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Good rainfall, but a challenge for farmers

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(Your friend in Livestock Farming)

Swaziland is receiving good rainfall this week and many places in the country are reporting good rainfall figures. Many people were not expecting so much rainfall in one week given the fact that rain is getting scarce in the region.

Rivers are flooded and earth dams are quickly filling up in the lowveld. Many people believe that the major country dams that provide irrigation water for commercial crop production projects will soon be full.
This will give the country a good opportunity to fight hunger and improve production and food security.

Your friend believes that the abundant rainfall will also recharge underground water levels and some boreholes that were dry for years might be revived. These rain showers are a pleasant surprise.

Pastures and grazing lands are expected to recover fast and December cattle sales are expected to be very good to both sellers and buyers. However, it is expected that cattle supply in November would be below market demand because many farmers would refuse to sell their cattle, while there is plenty grass around. Instead, they would prefer to sell fat cattle in mid-December when demand for meat is high and the price is good.

Challenges in crop production

One must point out that the good rainfall has brought about new challenges to farmers. The field crops that were planted early October need weeding and more fields need to be ploughed. It is unfortunate that at present fields are not accessible by tractors and oxen drawn implements, hence it is impossible to plough more fields because the ground is too wet. This means that mechanical weeding is also out of question and farmers have to wait until the soil moisture drops to levels where it would be possible to start weeding.

This might take a long time to happen and your friend recommends that farmers use bare hands to uproot the weeds or use herbicides. Uprooting weeds is very tiresome and is a more labour intensive job. Many farmers would also find this method unprofitable and cumbersome because it is difficult to find such labour for farm jobs.
Your friend would like to encourage all maize producers to consider the chemical method of controlling weeds. There are many herbicides in the market that are effective against broad leaves and farmers are encouraged to try them. Although it is easier to easy these herbicides, your friend would advise farmers to consult their extension officers on how to can apply them correctly and safely.

Challenges in livestock production

Livestock producers would have to be proactive this year and control ticks; they must always watch out for tick-borne disease outbreaks. Your friend warns that the possibility of red water outbreak in cattle and heart water in small ruminants is very high this year. Farmers must always be vigilant and should ask veterinary officers to do post-mortems on all animals that die naturally on the farm.  

The good rainfall currently received in most parts of the country demands that farmers improve their animal husbandry practices if they want to reduce livestock mortality and improve profit margins. The type of livestock one is producing is irrelevant; it is important that special care is given to livestock if they are to survive the wet cold weather we are currently experiencing. Indigenous chickens, cattle, goats and sheep producers could reduce mortality significantly if they did the following:

Indigenous chicken producers

Many farmers in Swaziland do not give indigenous chickens the care and husbandry they need in order to be productive. Many farmers do not:
*    Feed their chickens regularly.
*   Vaccinate the chickens against New castle
*    De-worm the chickens
*    Provide nests for layers
*    Provide appropriate shelter for chicks and chickens
Your friend would like to urge farmers to do everything possible to keep their chickens warm and dry on a daily basis. This is especially important for newly-hatched chicks. The hens cannot provide adequate warmth to a large litter during cold weather conditions. Farmers are also encouraged to provide heaters for their chickens. It is also important that chickens are kept in a warm, dry environment at night.

Failure to provide these during rainy days could result in disease outbreaks such as pneumonia, which could reduce growth and kill many birds in a short space of time. Farmers should not allow chickens to go grazing on rainy days; keep all chickens, and feed them, indoors. Improving animal husbandry in indigenous chicken production would result in high profit margins.

Cattle, goats and sheep

The biggest mistake cattle, goats and sheep producers make is failure to provide calves, kids and lambs with a warm dry environment at night. This results in high calf, kid and lamb mortality rates due to diseases like pneumonia.

 Overcrowding is another problem many farmers face. A number of diseases spread fast when animals are overcrowded.  Farmers are advised to keep their calves, kids and lambs in clean, warm, dry and well ventilated bans during rainy days and at night. This would help prevent a number of diseases and would also improve animal health and hence project viability.

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