Nutrient Management for Livestock in African Farms
Livestock production contributes significantly to Africa’s economy, food security and cultural traditions. However, a growing population means Africans need better animal management practices to support their increased demand for protein. Techniques such as silage and hay storage, keeping smaller herds of cattle and the development of new sources of feed could greatly improve the current situation.
There are several methods for grazing livestock, including rotational, strip and continuous grazing. A 2010 study in the African Journal of Range and Forage Science concluded that continuous cattle grazing had the least negative impact on South African grassland biodiversity, depending on how heavily animals were stocked in each pasture. This means they could remain in the same place year-round and eat the plants they preferred.
In contrast, continuous and high-intensity grazing had the worst impact on grassland biodiversity. High-intensity grazing is when a huge number of animals are kept in a small pasture for a very short time, allowed to eat almost everything and then moved to another location. It is generally considered an unsustainable technique.
Keeping fewer cattle on larger plots of land allows African farmers to raise small numbers of healthy livestock rather than vast herds of hungry cattle. This practice keeps the grassland healthy all year.
In the dry season, drought conditions — exacerbated by global warming and weather variability — reduce the quantity and quality of grass. Nutrient-poor pastures lead to worse animal health and lower milk output. However, livestock allowed to eat high-quality grass, which supplies high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, produce more nutritious meat.
Therefore, harvesting grass at the optimal time and storing it for use during the dry season would benefit farmers. Many African livestock owners lack the education, labor or resources to store feed, so programs should be implemented to amend this.
Medicines that kill bacteria are a modern marvel. Farmers often give them to their animals routinely as a treatment for current infections or as a preventive. The problem with giving antibiotics to healthy livestock, especially at a low dose for a long period, is that the bacteria living in the animal eventually become resistant to it.
Slaughtered animals’ meat can sometimes harbor these drug-resistant bacteria. If the meat isn’t well-cooked, the bacteria can be transferred to a person and cause infection. Antibiotics can also linger if the animal is slaughtered while taking the drugs.
Bacterial antibiotic resistance rates have been rising in African livestock and even wildlife. Farmers could produce healthier meat that doesn’t pose such a huge risk of bacterial transfer by reducing antibiotics, only giving prescribed doses to sick animals and respecting the withdrawal period between treatment and slaughter.
New Food Sources
Seaweed, algae and mushrooms look promising as sustainable food sources for African livestock. The price of corn and soy is rising, and they require vast amounts of land to grow. This can contribute to deforestation.
Consequently, some farmers have turned to new grain sources, such as amaranth, millet and sorghum, to feed their animals, and even to organisms that grow naturally in the wild. Chickens can be reared on black soldier fly larvae that hatch in animal manure, creating a natural food cycle. Goats can eat mushrooms, pigs benefit from consuming red and green algae and cows can ingest seaweed.
Why It Matters
It may seem like livestock production should be phased out because it contributes to global warming. However, although many people are vegetarian or vegan, starvation and malnutrition are ongoing crises in Africa. The population of 26 African countries is expected to double by 2050, so there is a dire need for sustainable livestock farming.
Animal proteins are nutritionally dense and provide an excellent source of protein and fat. Cattle manure can also be used as fertilizer for crop production. Additionally, livestock cultivation reduces dependence on bushmeat, or wild animals that are often illegally harvested. Many poachers harvest bushmeat to supplement their family’s poor diet, but consuming animals such as primates, bats and porcupines depletes vulnerable animal populations and spreads zoonotic diseases.
Increased meat, egg and milk production will help Africans face a brighter future.