By Erastus Ngaruka
Livestock feeding is believed to be the most complex and costly practice on a farm amongst others.
In Namibia, livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) are predominantly reared on an extensive production system of which their cheapest feed-base is the rangeland.
Over the years, the utilization and pressure on Namibian rangelands has increased to an extent that both rangeland and livestock productivity has been gradually compromised.
This is being exacerbated by the erratic rainfall activities as evidently being experienced in the form of recurrent droughts in the country.
Livestock farming pre-dominate the Namibian agriculture sector, and has a significant socioeconomic value towards sustainable livelihoods in the country at all scales of production.
As for the current drought conditions in the country, a large number of livestock died, especially cattle, and the ones sold are in poor condition, fetching little money as prices are low, and the feeding costs have also increased, and this is a big threat to farmers livelihoods and the country’s economy.
Having entered the normal dry season, the most difficult task at hand is to ensure that the remaining animals survive through the season bearing in mind that the pattern of next season’s rainfall activities are unknown.
The survival of the remaining livestock will depend on the feeding regimes adopted by individual farmers.
It is from now critical that farmers develop and adopt a “Farm Fodder Flow Plan (FFFP)” applicable to their specific farming conditions.
An applicable FFFP will have to ensure that there is a continuous supply of sufficient fodder to the animals throughout every year.
The plan should include; sustainable grazing practices, producing, processing own fodder, as well as storing of any available fodder and lick supplements for use during difficult times.
In particular, farm fodder production and processing at kraal level using cheaper, user friendly and effective techniques should be fully explored and adopted as one possible way to lessen the impact of drought on farmers.
The benefits amongst others are; reduced livestock deaths, reduced feeding costs, maintain productivity, reduced grazing pressure, additional and diversified farm income, and reduced human-livestock food competition. Farm fodder production and processing entails the;
• Cultivation of common field crops (e.g. maize, Mahangu, cowpea) and processing their residues (stems, leaves, husks, cobs) into animal fodder.
Cultivation of pasture or valuable perennial grasses (e.g. blue buffalo grass, woolgrass, etc.), lucerne, and other forage plants in backyard gardens or fields.
Hydroponics fodder production practices; or use of crop (e.g. Maize, Barley) sprouts as green fresh feed from hydroponics systems.
Harvesting of edible forage resources such as pods (e.g. camelthorn tree pods), leaves and twigs/branches from bush and tree prunes.
Generally, the lesson to have learned from is that almost all rainy seasons in Namibia since 2013 drought are not favourable.
On that, as a drought preparedness action, farmers need to adopt drought feeding strategies and invest in appropriate technologies or machines available, such as a hammer mill and a feed mixer to process and formulate their own drought feeds.
A good rainy season is not only about the amount of rainfall but its distribution and intensity over the season, and ultimately the quantity and quality of forage yield.
Lastly, the quantity and quality of feed available to the animal at the end of the rainy season will determine its strength and ability to survive until the next rainy season.
Therefore, farmers need to ensure that their animals are adequately fed throughout every year.