Cattle are one of the keys that focuses on livestock production in Zimbabwe. In this article, I will specifically look at cattle ranching. What is cattle ranching? It is the rearing of cattle on a dedicated piece of land meant for their grazing, housing, and management. Profitability in cattle ranching is abundant though, due to various metrics, profits tend to fluctuate. Overall, the cattle ranching business venture is a good fit but you must be prepared to toil hard because it is somewhat demanding.
Cattle ranching has always been a popular thing in Zimbabwe. It has always been done and most would do it for the sake of status symbols – since cattle culturally and actually symbolize wealth. However, nowadays more and more people are venturing into commercial cattle farming. Cattle can feed through a couple of ways some of which are keeping them on the veld and the use of feedlots. Typically there are 4 broad cattle ranching approaches namely stud breeding, commercial production on the veld, commercial production by feedlot, and commercial speculator production. Let me just briefly explain them:
This involves selective breeding of cattle to enhance genetic performance. Thus the focus here will be to sell improved or enhanced breeding stock to other cattle farmers.
Commercial Production On Veld
The major thrust here is to produce slaughter stock. The other focus also is to ensure there is more reproduction so that more slaughter stock is produced for subsequent sale.
Commercial Production By Feedlot
This basically deals with feeding or fattening cattle so that their condition is alluring enough for them to sold or slaughtered for meat to sell.
Commercial Speculator Production
Speculators here refers to people who leverage on say, decrease in cattle prices (e.g. during drought). This is because cattle would have lost so much weight such that their owners sell them off at low prices. After buying them the speculator will feed and care for them till they are alluring to sell or slaughter for sale.
These 4 can actually all be juggled at one cattle ranch if you want. Though it is much cheaper to niche on one or two of them.
The success of cattle ranching all starts with the cattle breeds that you choose. Each breed has its own upsides and downsides so you have to explore that before settling for a breed. Those attributes are usually explored based on a breed’s characteristics e.g. fertility rate, food conversion rate, life span, hardiness, and maturation period, amongst others. That choice can also be premised on the farming region your place of operation will be. The other metric has to do with market dynamics in your chosen area of operation.
You require a large tract of land – depends on the size of the herd you want to rear. You will also need cattle pens, watering, dipping facilities, and other related consumables. Commercial and or supplementary feeds will be needed. You will also need veterinary products and services. Then of course the breeding stock to start with is needed.
This is always informed by the scale and sophistication of production. This will also depend on your areas of specialization on your cattle ranch. The more your areas of specialization the more hands will be needed. After all, cattle ranching involves lots of labour-intensive routine and maintenance activities daily. Fortunately, it is generally easy to find affordable and experienced general hands to see to those activities.
A significant amount of money is needed. The land has to be bought or leased. Breeding stock has to be secured and onsite infrastructure must be built. Plus several other things; thus the amount needed varies but it is usually significant.
The market is quite big and ever-present. There is always a demand for cattle, be it the cattle themselves, breeding stock, meat, milk, hides, cow dung, and so on. The biggest component of any form of cattle farming is always meat production – which accounts for at least 80 per cent. For a majority of cattle ranchers that meat is obtained from the Brahman breed. Thus there is no question as to market availability, it is huge. Especially if you come up with good quality and cattle, well-fed and cared for, you will always eclipse other players on the market.
Important Things To Consider
Drought is one of the challenges that usually stifle cattle ranching in Zimbabwe. Too many cattle farmers rely heavily on natural pastures which when exhausted causes cattle to starve. That is why it is important to have contingencies for when drought occurs. That will need money of course but cattle farmers must learn to plan for that. Commercial feeds are available, for instance, there is what is called Beef Survival. It is a maintenance feed that helps keep the cattle in good health. There are also supplementary feedings options such as Protein Blocks, Game Blocks, Salt Blocks, Hay, Molasses, and so on.
In cattle ranching, it is usually the case that the sole focus is not just cattle. In fact, it would be wise to incorporate other small livestock such as goats and sheep. Basically, we are referring to livestock that can thrive on foraging or feeding off natural pastures. In doing this you diversify your areas of focus which in turn, buffers and enhances profitability.
It is vital to note that the Zimbabwean beef industry took a nosedive around early 2000. It was only about 4 years ago we began to see a resumption of beef exports. This means there is still a need for more players to emerge in the industry. In years past there used to be white monopolies in this space but not anymore; ride on that. This is also to open up your eyes to the possibility of considering the export market as your niche. To note also is that there are government support and many initiatives already motion meant to grow the beef industry.