|By goGreen | June 22, 2012|
Why should I use cows for work?
What are the advantages of using cows for work?
- A smaller herd is required if cows are replacing oxen for work.
- Male animals can be fattened more efficiently for meat and sold at a younger age if they are not needed for work.
- Feed to maintain work oxen is not needed, so feed can be used for other animals.
- Working females can produce their own replacements.
What are the disadvantages of using cows for work?
- Cows are generally smaller and therefore less powerful than bulls or oxen.
- Working cows need more and better food to meet the requirements for work, reproduction and lactation.
- Work can reduce milk production.
- Work can reduce calving rate.
- Cows are not available for work for about one month before and one month after calving.
- If the cow dies or is stolen then draught power as well as milk and calf production are lost.
Can I reduce the numbers of animals I keep on the farm if I use cows for work?
Yes. Provided you feed the cows well to maintain or increase their weight, cows can be used for work, so you would no longer need to keep oxen for work. Working cows can produce their own replacements. However if a cow dies or is stolen then draught power as well as milk and calf production are lost. This means that working cows need to be well-managed; they need good quality feed and health care.
What would I do with my male animals?
Male animals can be fattened more efficiently for meat and sold at a younger age if they are not needed for work.
Would I save on feed if I used cows for work?
Feed to maintain work oxen is not needed, so staple feeds and crop residues can be used for other animals.
Do I have to give my cow better food if it is working?
Yes. This is very important. Working cows need more and better food than working oxen, to meet the requirements for work, reproduction and lactation. When the cows are working they will have less time to eat and so this is another reason why they need better quality feed. Grazing and cereal crop residues are not enough. They need supplementation with preferably concentrate feed or green forage and industrial by-products.
Will my cow have a larger appetite if she works?
Yes, but on working days the cows will have less time for feeding than on non-working days so less food can be eaten. She may in the long term eat more feed than when not working, but it will not be enough to meet the extra feed needed for work so she will lose weight unless fed with better quality foods.
What food should I give my working cow?
- She should be allowed to graze as long as possible and be given a supplement twice a day – before going out to graze and when being kraaled at night.
- If the cow is kept in a stall with no access to grazing she should have access to cereal crop residues or hay all the time when not working.
- Feed any supplement to working cows separately to avoid competition from other livestock. Offer the feed in a trough to prevent spillage/wastage. Any leftovers can be given to the other livestock later on. Give the working cows the first choice when feeding crop residues so they can select the best parts. Try and set aside a part of the crop land to grow some legume forage to supplement the working cows especially in late pregnancy and early lactation. Tree fodder and industrial by-products such as molasses and brewers grains are also good. Any feed that is rich in nitrogen and that is not bulky or slow to eat is also good for the working cow.
- The best supplement is a concentrate feed. Although it is expensive it can be eaten in a short time. This is important if cows have to work and it contains the energy and protein that a working cow needs.
- A concentrate feed which contains 25% crude protein and about 11 MJ metabolisable energy (ME)/kg dry matter should meet the requirements for work as well as milk production. Ideally the concentrate should be offered as a freely available supplement to the cows when they are not working so daily intake of concentrate is equivalent to about 1% of the animal’s live weight:
|Live weight (kg)||Intake of concentrate/day|
This is in addition to the roughages she is getting.
If it is not possible to have the supplementary feed freely available to the cows then the amount should be divided into two feeds and offered before work starts and about 1-2 hours after work has finished. This gives the animal time to cool down, drink and recover from the effects of work, especially important on a hot day.
Figure 2: Working cows need plenty of water, particularly if they are lactating.
How do I know if my cow is getting enough feed when she is working?
Your cow should be gaining weight while she is working especially if she is pregnant. Early in lactation she may lose weight, but the aim should be to regain the weight later in lactation. Otherwise it will be difficult to get the cow back in calf again. Her body condition should be monitored. She should have a body condition score in the range of from 5 to 7 (Figure 3), at the time you want her to conceive.
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