Selection is key to optimal livestock performance

23 December 2021 | Agriculture

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

Every livestock farmer should strive for optimal productivity while keeping the cost of production in check.

Technical advisor for livestock and rangeland management, Erastus Ngaruka, says fundamentally productivity depends on the functionality and performance of the animal, the environmental characteristics, prevailing conditions, and the management regime.

“In essence this means the animal’s genetic abilities can be influenced by its environment and human manipulation. Moreover, the production efficiency of any livestock enterprise is directly linked to the efficiency of livestock selection.”

He says to maximise productivity, a livestock farmer should establish breeding objectives and goals, and implement a selection process that will meet the set objectives.

According to Ngaruka, the purpose of livestock selection and breeding is to improve herd or flock productivity, for example by targeting higher conception and birth rates, higher growth rates and weight gains to meet market demands, and ultimately, increase farm income.

He says there are several factors that hinder livestock improvement, such as high costs and availability of improved breeding animals, that pose a challenge to many farmers.

Other factors include uncontrolled breeding practices, absence of livestock breeding and performance records, lack of skills or knowledge and unfavourable climatic conditions.

Selective breeding

“Selection is key to optimal livestock performance and the objective is to retain and maintain superior breeding materials that will pass the most desired traits onto future generations,” says Ngaruka.

He says to achieve that, three common approaches can be used in combination to help the farmer make a well-informed decision to achieve the desired breeding goals.

These are visual assessment, genetic assessment and classing and culling.

“When it comes to the selection of livestock breeds, farmers need to consider the environmental conditions and individual management abilities to ensure that animals’ performance potential is not compromised by the environment, or by weaknesses in the management regime.

“To this end, what is expected is a productive and adaptive animal, and the management should complement this objective by fulfilling the animal requirements in terms of health and nutrition, and general animal welfare practices.”

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