It is commendable that many modern farmers have upgraded from traditional farming methods - where farming was largely for prestige, to more business minded farming. Simply put, the pride of having hundreds of heads of cattle follow each other in a straight line is now something of the past as we know.
But what modern farming pundits don’t tell you are the main reasons for this shift. Put differently, is having a lot of cattle - as in concentrating on quantity other than quality - a bad thing? My take is absolutely not! Allow me to demonstrate this point of view.
Having quality animals is a definite must for every farmer and that is indisputable. So is turning your farming operations into a business in order to profit more from it. But the view that quantity in farming will get you down is nothing but a myth.
I have known a lot of farmers in my life that have taken giant leaps in their farming endeavours through quantity. They have managed to feed their families, put their children through school and have become formidable farmers in their own right.
The truth about quantity farming, if I may call it so, is that it is unsustainable in the long run compared to farming for quality as in stud and elite farming. This argument is substantiated by limited grazing that is the order of the day today compared to five decades ago. Stock theft, livestock diseases outbreaks and other factors inhibiting farming have now become a daily occurrence.
Even if you are blessed with a huge tract of land, it will be unwise in these times to have cattle that far outnumber the grazing potential of your land. Well, unless you intend turning your farm into a desert. Management of rangeland will thus become vital.
So, what am I actually saying, you ask? Well, the idea is to take away the hold that more established farmers have over upcoming farmers through their continuous emphasis on quality and putting it on a pedestal as the only mode of farming. That is wrong.
We should instead encourage upcoming farmers to adapt their farming mode to their situations: Their ambitions; reasons for going into farming; and most importantly, the resources - natural and otherwise - available at their disposals, which they intend to employ in their farming.
Let us tell them that starting small is the new black, or orange of farming! Tell them it is an emerging trend and it works like a bomb. Allow those entering the sector to start small and slowly build their way up - even if it is numbers, and not quality they are after at first.
For naysayers of farming for numbers, consider this illustration.
A start-up farmer starts with only five cows. Each cow has a three to four month old calf. Also in the herd is a bull. At this stage, he would have 11 animals in total. After a year, all five cows would have given birth again, adding five more animals to the herd. He now has 16 animals in year one.
In year two, the same will happen and five more calves would be coming from the cows. The figure now stands at 21 animals in just two years of farming. In the third year, five more calves are born to the herd, bringing the number to 26.
But something else also happens in year three - the calves born in year one would now have also birthed their first offspring. Well, we are of course assuming they were female calves. Even if they were male calves, the expectation would be that you sell those off and buy female ones to replace them so the herd can grow.
The total will now be 31 animals. And that is in just three years of farming. That is of course assuming everything else being equal - drought, bull fertility, disease outbreak and theft as mentioned earlier could derail the process. But the point here is that starting small, as clearly illustrated here, works.
Give this equation another two years and we will be having a herd of about 60 animals or so. At this point, the farmer will be able to afford most basic things through offsetting some weaners.
Lets not completely discourage farming for quantity; let us instead encourage quality in our farming. Terrible conundrum? Well, that’s farming.