Last update: April 10, 2012 10:48:12 AM E-mail Print

 

Meat Instead of Cereals

D. F. Badenhorst

 

WINTER cereals are sown on a large scale in the Karoo as a catch crop or even as a cash crop, i.e. with the object of reaping the crop. In most cases these crops are irrigated during the winter. Such a policy is undoubtedly not out of place, but is it the most economic way of utilizing the available water? In an area where hailstorms often occur and frost can be expected practically at any time of the year, the crop is in constant danger and it is risky to leave it on the lands until sufficiently matured for threshing.

Wheat varieties maturing early cannot be cultivated in the Karoo, for the reason that they come ino ear while severe frost still occurs. The late types are usually sown early and can with advantage be grazed before the crop is harvested.

The Karoo is subjected to – severe droughts; indeed, this seems to be the rule rather than the exception. In such circumstances it is essential that each farmer make it his business to build up fodder reserves for lean times. It should be possible to store such fodder reserves early in large quantities and at a minimum cost. Lucerne is the only kind of fodder, which answers this purpose well, and it is therefore imperative that every drop of water available in summer be utilized for lucerne. This crop does not, however, grow in the Karoo in winter; consequently water is available for other purposes.

Water available in wintertime can with great advantage be utilized for winter cereals - not with the object of obtaining a cereal crop, but for providing grazing for stock. During the early summer lucerne makes the best use of water, and the amount of hay produced in relation to the quantity of water used begins to decrease about March, so that the lucerne may be watered less then. On the other hand, wheat intended for grazing needs less water than wheat intended for a cereal crop, since during the winter months the weather is cool and consequently the soil does not dry quickly. Wheat intended for a cereal crop requires most water from about August to September when reaching the pipe stage. Towards the end of September or middle of October the grain should be completely grazed in order that water will be available again for the production of lucerne.

Well-planned experiments have been carried out at the Grootfontein Agricultural College in order to ascertain whether it is profitable to graze the crop instead of harvesting it. During the past winter season 88 lambs were given a good finish on 4 morgen of wheat sown towards the middle of February. The ewes were allowed to graze for three hours per day on the grain, while the lambs had free access to the grazing during the day. The lambs reached an average live weight of 63 lbs. and an average carcase weight of 31 lbs. in 110 days. Their carcases were one and all graded as super and prime lamb and these alone yielded a gross income of £136 the revenue derived from the offal and skins being regarded as sufficient to cover costs of transport, slaughtering, etc.

The position would have been different had a cereal crop beep produced on the same land. The total cereal crop would have amounted to 60 bags, which, at an average price of £2 per bag, would have yielded a gross income of £120. Up to the middle of October when the grazing had been completed cultivation and costs were the same in both cases; thus there was no difference in the ultimate profits. In the case of cereal production, the costs in connection with cutting, threshing, bags and labour are deducted from the gross income.

Apart from these cash and calculable costs, still much more water is used for ripening the crop, whereas, where the wheat is grazed, this water would be available for the production of lucerne.

The results mentioned above have, of course, not been obtained with merino ewes, but with half-crossed Border Leicester x merino, Dorset Horn x merino and German merino x Merino ewes, all of which have large carcases, give an abundance of milk, are exceptionally fertile and put on weight rapidly. These characters are the factors determining the payability or otherwise of such a method of grain grazing.

In the Karoo, however, merino farming plays the principal role and the question arises as to whether it would be as profitable to allow merino ewes to graze on the grain. Unfortunately, no figures are available to bear this out, but other experiments have already shown that merinos respond very favourably to better feeding conditions. Good feed during the first few months in the life of the merino lamb is an important factor in the ultimate quality as a full-grown sheep. Under favourable conditions the merino lamb is capable of attaining within four or five months a live weight of approximately 60 lbs. – an age and a weight at which hamel lambs can, if necessary, be sold as slaughter lambs at, a comparatively high price. Ewe lambs rendered capable of growing so fast will produce a better quality wool, and will be full grown and ready for mating earlier. The mothers will not be adversely affected by the suckling, will keep in better condition and will produce a heavier fleece.

All these improvements in the merino lamb and merino ewe may, if calculated in terms of money, also indicate that this is a profitable way of utilizing water available in winter.

As regards the Karoo which, in view of its erratic rainfall; is not an agricultural area, the saying " send the grain to the market on four legs " remains true. In a period of transition and adaptation, such as we are now experiencing, the question as to what would produce the biggest net profit with the least labour still remains the deciding factor in considering the various farming methods.

 

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Farming in South Africa 24