By Chipo Tachiona
The winter season usually starts around May in Zimbabwe and it usually brings complications to farmers involved in animal husbandry. Cattle are forced to acclimatize themselves with low temperatures in order to keep themselves healthy.
To cope with cool temperatures, cattle usually develop thick coats and increase their production of body heat. They accomplish this by increasing their heart rate and respiration, thus increasing blood flow to keep themselves from freezing. Although such mechanisms enable animals to respond to cool temperatures in relative comfort, they also require much more in order to maintain their body and production.
Winter generally alludes to the dry season, which typically lasts from May to November. As a result of dwindling water supplies, the little that is still accessible becomes warm, stale and foul. Due to veld fires and ongoing grazing without regrowth, grazing becomes depleted.
Animals need to be fed appropriately during winter, so it Is important to keep an eye on how much is being given to the smaller, weaker animals, particularly those that are about to give birth. Proper winter nutrition and environmental control will contribute to preserving a cow’s internal body temperature, keeping them warm. Usually, during the chilly times, a cow’s feed demand increases by as much as 20%.
Impact of winter on livestock
- The gains from the summer are undone due to weight loss and deterioration of physical state.
- Affects the age at first calving by delaying heifer puberty onset.
- Cows’ postpartum oestrous (being in heat) is delayed, which prolongs the time between calvings. Cattle are less likely to reproduce if they do not consume enough minerals during the cold. That implies that livestock will expand more slowly than they should.
- Decreased cow output as a result of lower birth and weaning weights.
- Animal starvation and demise brought on by dietary abnormalities.
- Poisoning and starving of animals – When the first grass tufts appear, the danger of plant poisons increases. The carrying capacity of veld grass is reduced by drought and the cold.
- Longer production periods result in higher stock maintenance costs, which ultimately reduces profitability.
To protect animals from a sudden drop in temperature, farmers should make sure animals are covered shed/area, especially during the night. Avoid keeping animals in a damp area, as well as protect them from smoke from fires which are lit to provide warmth.
So supplementary feed, such as urea and molasses, agricultural residues, and winter maintenance blocks, are necessary to support cattle during the dry period. Before cattle start to drop weight and body condition, start supplementing them. The aim is not to fatten them, but to maintain or reduce weight loss during winter.
Molasses – According to experts, it decreases feed and lick separation and has a high concentration of trace minerals and vitamins.
Meals and cakes – A central feeding point can be constructed, or rubber troughs or barrels can be used, so the location of the feeding can be altered every day. Cake can be fed every day and still be an effective supplement. Simply double the amount that you would feed if feeding every day. It is an effective alternative requiring no long-term investment and can be very useful during dry conditions.
Cubes – These can also be provided every day because cattle are skilled at picking up cubes off the ground. However, the location of the feeding should be altered every day.
Salt blocks – The most popular type of protein product is a salt block. The block’s hardness and salt composition determine how much of the protein it contains an animal will eat. Salt blocks are readily available and manageable.
Poultry waste (chicken litter) – Many farms use poultry waste as a source of protein in veld grass or supplementary feed. Be mindful that both large and small ruminants may contract botulism from litter. Even if litter is not given to stock during the winter, phosphate deficiency during this time can lead stock to consume bones that are lying in the veld and are a source of botulism infection.
Water supply – Ensure there is a ready, plenty clean source of water always.
Conserved feeds – Usually hay or silage should also be made available.
Feed around the same time each day to prevent cattle from wasting time waiting for you to arrive while they are eating. Cows that have calved must be isolated and given additional feed to accommodate the calf’s increased nutritional demand.
Infestations of lice can cause problems for cattle during the cold. As a precaution, farmers should therefore dip their livestock regularly. Weekly dipping in summer and every fortnight in winter as per Department of Veterinary Services recommendation is advised.
Farmers should not wait to vaccinate when rains begin. All animals should be vaccinated against botulism before winter even if litter is not being used as feeding. Although livestock illnesses are common during the wet season, there are some that farmers should be aware of which strike during the winter.
Cows should enter the winter with no worm burdens. On farms where it is prevalent, all “young stock” and “adult cattle” should receive a dose for roundworms and fluke. If a farmer is unsure of the worm and fluke levels, they can bring new dung samples to veterinary offices for examination.
It is a sure thing that winter is around the corner, so let us prepare for it!
Chipo Tachiona is Farmyard Investments director.
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