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In my work of delivering animal health and production services for 30 years, I have come to discover that livestock farming is interesting, unpredictable, profitable and loss-making too. It is also satisfying and sentimental.

Farmers must decide how they want to define their practice, depending on what they expect to get.

Business vs sentimental farming

It is the farmer who seeks profit, otherwise known as the business farmer, and the sentimental farmer who are most satisfied with their investments.

Those in between the two categories always have problems. One time they will be satisfied and the next time they will be disappointed.

Most of the times, these farmers will not tell what they expect. Unfortunately, a majority of livestock farmers fall in this group. I recall a class we had at university and the professorโ€™s parting shot was: โ€œYour best client will always be the farm business firm kind and the sentimental farmer.โ€ These two spare no effort or investment to attain their goal. If the goal is not being achieved, they will close the business and do something else.

Farming as a businessย 

What the don meant was that the best farmer is the one who treats his farm as a business that must generate profit and one who keeps animals for his peace of mind.

I visited a farmer recently and inquired the price of one of his mature bulls. He told me the animals were not for sale. He said the animals gave him inner peace after they were almost decimated by drought. The sentimental value of animals is good but it does not pay bills. I advise farmers to love their animals for peace of mind and sell them for financial gain.

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This also applies to food and companion animals. My visit to that particular farmer was actually to appraise the suitability of a clientโ€™s site for pig farming.

A client plans to set up a pig farm. His objective is straight and simple, โ€œTo rear pigs and make money.โ€ The farmer said he could only allow sentimental value to cloud his judgement when dealing with companion animals such as dogs.

He belongs to a new crop of educated people who correctly believe that farming is a business.

One needs to understand the business and seek professional aid to facilitate its establishment and running. This new crop of farmers is challenging to animal health and production service providers. They want a deep understanding of farming and ask practical questions.

The farmer wanted to know the range of products a pig farm can offer to maximise profit and spread the risk. He listened as I took him through the possible product portfolio.

Post low profits

A majority of people concentrate on slaughter pigs. The most common slaughter pig is the baconer and is normally sold at the age of five and a half to six and a half months. Other slaughter pigs are boars and sows that are sold and at the end of their productive lives. There are also the suckling pigs that are roasted whole; but that is not common in East Africa.

Pigs that overgrow the baconer weight are also sold for slaughter but they post low profits.

A farmer can make breeding stock one of her products. These include breeding gilts (first time pregnant pigs at about eight months). They are selected from sows and boars with good breeding and meat qualities. In one suitable litter, a farmer will select the fastest growing females with good breeding characteristics and serve them instead of selling them for slaughter. Once confirmed pregnant, they are sold.

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Breeding boar is another product. Boars are selected like gilts. Every farmer should have own sows and boars.

Avoid inbreedingย 

Sharing is discouraged to avoid inbreeding and the spread of diseases.
Starting pig farmers find it difficult to wait for the gilts to give birth and for piglets to grow. This introduces weaner piglets as another product.

Farmers can buy weaner piglets which they grow for about four and a half months and sell them off as baconers. There are farmers who buy weaner piglets and grow them to baconers.

There are also farms that specialise in supplying weaner piglets. Pig semen can be another product. However, this is a specialised product that requires organisation, investment, licensing and regulation. A farm that is strong on production of breeding stock can venture into semen production.

Manure

Finally there is manure. A large pig farm produces huge quantities. Unlike that of ruminants, the manure requires a longer period of composting. This can create a fly menace if not well managed. The stench is also offensive.
The business farmer keeps good records. They show the source of animals, breeding, disease control, production and financial performance.

The sentimental farmer is concerned with the records of the source of the animals, their well-being and where their off springs have been dispersed.
Records of sentimental farmers are verbal and difficult to verify.

Written by Dr Joseph Macharia

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