The basics: learning from the previous rainy season

01 November 2021 | Agriculture

Windhoek • Erastus Ngaruka

Namibian farmers eagerly anticipate a favourable rainy season as forecasted; however, the signs of climate change still linger.
Every rainy season has become spatially and temporally unique in terms of its initiation, intensity, distribution, and duration. This means farmers need to continuously prepare for every rainy season as each season may present different challenges and consequences. These include floods, lightning, heavy winds, cold, drought, disease, and pest outbreaks amongst others.
The previous rainy season provided much needed relief for many livestock farmers in the country as the grazing capacity improved although not optimally in terms of value. Much of the forage yield from the previous season was underutilized due to poor grazing value, and a significant number of grazing animals, mainly cattle, were drastically reduced during the drought. This has left a huge amount of grass as fuel load which has intensified the impact of veld fires which recently destroyed large tracts of grazeable land in the Khomas, Omaheke, and Kunene regions amongst others.
As much as farmers wish for a good rainy season to improve their grazing conditions, they also must be cautious of the veld fire events at the end of the season. As such, it is important that the rangelands are prepared to benefit from rainfall while ensuring that sufficient forage materials are preserved, protected and available until the next season. Here, farmers need to adopt restorative rangeland utilization practices such as re-seeding with valuable perennial grasses, bush-thinning, soil improvement and protection, prevention of soil erosion, and sustainable grazing practices that could also minimize the impact of fire while reserving grazing.

With heavy showers predicted, farmers need to prepare and protect farm infrastructures and livestock from possible floods, especially in risky areas such as the northern parts of the country. Moreover, farmers need to adopt techniques of harvesting rainwater and storage for later use in gardens and other household needs.
On the other hand, moist conditions also predispose the prevalence of insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, and biting flies. These insects can transmit common diseases like lumpy skin disease, and tick-borne diseases such as sweating sickness, anaplasmosis (gall sickness) amongst others. Therefore, farmers are advised to vaccinate their animals, especially against lumpy skin disease by November as it can also disturb cattle marketing when there is an outbreak.
Similar to the previous rainy season, there will be a high prevalence of internal parasites, more especially the liver fluke amongst others. The liver fluke’s intermediate host is a snail, and it releases it on the grass or in bodies of water. It is advisable to understand the seasonal prevalence of parasites and related symptoms such as itching, anaemia, bottle jaw, diarrhoea, and running nose, and to select the correct anthelmintics or antiparasitic remedy.
As much as rainfall provides relief for livestock farmers, it can also be a disturbance to livestock wellbeing. Apart from diseases and parasite prevalence, rainfall also comes with cold and windy conditions, lightning, and can create damp environments that are unhygienic and uncomfortable for the livestock, for example, muddy kraals.

Stressful conditions
The kraals should be always cleaned and need to be sheltered to protect animals from rain, cold, wind, and lightning. These stressful conditions can result in incidences of lung infection (pneumonia or pasteurellosis) especially in goats and sheep. However, pasteurellosis can be prevented through vaccination.
Furthermore, rainfall also affects livestock foraging activities, limiting their foraging time and daily intake as they run for cover to avoid getting wet. Thus, extra feeds need to be provided to compensate for possible loss of dry matter intake and to enhance the animals’ metabolism for them to keep warm from metabolic heat.
Lastly, livestock farmers need to maintain hygienic and safe environments for their animals to ensure that their performance is not compromised. They need to keep abreast with information related to climatic activities and prepare for every challenge that can possibly come with every rainy season.
*Erastus Ngaruka is Agribank’s Technical Advisor: Livestock & Rangeland Management.

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