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The ups and downs of stock farming in Southern Africa

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Although there will be challenges, stock farmers in Southern Africa can look forward to a good 2023. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

The ups and downs of stock farming in Southern Africa

Although the outlook is not gloomy for Southern African stock farmers in 2023, there were several challenges to deal with in 2022.

By Greg Talbot

A major concern for stock farmers in 2022 was foot-and-mouth disease, which affected six of South Africa’s nine provinces, causing a ban on all cattle movement for several weeks.

The Kruger National Park and Northern KwaZulu-Natal regions were identified as highly infected zones. As a result, these areas were surrounded by a protection zone or curtain, in which all cloven-hooved animals are supposed to be vaccinated against the foot-and-mouth virus.

Foot and mouth is an extremely contagious disease, which affects cloven-hoofed animals including cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and game ( which are carriers in areas surrounding national parks and wildlife areas).

Infection is spread by close or direct contact with other infected animals, or when healthy animals trample across infected areas. The disease doesn’t kill, but it causes blisters and ulcers on the animals, typically around the mouth, feet, and teats. This discomfort stops animals from feeding, reducing meat and milk yields and, for sheep, impacting the quality of their wool.

Dealing with foot and mouth disease (The ups and downs of stock farming in Southern Africa)

In the past the South African government has played a more active role in trying to combat this disease, by clamping down on animal movement, for example. In principle, all infected animals should be isolated, and the herd needs to be regularly sprayed and monitored. But it is increasingly being left up to individual farmer to take on the responsibility for the biosecurity of their farms.

Farmers should start to control the traffic coming onto their farms, including any wild animal movement. The virus is also spread as animals walk through manure and it can survive for up to three days. Infected dung can be carried for many kilometers on the wheels of a vehicle, too, so farmers need to get used to spraying down their vehicles before entering their pastures.

In fact, biosecurity needs to be a priority. Every breach has the potential to seriously harm the productivity of many surrounding farms.

The ups and downs of stock farming

Most farmers have recovered stock levels following their drought losses (pre Covid-19) and are now experiencing very good rains, which is always good for the condition of the land and the animals feeding off it.

On the downside, though, talk of an economy in recession will impact the buying power of the consumer, which may have a negative effect on farmers’ profitability.

This means a good year of farming will be followed by a weak year of selling their produce. High prices in the wake of Covid-19 should start to come off, though, which will take some of the pressure off the higher prices for consumers and boost sales.

Better meat quality classification (The ups and downs of stock farming in Southern Africa)

The stock farming industry is looking forward to the implementation of a better meat quality classification. Meat is traditionally graded according to age and the amount of visible fat, but there has never been a tenderness grade. There are now some good results, though, based on using a marbling index to grade tenderness, with the measured percentage of intramuscular fat being used to extract a marbling index.

The index is being pushed from the higher-quality meat producers as a way of differentiating their product pricing and better protecting their niche markets.

It should bring tender and healthy meat cuts similar to Wagyu beef to the South African market, which are sure to be as popular and as sought after.

Greg Talbot represents Tal-Tec, a specialist manufacturer of animal management solutions for farmers.

The ups and downs of stock farming in Southern Africa

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The ups and downs of stock farming in Southern Africa

 

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