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Farmers' Kraal - Tough choices: Choosing when to de-stock

2023-09-12  Otniel Hembapu

Farmers' Kraal - Tough choices: Choosing when to de-stock

Many of our farmers are trying their level best to keep their heads above water in the midst of a piercing drought that has hit most parts of the country, especially the northwestern, south and northeastern areas. 

And as the drought continues to wreak havoc; directly affecting communal livestock and crop farmers, many are now asking themselves the famous question of iconic Russian political theorist Vladimir Lenin, who asked: “What is to be done?”

Well, there are a few very tough choices to make at this point in time, and amongst the options is to either de-stock one’s livestock or keep them and continue feeding them from your pockets until the pastures look promising again. 

As can be expected, managing stock through a drought period forces farmers into tough decisions. Deciding what to do with your livestock in a dry period is a difficult task and one that isn’t overcome lightly. 

The questions on the foremost minds of all farmers are usually the same: Do I feed them until conditions improve? Do I sell them but at what price? If I de-stock now, will I be in a financial position to restock again later when grazing conditions allow?

I honestly believe that it all comes down to individual circumstances and choosing the best option that will ensure your farm is economically and operationally sustainable in the future. 

From my own experience, one of the hardest things about drought is that one can never tell with unquestionable surety as to when and how the drought will end. And that makes it even harder for any farmer to make the right decisions.

But in life, there is always a choice to make and, in such scenarios, the only best and viable choice a farmer can make is to have a plan of action in place for when drought hits. 

And next to your grand plan of action, I would say the only other best panaceas freely available to any farmer in such situations are; absolute faith and perseverance. 

Many experts say the best option is usually to de-stock and then restock later when prizes are up and field conditions are in top shape again. 

But I have always argued that, unlike commercial farmers who have thousands of hectares of land and cash reserves to gamble around with, communal farmers are unfortunately limited in terms of both land and financial resources. 

In general, livestock prices fall and feed prices increase during drought, and these trends alone speak to the importance of early response and the kind of conditions you find yourself in.

Therefore, if de-stocking is the best option depending on your individual operational and financial circumstances, then go for it and make it count. But remember, de-stocking is not a decision to make when you are actually destocking. 

It must be pre-planned and well-executed. For example, selling your top breeding animals is one of the hardest decisions to make during a drought. So, it is best to base decisions on current value and future productivity for your business. 

Instead, identify animals with abnormalities and structural defects, and also use production records to classify breeders that are not as productive and then sell them off.

In essence, de-stocking presents an opportunity to remove poor-performing or genetically inferior animals from your business, while restocking on the other hand is a chance to build a younger, more productive herd for the future. 

Also, important to remember is that re-stocking can be very expensive, so consider other short-term options to generate cash flow for the farm while waiting to restock.  When buying new livestock, be aware of risks such as introducing weeds, diseases, and other unwanted plants on your farm through the arrival of new stock.

Until we meet in the kraal again, bye-bye! 

2023-09-12  Otniel Hembapu

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