Sixth Beef School on the cards

The Zimbabwe Herd Book, in partnership with National Foods Stockfeeds and Nurture Education Trust, have great pleasure in hosting the sixth Beef School for cattle producers. This two-day intensive event takes place on October 24 1nd 25 at Agricultural Research Trust Farm and an interesting and varied programme has been arranged.

Topics include poisonous plants as a cause of mortality in cattle production as well as important non-plant toxicological problems affecting cattle. Veld management, forage management systems and the use of amino acids in nutrition will also be presented. Guest speakers from the US, Australia and Namibia will update participants on the American livestock industry, supplying beef as a high value product in Australia and how to address the challenges of decreasing livestock farming profitability.

The first Beef School was held in 2011 under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Herd Book (ZHB) which represents all registered breeds of cattle and sheep in Zimbabwe. Hosting this school was stimulated by the huge success of the Stockman’s School in South Africa and as a key event on Zimbabwe’s agricultural calendar, plays an important role in building Zimbabwe’s cattle industry. Beef School keeps the country’s cattle producers abreast of important global developments in the beef value chain.

World-wide beef production is seeing rapid changes and Zimbabwe is no exception. Dramatic changes have occurred in the production and marketing environment over recent years. The Beef School brings together local, regional and international experts to present a wide range of topics that influence beef production and the participants share two days of intensive lectures.

In Zimbabwe, cattle play important economic and social roles including as a means of production (tillage, manure, transport); consumption (hides); finance (savings and investment of income) and social obligations (rituals, status and pleasure). The beef cattle industry therefore has high potential to directly and indirectly contribute to the economic development of the country. Zimbabwe has a long history of producing top quality beef, meeting very stringent market requirements of lucrative local and external markets.

Over the past decade the country has seen a major shift in the meat protein industry from a predominantly beef producing and consuming nation to poultry production and consumption. While the beef cattle population has remained fairly constant at just over five million, 90 percent of these animals are in the small-scale and communal sector. This has important ramifications from a beef production perspective since cattle in the smallholder sector perform many functions apart from provision of animals for slaughter.

Farmers in this sector keep cattle for tillage, manure, transport and as savings or an option for investment of income. Because of these many functions, slaughter off-take is low at 3,3 percent compared to the national target of 15 percent. In addition, sales from this sector is very seasonal in response to a shock on the household income (as a coping mechanism) or to obtain funds for assets, building, payment of big debts such as hospital bills or school fees. Similarly, there has been a reduction in the average carcass weight from 180kg to 165kg.

This year’s Beef School comes at a time there is increased enthusiasm in commercial beef production in Zimbabwe. In July, Zimbabwe Herd Book organised the annual National Bull and Heifer Sale and the turnout was the best ever witnessed. The combination of top genetics on offer, a good farming season and the desire to invest money prudently saw bull prices soaring.

Underscoring the importance of livestock to the economy, Deputy Minister, Livestock in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Honourable Zhanda has noted that “Government has embarked on the Command Livestock Programme to develop a commercially oriented livestock sector to supply our own as well as the international market. The enormous changes in Zimbabwe’s production and marketing environment necessitate paradigm shifts in management, inputs and marketing.

Improving the competitiveness of the beef sector in Zimbabwe will require farmers to raise their management levels to achieve greater productivity. This includes achieving higher calving rates, lowering age at first calving, enhanced use of superior genetics, lowering mortality rates, increasing off-take rate and improving carcass yields.

Furthermore, there is a massive shift from regarding beef merely as a commodity to an high value product in international markets which is necessitating changes in the assessment of eating quality. An efficient evaluation system will also promote better prices where quality of meat is guaranteed. Zimbabwe has one of the highest cattle population densities in the region — more than twice those in Zambia, SA and Botswana. Thus, any increase in beef production has to come from productivity improvement.

The Beef School provides a valuable and much needed venue for producers and professionals to deliberate and share ideas to foster the growth and expansion of the beef industry. Registration for the event is essential and the cost is $250 per person, inclusive of all teas, lunches and course notes.

For further information, please contact or telephone 04 — 756 600 or 777 391.