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The basics of livestock breeding

2021-07-20  Staff Reporter

The basics of livestock breeding
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Erastus Ngaruka


Namibia is predominantly a meat (cattle, sheep, goat) producing country, and many farmers are working hard to improve the genetics and performance of their livestock.

 This is a challenging undertaking especially for emerging farmers who may lack the necessary skills and financial resources to acquire breeding materials and manage successful breeding programs. Moreover, some of the challenges include the affordability of improved breeding stock (e.g. bulls, rams, bucks), unfavourable environmental conditions that compromise adaptability and performance, uncontrolled breeding activities, and lack of breeding information due to the absence of records.

 The main source of breeding materials are mainly farmers who specialise in stud breeding operations with a series of strict selection criteria for superior genetics in both large and small stock. 

These breeding activities involve the use of animals of the same breed or use a combination of two or more different breeds to produce an offspring with desired traits or characteristics. These breeding systems in livestock production are known as straight-breeding (pure breeding) and crossbreeding systems.

 Straight-breeding is a practice of mating two parent animals of the same breed (e.g. Nguni x Nguni), whereas crossbreeding involves mating parents from two different breeds (e.g. Nguni x Brahman). Straight-breeding ensures continuity and uniformity of the characteristics of the breed. In addition, replacement breeding stock can be maintained within one herd or a flock. 

On the other hand, crossbreeding strives for breed-complementary by combining the desired traits or qualities from different breeds to achieve heterosis or hybrid vigour (enhanced performance in offspring).

 Furthermore, crossbreeding can produce pure breeds, known as composite or synthetic breeds. For example, a sheep breed such as the Meatmaster (Damara x Dorper), and cattle breeds such as the Bonsmara (Afrikaner x Hereford x Shorthorn) and Simbra (Brahman x Simmental), among others, are composite breeds developed from crossbreeding systems. 

These breeding systems have sub-systems that some farmers adopt based on their breeding objectives, for example, inbreeding and line-breeding among others.

 These breeding practices can purposefully be used to mate closely or distantly related animals to retain specific traits within the herd or flock. However, mating closely related animals continuously poses a higher risk of or the probability of unveiling the least desirable traits in the offspring.

For example, inbreeding in some cases is believed to result in stunted growths or abnormalities in progenies (offspring).

 In conclusion, livestock breeding systems have their advantages and disadvantages. However, the choice of any of the systems should be guided by the owner’s livestock improvement objectives, management abilities, and market or consumer demands. 

It is, therefore, advisable for farmers to identify traits that are of economic importance, identify genetic weaknesses in their herds or flocks that needs improvement, and thus, introduce breeding animals that can potentially correct their herd’s or flock’s genetics.

 Set your objectives, develop a breeding programme and a selection process to maximise production.

- Erastus Ngaruka is a technical advisor at Agribank’s advisory services

2021-07-20  Staff Reporter

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