Cattle Farming

The catalyst for cattle modernisation would be mass production of quality breeding stock, that is heifers, preferable in-calf (pregnant) and young breeding bulls. These are the equivalent of DOCs in poultry. Of course, such animals can also be flown in, although maybe not in the required quantity and frequency as in the case of DOCs, due to size, cost and healthcare issues.


“Pastoralists are farmers too.” – Minister Audu Ogbe

The assertion by many Nigerians that the global best practice for rearing cattle is in ranches is an alternate fact or more appropriately post-truth. According to Oxford dictionaries, ‘post-truth’ is defined as an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals. The truth is, in Sub-Saharan Africa only between 15 to 20 percent of cattle are in ranches. But what even strong advocates of pastoralism know as not being post-truth, is the inability of our national herd, estimated at 19.5 million cattle, to meet the national animal protein demand.

The national demand for meat stands at over one million metric tonnes and is ever increasing with economic recovery. Milk and dairy product imports now stand at about US$400 million annually. Currently about 50 percent of animals consumed in this country come from the ECOWAS region and other countries. Lagos State alone slaughters over 6,000 cattle daily. Now add this: Nigeria by 2025 will have an estimated population of 300 million, becoming the fourth most populous country in the world. So demand for protein of animal origin will grow exponentially. Therefore, the need to modernise our agriculture, especially livestock breeding, for food security and to take advantage of our huge internal market is obvious.

Modernising our cattle production has been a difficult nut to crack. Several attempts have been made pertaining to this, from the importation of purebred dairy cows in the 1940s to the establishment of dairy farms in Agege and Vom, and the 1970s seeting up of State of Livestock Improvement and Breeding Centres (LIBCs) for the production of quality heifers, to present day production and sales of crossbred heifers by the National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI) and private farms. These programmes have not had the desired impacts. So, there is need for a paradigm shift.

Against all odds, Nigeria has successfully modernised the production of one livestock specie – poultry. The tipping point for modernising poultry was importation and later the local production of Day Old Chicks (DOC), and also improved local production of maize. This was further anchored by the establishment of Parent Stock (PS) and Grandparent Stock (GPS) farms. Other contributory factors were favourable bank financing, availability of veterinary healthcare services and a large internal market. Today Nigeria has the biggest commercial poultry in Africa, it is first in eggs production and the fourth in broiler meat. The rural, open range poultry, is also much sought-after for our pepper soup and local dishes.

Thanks to this transformation, commercial poultry is flourishing in every urban city in Nigeria. Socially, poultry production has acquired federal character and exists side by side with a bigger rural poultry breeding. This industry has a combined net worth of over $3 billion, and its remarkable transformation did not just happen, but was made to happen by deliberate government policies and the Nigerian spirit of entrepreneurship. But can this accomplishment be repeated with cattle?

Before that, let’s discuss a related breed improvement programme for another specie – the goat. A sharp drop in revenue from tanneries occurred in Sokoto State in the 1970s. This was attributed to, amongst others, poor quality of leather due to the genetic adulteration of the indigenous red Sokoto goat. The Red Sokoto goat is famous for its internationally acclaimed Moroccan leather, which commands a high premium price. To combat this, the State designed an ingenious breeding programme to improve the fecundity of the goats. After obtaining the buy-in of communities, the State purchased hundreds of purebred Red Sokoto bucks. These bucks, termed Bunsuran gwamnati (Government bucks), were handed over to Sokoto municipal Ward heads during breeding seasons. Using town criers, all owners of goats were advised to either sell off or castrate their bucks. On an agreed date, these high libido billy goats were set loose on the local does and they immediately set to work. Although there are no empirical data on the actual percentage increase in fecundity, it was generally agreed that the impact of the programme on productivity was shattering. For years bunsuran gwamnati ran around doing their thing, welcomed in many houses and never ended up as Ese-ewu. Those were the days.

Some lessons learnt from these two programmes are; (i) with appropriate technology, a modern production system can be established, (ii) a modern production system can exist side by side,and in harmony with the traditional one, (iii) with the right advocacy, traditional producers can accept modern innovations, and (v) failures can be prevailed upon with better planning and perseverance.

