Farmers have been warned to brace themselves for a period of rapidly increasing animal feed and production costs, with the prices of some animal feed commodities at all-time record highs.
Producers have been feeling the pinch of these high input costs, since they are not always able to simply pass these down along the value chain to retailers and consumers.
How can farmers reduce these costs while earning more revenue? Are there any alternatives for reducing the costs related to animal feed, you ask? Food For Mzansi asked farmers and agricultural experts across the country to share some of their tips on how farmers can address high feed costs.
1. Don’t just buy, price compare
Livestock auctioneer Athenkosi Denga advises farmers to always compare feed prices and do research before physically visiting the supplier.
“Phone ahead, don’t just drive there. Also, if you find that the supplier is too far away, try and partner with several other farmers to purchase in bulk.” Even collaborating with two or three other farmers can make a difference, he says.
“Remember, winter is coming, so this is a great way to split the costs with other farmers,” Denga says.
2. Record animal feed use and wastage
Livestock farmer and owner of Motsobella Farming Enterprise, Ipeleng Kwadi, says farmers should get in the habit of measuring animal feed intake and wastage daily.
“It’s important to record animal feed intake regularly to quickly recognise wastage. I’m also sure that my employees have proper stockmanship skills and negotiate,” she says.
3. Buy in bulk, save a small fortune
Tshepo Morokong, senior agricultural economist at the Western Cape department of agriculture says farmers should be on the look-out for feed companies who give discounts to farmers who buy in bulk.
“Starting a cooperative as a group of farmers to buy feed and other inputs is one way of buying in bulk. Buying in bulk also reduces the costs of transport, more specially for farmers who are located far from the feed supplying companies,” Morokong says.
4. Start growing your own feed
Morokong also advises farmers to plant crops that supplement the animal feed. He says farmers with additional land can plant lucerne, oats and maize crops to supplement their animal feed.
This will require buying seeds for the crops and a feed mixer.
5. Stockpile, winter is coming
One of South Africa’s youngest farmers, Thabo Dithakgwe, advises farmers to stock winter feeds during the summer months in bulk and stock summer feeds during the winter months in bulk.
“That’s the time when animal feed prices have usually declined. It’s like when you buy a jersey in winter, at that time it will obviously be expensive because it’s desperately needed for that cold season. So, you will rather buy the jersey in summer because it will be cheaper. The same goes with feeds,” he explains.
6. Feed less, graze more
Dieketseng Lesako, a pig farmer and farm manager at a leading agri-business, Growthshoot, says she allows her pigs to graze freely outside and limit their feeding.
“We have managed to cut down on our feed usage by feeding the small pigs more than what we give the bigger ones. After the bigger pigs have grazed outside the whole day, we divide them into camps and give them just enough feed. This has been working very well,” Lesako says.
7. Calculate self-mixing costs
According to co-founder of Mamre Consult, Manie Wessels, farmers who follow a self-mixing option should calculate all costs involved.
“Calculate the entire cost of mixing animal feed yourself. This includes electricity, the cost of the feed mixer, labour and more. Many farmers don’t and think that their costs are lower when self-mixing, but really, it’s not. They don’t calculate the entire cost implication,” says Wessels.
8. Self-mixing? Get the recipe right
Wessels also says farmers should always use updated technology when self-mixing.
“Farmers often get a recipe form someone which is either outdated or old products are used. It’s very dangerous because farmers run the risk of not getting the growth they want on their animals,” he explains.
9. Reduce livestock count
Ratlale “Bush” Masiu, who runs a mixed farming operation on 700 hectares, says farmers with a lot of livestock on hand should consider reducing the number of cattle they own when they see that it is becoming too expensive to feed their animals.
He says, “That way your focus can be on producing quality rather than quantity. I mean, what’s the purpose of have 100 cattle, but their value is equal to that of 10 cows?”
10. Have a market in place first
Senior agricultural economist at the Western Cape department of agriculture, Mzwanele Lingani says one way in which farmers, pig farmers specifically, can get around high animal feed prices is by ensuring they secure a market early.
“Search and secure a market before starting with pig production to ensure that pigs are not kept longer than intended. This will help the farmer avoid spending more on feed and other inputs.
“This will also ensure that production flows and that the animal is fed following the requirements (weight gain, fat content, age etc.) of the target market,” Lingani says.