THE winter season usually starts around May in Zimbabwe and usually brings complications to farmers involved in animal husbandry.
Cattle are forced to acclimatise to low temperatures to keep them healthy. To cope with the situation, they usually develop thick skin and also increase the production of body heat. They accomplish this by increasing their heart rate, thus increasing blood flow to keep themselves from freezing.
Although this enables animals to respond to cold temperatures in relative comfort, they, however, even require much more.
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 and 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 and keeping it warm. When it is chilly, a cow’s feed demand increases by as much as 20 percent.
Impact of winter on livestock
Gains from summer are undone due to weight loss
Affects the age at first calving by delaying the onset of heifer puberty
Cows’ postpartum estrous (being in heat) is delayed, which prolongs the time between calving. 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.
Lower birth and weaning weights.
Animal starvation and demise due to dietary abnormalities.
Poisoning and starving — 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, reduce profitability
To protect animals from a sudden drop in temperatures, farmers should make sure they are in a covered shed/area, especially during the night.
Avoid keeping animals in a damp area. Also protect them from smoke from fires that are lit to provide warmth. So, supplementary feed, such as urea and molasses, agricultural residues, as well as winter maintenance blocks, are necessary to support cattle during the dry period.
Before cattle start to drop weight and body condition, provide them with supplements. The aim is not to fatten them, but to maintain or reduce weight loss during winter.
According to experts, they decrease feed and lick separation, and have 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 that 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.
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.
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. 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 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.
Ensure there is a ready, clean source of water always.
Usually, hay or silage should also be made available.
Feed around the same time each day.
Also, 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 winter.
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 that strike during winter.
Cows should get into winter with no worm burdens. On farms where the problem 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.
Winter is around the corner, so let us prepare for it!
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