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The Nutritionist's Desk


Beef Nutrition in the Rainy Season

Beef Cows/Cattle eating Hay in a Feeding Pen

Zimbabwe rainfall patterns and distribution differs with natural regions. On average the rainy season starts in November and ends in April, with heavy down falls being experienced from December to February. It is during this time of the season where excessive rainfall and wet condition may impact beef production and extra care needs to be taken with animals during these periods. Nutrition and herd health are the aspects of production that are mostly affected by the moist and humid conditions of the rainy period.

During the wet season, high moisture levels in pastures and forages will result in reduced dry matter consumption from a given quantity of forage. Daily dry matter intake is the amount of forage and feed consumed in a day apart from moisture content. Beef cattle meet their daily nutrient requirements from the dry matter they consume daily. When pastures are fresh, their dry matter is very low. Therefore, care must be taken to ensure that cattle take in sufficient dry matter. A decrease in dry matter intake will result in reduced performance due to decreased nutrient intake. Decreased nutrient intake leads, for example, to cows calving in a poor condition, resulting in calves that fail to meet weight gain targets. In order to encourage adequate dry matter intake, it is necessary to provide hay to cattle; this will not only improve dry matter intake but it will also decrease the rate of gut passage, enabling cattle to perform better on pastures.

The Zimbabwean rainy season can become cold, and when temperatures are low, cattle maintenance energy requirements increase. If fed fresh lush pastures, some cattle may not be able to consume enough dry matter to meet their energy requirements. It then becomes prudent to supplement with a high energy diet. Always store feed in a dry area, elevated from the floor, to prevent moisture damage to the feed. Moisture damaged feed is prone to molding and moldy feed is toxic to the cattle.

In addition, the presence of mud can affect feeding behaviour and result in reduced feed intake. Muddy areas create a pull effect on the legs of cattle and make it difficult for cattle to move around. Mud that is 10-20cm deep can decrease intake by 4 to 8% and slow weight gains by 14%. Belly-deep mud can reduce intake by up to 30%. It is therefore important to control build-up of mud so that it does not affect animal performance.

During heavy down falls movement can be limited due to challenges with muddy feed storage and feeding areas. It becomes tempting for farmers not to feed their animals on a daily basis. This is not encouraged, as it can lead to digestive upsets when feed is then reintroduced to cattle. In addition, skipping feedings will result in reduced feed intake over time, which will negatively affect animal performance.

Pasture damage from cattle movement is mostly visible during very wet periods. This occurs mostly on areas where cattle crowd together such as the shade or near feeding troughs. Muddy pastures have less available forage for grazing. Pasture damage cannot be entirely avoided during the wet season, but the use of pathways for moving cattle, rotational grazing methods, and reducing stocking rates can help minimise the damage. Recording information on pasture damage can help to prevent and control the problem in future.

It is also common to have cattle drinking water from muddy pools and stagnant water that harbour disease causing pathogens. Temporary fencing of low-lying areas can help to prevent this from happening. Ensure that fresh, clean water is available for the cattle at all times.


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