breeding records on the other hand are essential in measuring the productive efficiency of the herd and to enable selection and culling. An accurate and up-to-date breeding record of each individual female animal is important, e.g. the fertility and calving rate of each cow. The most important data in breeding records include pedigree or parentage history such as the identification of parents and grandparents.
Fertility is also crucial and this includes dates of all services, which allows the farmer to calculate the number of services per conception and dates of giving birth, which allows calculation of the age of first calving and periods between successive births. Another important data on breeding records is birth details, including number and weight of new-borns, whether it was assisted birth, stillborn, or perinatal death, as well as vitality score.
Next week I will focus on other important components of livestock records, namely production records, feeding records, disease and treatment records and financial records.
Paswera badza hapanyepi!
Till next week.
Sheuneni Kurasha is the Managing Director of Chivara Farm which specialises in stud breeding in boran cattle, Boer goats, Kalahari red goats and damara sheep, as well as dairy farming. For feedback, kindly get in touch on email: [email protected], WhatsApp: +263 772 874 523 or Facebook: Chivara Farm.