With about 80% of Kenya’s landmass being arid and semi-arid, beef farming is a viable way of using land, which would have otherwise been left to lie fallow. In this article, TOF provides insights on rearing Boran cattle for beef. We hope this will help farmers to take advantage of the available opportunities in beef farming.
Reliable feed and water are the major challenges in beef farming. Fodder is usually plentiful during the wet seasons and limited during the dry season. At the same time, the natural pastures that support most of the livestock production in the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) are being degraded due to poor management systems. During the wet season feed is plentiful and often exceeds the demand, resulting in waste. In the dry season and drought spells, the demand for fodder exceeds the supply. To keep their animals in good shape throughout the year, beef farmers must conserve fodder by making hay and silage from grasses, sorghum and maize, practice rotational grazing and also keeping a manageable number of animals.
Take advantage of hybrids
Farmers and pastoralists should improve their cattle through breeding. Cross breeding beef cattle tends to improve production by increasing rate of growth, feed conversion, and amount of muscle, which translates into more meat. Farmers, however, need to be careful when choosing the kind of bulls to breed with their cows for purposes of getting beef cows with better qualities and which fetch better prices in the market.
The new breeds that have come into the market have better production advantages over and above the average of the two parent breeds. To be of economic advantage, the cross breeds need to have better traits of either parent strain or breed – otherwise you are better off sticking with the superior parent line. Therefore, farmers need to be careful when they are choosing the kind of bulls to breed with their beef cows.
Boran, the ideal beef breed for arid areas
The Boran is the perfect beef cow, especially for grazing systems in arid areas. It is able to convert roughage from natural grasses into high quality beef, while remaining resistant to tick borne diseases. Most of the big ranches in the country rear this excellent animal. According to the Boran Cattle Breeders Society, the Boran cow is liked by farmers for its ease of calving and ability to maintain 365 days calving interval – a calf every year.
The Boran is generally white in colour with dark points and pigmented black skin. It is also common to see brown Boran with dark points around the neck, the backside, and around the hump. The Boran bull has loose, thick and flexible skin and a dark pigment with fine short hair for heat tolerance.
Weight: At birth Boran calves weigh about 28kg for males and 25kg for females. Mature cows are medium sized averaging a live weight of 350 – 400kg, with great mothering skills. Mature bulls can weigh 500–800kg, with carcass ratio of 52%. Bulls are generally docile, which makes handling them easy.
Crossbred: With proper feeding and care Boran crossed with exotic breeds, Charolais, Aberdeen, Angus and Simmental achieve high weaner weights of 300kg. Boran calves weigh about 25kg at birth.
Output: Animals reared on grass are usually ready for the market in about 3 years with around 450 kg live weights. Those on supplementary feeding systems are ready by slightly less than 2 years, with 400kg live weight.
Survival: Boran have good feet and leg conformation; hence, they are able to walk for long distances. The dark pigmentation around the eyes lessens the occurrence of pink eye infections.
Longevity: Boran cows live for long, and it is normal to find breeding cows that are 15 years old.
Note: Semen from Boran bulls is available locally courtesy of Kenya Animal Genetic Resources Centre (KAGRC). Inquire from distributors in your area. Or, send your email by SMS to 0715 916 136 and the list will be sent to you via email.
TOF will give you a series of articles on beef farming which is hoped will improve the level of knowledge and awareness that will enable you to take advantage of the huge opportunities in beef farming. What kind of information on beef farming would you like to read about?