Small holder livestock entrepreneurs: survival tactics in tough business environment

Taruvinga Magwiroto

Acacia legume plant. Seen here growing at Henderson Researc Station, Mazowe. Planted pastures can be a great way of ensuring adequate nutritious supplies of feed to animals.

Lucerne, seen here growing at the University of Zimbabwe Animal House garden, Mt Pleasant. Growing legume plants can be a cheaper way of supplying proteins to animals.

It is common cause that the current hyper-inflationary situation in Zimbabwe is causing smallholder farmers and entrepreneurs to struggle to run their enterprises. So what do we do?

For broiler farmers, the first consideration is to consider some trade-offs. You have to reduce your dependence on commercial/compound feed. If you have maize at home, the first alternative is to ditch “straight feed” and use concentrate premixes to which you add maize meal. This gives you some flexibility. If you do not have maize, you can consider cheaper alternatives to maize: miller’s milling off-cuts (makireshi); mealed maputi (roast maize); greens (particularly legumes: lucerne, lablab, ciratro etc)mixed in any number of ways.

For broilers, the smartest thing probably is to ditch them altogether and consider investment with a longer cycle and with less demand for bought-in feed. This means getting into indigenous poultry farming. The indigenous bird, also known as road-runner has many advantages over the broiler.

Road-runners (Bosch, Kuroilers included) are hardy and well-adapted to the local environment. Years and years of selection have resulted in a tough bird, which can forage well and survive on kitchen leftovers, insects , weed seeds and green vegetable. They still manage to lay and be productive too, maybe with the help of a handful of mhunga (millet) or mapfunde (sorghum) thrown at them in the mornings and evenings. Road-runners’ longer business cycle also means you can hedge the inflationary risks by keeping your money “locked” in stock. After all when the monetary system is failing, barter trade is the default. If you do not have stock, what do you barter with?

Look for alternative feed, preferably locally available. If you can, formulate your own on-farm rations, using locally-available resources. Check some practical recommendations here:

Consider a-typical (uncommon) food sources. Think outside the box. I have heard any number of options over the years: worms (you can grow your own worms cheaply); insects (masonja/madhumbudya/any insect) are very rich in proteins! If you can get these cheaply, find a way of incorporating them into animal food. Same applies for offals. The danger with feed of animal origin is the possibility of transmission of diseases, hence take precautions e.g. heating, drying, sun-drying, grinding etc. You can consider sprouting (germinating/kumeresa) your grains too, which boosts the availability of vitamins, proteins and enzymes to your animals. Hydroponics makes use of this principle, with reportedly good results. Try it!

Remember legume plants are rich in proteins. Nyemba (cow-pea), lucerne (medicago sativa); ciratro; lablab; peas; nzungu(groundnuts); nyimo (roundnuts); and other leguminous tree-fodders e.g. leucaena spp; acacia spp. Some of these plants grow in the wild, so it would be good to harvest the leaves and incorporate them into feed in any number of ways. A better way is to grow the legume vegetables in your garden, which is fairly easy if you have the water.

Go for small ruminants. Non-ruminants like pigs, chicken and rabbits are mono-gastric (single-chambered stomach) animals. Their feed requirements compete with those of humans to some extent. For example, they are fed with concentrates based on food grains. Ruminants on the other hand have a 4-chambered stomach that can convert fibrous materials into meat. In other words, ruminants can thrive well in the veld, without necessarily needing any additional food. Particularly useful are the local breeds which are acclimatized to local environments.

Read more about indigenous goat breeds on this link.

Become a more efficient producer. Be knowledgeable. Read. Listen to other people. Join Whats App groups. Learn! Invest in training to upgrade your skills. Remember the height of foolishness is to continue doing the same things and expect different results! Impossible. Change the way you approach your business. Find ways of saving on labour. Do some things by yourself.  But. ..laying off people must be your last option!

Read more about recording keeping here:

Happy farming. Give us some feedback. Follow us at to receive automatic updates. Till next time, keep farming!

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