Spotlight on feedlot conditions

An agricultural researcher says feedlots should adapt to changing environmental conditions and provide shade for the animals.

12 December 2019 | Agriculture

Public criticism of the lack of shade at a cattle feedlot south of Windhoek has put the spotlight on animal welfare and the impact of heat stress on weight gain at feedlots.

Agricultural researcher Wally Roux has warned that when cattle overheat their ability to build muscle slows down, defeating the objective of the feedlot.

“You are just perpetuating the cattle's survival mechanisms; they are using all their energy to sustain themselves to cool down. This is a reality,” he said.

Roux said feedlots should adapt to changing environmental conditions and provide shade for the animals. “Although Namibian cattle have adapted to intense production environments, these are extreme conditions; without shade, the cattle are compromised,” he emphasised.

In addition to the production consequences, many argue that free-roaming livestock naturally seek shade to escape the heat of the day on farms, a relief denied to feedlot cattle.

A farmer, who preferred not to be named, said sun cover should be managed well within confined spaces due to increased risks of infection, and the costs involved can be daunting. Nevertheless, she said, “you see cattle on farms standing beneath trees when it gets too hot, so animals should have that option”.



Rights

The lack of sun protection was put on the radar by animal rights advocate Heather Craemer of the Horse Lovers Association and others concerned about the animals' wellbeing. Craemer says the suffering is compounded by the fact that the cattle arrive at the feedlot in poor condition and then “have to stand in the heat while we are having record-breaking hot summers”.

She said multiple attempts to reach out to the owner to discuss solutions, including offers to help raise funds to build the necessary infrastructure, fell on deaf ears. “Everything remains as is.”

One recent suggestion was to allow the cattle outside the feedlot to roam freely on the securely fenced property where shade trees grow.

“There are many people who feel unhappy about this situation, including overseas tourists,” Craemer warned.

She added that the issue has raised worry about conditions at all feedlots in Namibia.

The feedlot in question is situated adjacent to the B1 road, in full view of travellers heading for tourist attractions in the South.

A tourism operator based nearby is preparing to report the matter to the Namibia Tourism Board.

“Namibia's tourism industry is quite strong, and I think animal protection is an issue that is being tackled worldwide,” Martina Schwardmann said.

She said the daily sight of the cattle suffering in the sun is “heart-breaking”, and warned that disgusted tourists could harm the country's international reputation.

Tough times

Under Namibian law it is an offence to fail to provide “shelter from heat, cold and weather” to enclosed animals.

But after reviewing the matter, a legal advisor said in this case there appeared to be no “clear contravention”.

The owner of the feedlot, who declined to be named, said he was committed to the health of the animals in his feedlot.

“I am a farmer, and I care about the wellbeing of my animals. Why would I want to make the animals suffer?”

He said he was aware of the concerns and was willing to erect partial sun cover, but that would take time due to the high costs involved.

A recent offer by an anonymous donor to pay half of the estimated N$10 000 it would cost to put up shade nets was not an option, he said.

He plans to build cover with a “proper steel roof. This is my property, and everything I do here needs to be done properly.”

The owner stressed that despite the criticism, his business offers a beacon of hope for desperate farmers who have no grazing left because of the devastating drought.

“I have fed the cattle of at least ten farmers this year, who had given up all hope. They do not have any money left, or grazing. So this is my way of just trying to help.”



Inspect

He stressed that the positive change in the cattle's condition from the time of arrival until they were ready to be sold was proof of the care they received, and regular veterinary checks confirmed that.

An inspection by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) found that the cattle were well looked after, and had enough food and water. Nevertheless, the SPCA stressed that in their view “animals should at least have the option to choose if they want to be under shade or not”.

The SPCA said although the owner agreed to build cover, a grace period was given, as “this is a costly endeavour, and the farming community is really strapped for resources”.

The SPCA also warned that covering the entire area would not be in the interest of the cattle because it would increase the risk of disease.

With feedlots expected to mushroom due to the drought, the SPCA said it was investigating intensive farming practices in Namibia to determine best practices and to be better prepared when these issues come up.



JANA-MARI SMITH

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