Cattle Breeding

Cattle breeding in Zambia is more or less chaotic. There is no real national breeding plan or consultancy. There is no cooperation between donors from different parts of the world. The result is a mixture of plenty of breeds with no goal. The commercial sector uses exotic breeds such as Angus, Hereford, Friesian and Jersey while in the traditional sector, the main breeds are Zebu and Sanga types such as Tonga, Ngoni and Barotse. Cross-breeding is encouraged in dairying to improve milk yields and disease resistance. Small scale cattle farms are family holdings characterized by low input and low output. The most used cross-breeds used to improve milk yields are Friesian and Jersey, top dairy breeds suitable for intensive farming, high input and high output.

Genetic of imported semen is very often low, with no information on latest breeding values and price high. Based on our international experiences we created a “breeding manual” to help farmers to choose the right breed to achieve their goals. Semen is imported from different countries of the world, to provide the best genetics for a reasonable price.

Selecting an appropriate breed

Selecting an appropriate breed should be done very carefully. Genes you once bring with animals or insemination doses stay in your herd for a lot of years. Based on your local conditions (climate, economy, feed, herd size) you have to choose a production system first. There are several breeds, let’s say universal, suitable for all production systems for example Fleckvieh. You can choose a bull with small frame progeny for extensive system or a bull with large progeny for intensive system. Another example of universal breeds are Simbrah and Brangus, when you can add more Brahman blood for extensive system or more Simmental (Angus) blood for intensive system. On the other hand using top dairy breed Holstein Friesian in the extensive system is the same like driving Porsche on a dirty road. Lots of service for a low milk production, below the genetic potential of the animal to produce milk. If you want cattle that can do well in a pasture dairy (using grass rather than grain) or are interested in producing beef in a natural environment or on a small farm or in a sustainable agriculture system (with minimal inputs), one of the zebu or sanga breeds may work well for you. This type of production system often demands different qualities than do the intensive confinement systems that are common in modern dairies or beef production. Animals for low-input sustainable production must have the ability to flourish on forages alone, with greater forage efficiency, parasite and disease resistance, hardiness, maternal abilities, good fertility under marginal conditions, and longevity.

Many of these qualities have been ignored or minimized in popular breeds used for maximum production. Selection emphasis in modern breeds has been on fastest gain, higher weaning and yearling weights, or (in the case of dairy cattle) more milk production. Cattle have been bred for these traits, thinking these animals would be most profitable.

Stockmen working toward maximum production overlook the fact that maximum profit may not come from the animal that grows biggest the fastest (or gives the most milk) if there’s more cost and labor involved. Often the hardier, smaller cow that needs less feed (and continues to produce calves and keep up an adequate milk flow on inexpensive grazing without purchased feeds or grain and supplements) is more profitable.

She stays in the herd longer, producing a calf every year, making more money even though her calves are smaller or she gives less milk than a traditional dairy cow. She produces more pounds of beef, or more total milk (more cheaply) in her lifetime because she has more total calves and never came up open, or in the case of a milk cow is not “burned out” and culled from the herd at an early age. Dairy cows in pasture situations not pushed for maximum production may continue to produce well into their teens, whereas most dairy cows in the big confinement dairies (where they are fed huge amounts of concentrates so they can give more milk) often break down and are sold by the time they are four to six years old.If you want low input beef production, or a minimum labor grass based dairy system, you need a breed whose efficiency of production is more important than maximum production.