The real challenge is how to establish and run these farms successfully. I believe that government should engage special interest groups on this, provide the enabling conditions and leave the rest to the private sector. While leaving complex dairy farming exclusively to the Dangotes, for ranches, the Nigerian Army should be included…


Now let us attempt to apply these principles to cattle. The catalyst for cattle modernisation would be mass production of quality breeding stock, that is heifers, preferable in-calf (pregnant) and young breeding bulls. These are the equivalent of DOCs in poultry. Of course, such animals can also be flown in, although maybe not in the required quantity and frequency as in the case of DOCs, due to size, cost and healthcare issues. So, the best option is local production ab initio and in quantum satis. A critical element for this is a national breeding policy. I have it on good authority that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is working on a breeding policy.

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To produce there are two quick options, the establishment of commercial ranches and big dairy farms. A ranch is defined as an enclosed large area of rangeland where livestock migrate freely within its boundaries, finding their own food and water. Ranches in Africa are located in areas where the rainfall is low or poorly distributed that ordinary crop agriculture is impossible. Botswana for example has an average rainfall of 250-650mm. So, commercial ranches can be established virtually in every part of this country but most appropriately in the arid areas. Unlike ranch animals, dairy cows are living factories for conversion of grains, grass and water into milk. Dairy farms should therefore be situated in areas of high grain production with municipal services. According to FAO, 33 percent of global land is cultivated for animal feeds.

The real challenge is how to establish and run these farms successfully. I believe that government should engage special interest groups on this, provide the enabling conditions and leave the rest to the private sector. While leaving complex dairy farming exclusively to the Dangotes, for ranches, the Nigerian Army should be included, and the idea of the Army partnering with Argentina or Brazil in ranching has already been muted. Ranching will fit in perfectly with the regular resettlement training programme of the army. The most ideal locations for initial ranches will be Sambisa grazing reserve (4,800 hectares) and part of Gidan Jaja grazing reserve (365,000 hectares) in Borno and Zamfara States respectively for obvious reasons. Let us see if insurgents, rustlers, rural bandits and local bad boys will steal animals of soldiers and live in peace. The spin off from this will be food and national security with bonus production of critical skilled manpower for ranching, which is currently absent. The Army, the world over, has a history of introducing new technologies.

On attaining a particular weight or age, keeping weaners and calves on farms create economic losses. These animals will therefore be regularly harvested in bulk; they would be bred in special farms and enterprises where they are fed cheap powered milk and on reaching the required age and weight, females are finished as in-calf heifers, either through AI, embryo transfer or natural servicing, while young males are sold as breeding bulls or to feedlots. The availability of these breeding stock will stimulate rapid investments in smallholder and large farm start-ups (aka ranches in Nigeria), the upgrading of existing farms and most importantly, provide many pastoralists unhindered access to quality breeding stock for genetic improvement of their herds. This would not only modernise the cattle industry but completely change it for the better.

Let’s recall history. In the 1960s, to feed the growing population, government decided to introduce a new foreign crop, maize. Hybrid maize requires mineral, not cow dung, fertiliser. To promote maize, the country procured a World Bank loan and established Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs). The programme succeeded so well that many 50-year old Nigerians now believe maize is an indigenous crop. On the flip side, hybrid maize demoted the prominence of cow dung in crop agriculture, and this irrecoverably destroyed the symbiotic relationship between pastoralists and farmers. To cap it all, maize also appropriated fadama, the livestock dry season grazing and watering area as gyara (gratis). This singular act and climate change are some of the remote causes of the current pastoralists wahala.

On a final note, the good Minister Audu Ogbe says that pastoralists are farmers too, with genuine grievances. Sadly, some local sheriffs say no, pastoralists are just marauding pistoleros killing people for nothing with impunity. What is needed is tough anti-open grazing law.

Junaidu A. Maina is a former director of the Federal Department of Livestock; email: junaidumaina@gmail.com.