Saturday, January 28, 2023

Nation in Conversation: Diversification and integration of livestock

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Rising input costs will force some grain producers to look towards diversifying their operations by introducing livestock. Integrating livestock into a grain operation can add value to lower potential farmlands and improve overall cashflow.

During a recent session of the tenth Nation in Conversation hosted at Nampo 2022, facilitator, Theo Vorster, CEO of Galileo Capital, talked to livestock specialists about the challenges, rewards and practical planning involved in this kind of diversification.

The panellists included renowned veterinarian Dr Faffa Malan, Gerrit van Zyl from Hanzyl Bonsmaras, Cobus van Coller of the farm Libanon in Viljoenskroon, and Dewald Olivier, chief executive officer of the South African Feedlot Association.

The benefits of diversification

Diversifying with livestock can help to mitigate the risks posed by rising input costs. In this way, producers can establish a second income stream as there is strong demand in the market for weaner calves.

In addition, cultivated grazing can be established in areas on the farm where it will not be profitable to produce grain. Consequently, producers can produce hay or silage as a potential cash crop and support fodder flow for the livestock on their farm.

However, Van Zyl warned that producers should not take the decision lightly and must have an adequate plan in place. “Don’t just be a maize producer with cattle. It needs to be a specific, focused operation,” he said.

Factors to consider before buying livestock

Producers should consider which species and breed will be best suited to their farming operation and climate. Furthermore, infrastructure such as handling equipment should be installed, and producers and farm workers should be trained in the handling of livestock.

In addition, knowing which diseases are prevalent in your area is key to maintaining the herd’s health. Farmers should buy tested livestock with a clean bill of health and certificate to prove it. Quarantine pens, as well as housing and feed facilities should also be in place.

Market access and demand should also be determined beforehand. Integrating a livestock extension can be challenging, so it should be carefully planned and managed.

Read more about the Nation in Conversation session on rural decay here.

Risks and challenges in livestock diversification

When planning a livestock operation, several risks need to be considered. Diseases are one of the major threats to any livestock operation which is why a veterinarian should be part of the producer’s team and farm workers should be taught how to spot signs of disease and adhere to biosecurity principles.

Producers must also know which diseases are reportable and what the law states in terms of the movement of animals. The panellists emphasised that these diseases can only be controlled if all producers work together and abide by the law.

Neighbours who do not help maintain fences and act irresponsibly in this regard, can pose a major challenge to farming operations as animals from neighbouring farms can come into contact and spread diseases. Reaching out to neighbours to build rapport can go a long way towards improving national herd health.

Another risk producers need to consider is the impact on grain operations. If there is an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, for example, the farm will be placed in quarantine during which even the movement of vehicles will be limited. Consequently, transporting grain could become problematic.

A final word

In conclusion the panellists once again emphasised the value livestock integration could have for grain producers since, according to Olivier, the red meat industry needs more calves. Van Zyl’s advice to producers is to make changes before circumstances force them to change. He also encouraged producers to practice regenerative farming since the stocking rate can be increased to get more calves into the value chain. – Renate Louw, AgriOrbit

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