Many people ask me: I have this much money, I want to start a livestock project. Which one do I go for? There are many factors to consider really, including the market prices (present and future outlook); policy environment (licences, etc); capacity (can you do it or can you hire the expertise); personal preference etc. The best way is to do some form of cost-benefit appraisal, though it’s not exactly easy!
Your first task is to identify, quantify and put a value to your costs and benefits. You will calculate two scenarios: with project costs and benefits and without project costs and benefits, over a certain period (usually years). This is otherwise known as a discounted cash flow analysis.
For example, you may be considering replacing an indigenous breed with an improved breed. Introducing an improved breed could mean the need for additional costs in other areas. For example better management (better records, better trained staff or staff skills-upgrade); better nutrition for the improved breed to express its genetic superiority; vaccination and drugs. There is no point in buying an expensive breed of goat only to have the whole flock succumb to some preventable disease. In other words once committed to upgrading your breeding stock, better go all the way otherwise you might not realise any additional benefits to your investment.
Another way of upgrading your livestock project is to do a partial upgrade. By this I mean you could retain your local breed, but tweak your management a bit.
Tweaking your management of an existing project
Here I am assuming that you have a local breed of cattle, goats, rabbits or even chicken. You can still make good profit if you optimise your management if you consider the following:
Local breeds are adapted to the local environment: These animals are a result of thousands of years of natural selection for fit within the environment. Remember the tropical region has so many pests and diseases. So it means your local breed has the genes that resist ticks, flies, infectious disease, can survive the hardy environment, can thrive in sub-optimal veld conditions etc.
Improve management standard: This is probably the most important way in which marginal benefits can accrue. Without paying anything, you can improve the efficiency of your productivity. For example, for cattle try to aim for a calf/cow/year. This means, for example that the animal should get the bull within 90 days of calving. Rabbits could safely be weaned after 6 weeks, the does rested for a week while being reconditioned (fed well) and re-mate end of week 7. Such management tweaks cost nothing, but they improve your efficiency and profits very much.
Another important management tip is to avoid in-breeding. The risk with lots of livestock micro-projects is that you tend to keep a closed herd. Soon you have issues of inbreeding: the mating of closely-related animals. Brother and sister; father and daughter; mother and son etc…this is not good. In-breeding causes what is called inbreeding depression, which basically causes loss of vigour; deformities; susceptibility to diseases; stunting/ill-thriftiness. Maintain good records to avoid in-breeding and buy out (from others) your replacement breeding stock! Just to be careful to buy from healthy establishments.
So, even if you are not an agricultural economist, you can do some bit of rough maths to make you think of issues that you would otherwise ignore!
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