The Senior Lecturer at the Botswana College of Agriculture (BCA), Dr. Christopher Tsopito, says the use of Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) would improve the country’s livestock quality through selecting pedigree animals based on genetic performance, feed conversion ratios and adaptability.
Tsopito said the wholesale adoption of this advanced technology-based PLF by local farmers would not only optimize the contribution of each animal, but also enable synchronization of animals to go in heat in 7 days through the use of veterinary drugs, thereby promoting the use of artificial insemination and ushering state-of-the-art uniform management during calving.
Through PLF, the farmer aims to deliver better quantitative and qualitative results addressing sustainability in livestock farming.
Talking to The Telegraph on the sidelines of the 4th International Conference on Animal Agriculture held at BCA from July 22 to 24 Tsopito said: “The 21st PLF technology coupled with the Livestock Management and Infrastructure Development (LIMID) as well as Livestock Identity Traceability Systems (LITS) such as (the controversial) bolus insertions and electronic ear tag system (EETS), Global Positioning System (GPS), Global Information System (GIS) have become key enablers in the livestock sector, given the increase in bovine and small stock populations to around 2.5 million, apiece.
“It is not so long ago in Botswana that most farmers had an emotional attachment to know each of the animals by name due to the smaller population ranging from 10 to 30 per individual farmer.
Moreover, a farmer could typically identify the parentage and sum up other important characteristics, such as milk production, drought and pestilence resistance. Each animal was approached as an individual.
“Although variety existed, it was no issue. In the past three decades, farms and animal populations have multiplied in scale, with highly automated processes essential for feeding and other tasks. Under the PLF platform, farmers could work with average values per group.
“Where variety would become an impediment to increasing economies of scale, PLF would chip in. Using modern information technology, farmers now could record numerous attributes of each animal, such as pedigree, age, reproduction, growth, health, feed conversion, culling out percentages, carcass weight as percentage of its live weight, and use Ultra Sound technology to determine fat and other variables’ content in the meat value chain.”
There is software to process bringing on board economies of scale as a result of the explosive increase in animal populations, at the touch of a button give you the count and tally. For example, the dreaded mastitis in dairy cattle can be detected without physically milking the cows.
According to Tsopito, there are, however, PLF challenges associated with the prohibitive technology acquisition and maintenance costs, capacity building of human capital. The other drawback is that higher prices are always associated with the advent of the latest technology, and so are costs of acquiring the latest technology.
When PLF becomes universal, farmers and consumers are going to benefit from the embedded health and safety productivity benefits, and be privy to meat producer prices and timeframes, without resorting to bureaucratic channels.
The way forward for the brainchild is for government regulating bodies and extension services to take PLF to the farmers as a best practice.
“Based on research in the developed world, economic goals are an important factor in livestock farming, but not the only ones,” he said. “Legal bodies in tandem with government parastatals should set quality standards that are legally binding to livestock producers.”