Traceability involves more than simply identifying animals and keeping track of a particular livestock unit throughout the value chain. It entails a complete herd management system that includes the sustainable use of natural resources; a program to ensure the health, welfare and safety of the animals and animal products produced and sold; animal recording and breeding according to genetic potential for optimal production under given environmental conditions;and sound record-keeping to prove compliance with good management practices.
I was provided with the ideal opportunity to put these guidelines into practice when asked in 2018 by Tommie van Zyl, CEO of ZZ2, to develop and implement such a comprehensive system for its beef cattle division. ZZ2 employs a systems approach to every production unit of its farming business, but it's beef cattle division at the time lacked such an approach. These systems are generally well developed in intensive animal production (pig and poultry production), but not in most extensive production units such as beef cattle production.
I worked with Fanie Potgieter, manager of ZZ2’s cattle division, and our overall goal was to ensure that this system served as a model for the entire beef industry. Our first priority was to synchronize the 12-month production cycle of the cattle with the 12-month environmental cycle, as the start of the project coincided with the end of a severe drought in Limpopo. At the time, the herd was calving throughout the year, which made planning impossible.
Our second aim was to establish a biosecurity plan to eliminate specific diseases that could pose a health hazard for consumers (zoonoses) or buyers of live animals from the various studs that ZZ2 operates. A further challenge in this respect was the foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks in Limpopo, which threaten the various herds that are run extensively on the company’s 40 000ha.
Our third aim was to electronically tag the animals and ensure the record-keeping reflected all of the management actions taken to address the goals. The BenguFarm program (see box) was used for this, as it could integrate the individual animal records with the biosecurity system that was developed.
To use all-natural resources optimally, a strictly controlled breeding policy must be implemented. Controlled breeding is used to ensure that cows calve within a short period for the most effective utilisation of natural grazing. Synchronising the cows’ highest nutritional needs with the period of highest nutritional availability, together with an effective grazing plan, are the most important management goals for profitable cattle farming.
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