Productive Cattle Herd Helps Family Overcome Life’s Obstacles
Lovemore Mahesi is a smallholder livestock farmer from Chipinge in southern Zimbabwe. For years he struggled to feed the six members of his family from the meager income he earned from his small herd. Without technical skills or training, he was ill-equipped to grow his herd or improve their health to fetch better prices on the market, no matter how badly he wanted to improve his farming capacity.
Unknown to Mahesi, no major costs were required to turn his herd around. All that he needed was knowledge and implementation of low-cost good cattle management practices plus business acumen. An encounter with the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development program in May 2016 was his turning point. At the time, he had six cattle with only two cows that produced calves every two or three years. Through training and technical assistance, Mahesi learned that if his herd was going to grow, he needed to make important decisions to rationalize his herd by getting rid of all unproductive animals and replacing them with quality breeding females.
He sold an old ox in 2016, earning $741 that he used to purchase two in-calf cows. The cows produced two female calves within that same year, encouraging Mahesi to sell another ox the following year, which earned him an additional $800. This enabled him to repeat the investment cycle. Within three years of executing the business practice, coupled with the organic herd growth, Mahesi almost quadrupled his herd from six cattle, mostly male, to 22 cattle – 73 percent of which are productive females.
Now, selling at least one cattle every year to meet his household needs is possible for Mahesi. In addition to being able to plan for and withstand the drought conditions that are characteristic of Chipinge, Mahesi was able to rebound from the devastating aftermath of Cyclone Idai.
“I am grateful for this program’s practical life-changing lessons on smallholder livestock farming. While everyone is bemoaning the ravaging effects of Cyclone Idai and the hot, dry spells characteristic of Chipinge, I’m happy because I sold two cattle out of my herd of 22,” said Mahesi.
He plans to use the proceeds from his sale for school fees for his four children, food, and home renovations.
Since working with Feed the Future, Mahesi has learned to plant drought-tolerant fodder and food crops such as millet, sorghum, and velvet bean to safeguard his livestock and household food requirements. So far, his yields have been encouraging. In the latest 2017-2018 season, Mahesi harvested more than a ton of grains from millet and sorghum and hay from the velvet bean crop for his cows.
Strengthening the ability of smallholder farmers such as Mahesi is among the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Livestock Development program’s chief goals. The program utilizes a whole farm approach to livestock production that strengthens on-farm crop and livestock activities to ensure beneficiaries are resilient. The program trains farmers to adopt good animal husbandry practices to increase overall herd productivity and ensures they are linked to formal markets for the sale of their cattle to realize better incomes.
Farmers are recommended to ensure their herds comprise at least 70 percent female breeding stock to increase the chances of organic herd growth and sustain yearly cattle sales. To date, the program has worked with 5,791 rural households who have sold more than 1,070 cattle and realizing $843,938 worth of income, part of which has been used to purchase breeding female stock among other forms of investment.