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Beef-Dairy Offers Low-Cost Entry Point Into Commercial Smallholder Dairying

Patrick Bhebhe from Gokwe South, Midlands has always regarded dairy production as a costly start-up enterprise far from his reach because purchasing superior dairy cows or heifers requires $1,000-2,000. This prevailing mindset is responsible for the low uptake of dairy farming by Zimbabwean smallholders; smallholder dairy production contributes less than 5 percent of the national milk production. National milk demand is currently at 120 million liters per year.

The Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development program, which began in June 2015 and will run through June 2020, encourages farmers to milk their existing beef herds and sell the milk locally, thus cultivating a commercial mindset toward dairy farming. Participating farmers such as Bhebhe have learned to unlock the income-earning potential for beef-dairy farming.

“This program does not give handouts but its assistance has made me start to realize income from my beef cows,” said Bhebhe. “All these years l used to envy other dairy farmers and thought only dairy breeds can get me into the dairy business; now l see a future for me in this business.”

Currently, Bhebhe sells raw milk to his neighbors and is earning income he previously never imagined he could earn from milk production with no huge investment. He is learning about good animal husbandry practices and business skills in dairy production, including animal health, fodder production, feeding regimes, low-cost feed formulations, cash flows, and marketing.

So far, Bhebhe has managed to harvest and stockpile 5 tons of fodder comprising velvet bean hay, rangeland grass, and maize and groundnut crop residue for use as feed for his five beef-dairy cows. By improving the feeding regimes for his cows, Bhebhe expects to increase his milk yield for his indigenous beef breeds by 213 percent per cow per day over a 240-day lactation period.

The Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development program is also promoting artificial insemination as another low-cost technology to enable beef-dairy smallholders to access improved dairy breeds. Farmers can inseminate their beef breeds with superior dairy breeds at a cost as low as $40 to produce dairy cross breeds with increased milk yields.

A group of 10 new beef-dairy farmers, including Bhebhe in Gokwe, have sold 1,119 liters of raw milk and 780 liters of sour milk through the informal sector and collectively earned $3,459 from sales.

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