Fattening the calf

As demand for beef continues to rise, beef cattle farming is proving to be a lucrative business. Both commercial and communal farmers contribute to the national beef production. Unfortunately, some farmers suffer poor returns due to lack of proper beef cattle fattening skills.

Cattle should be free to roam unless they need shelter, in which case the structure should be simple.
Cattle should be free to roam unless they need shelter, in which case the structure should be simple.

The right kind of cattle

Farmers should preferably older, weaned calves or feeders. There are various breeds such as the British, Continental and cross breed types. The British breed gets fat faster than the continental. Generally, the continentals are thin but if well fed, produce better quality beef than the British.

The price of the calves or feeders should be low and the farmer must feed them cheaply before selling them for a high price.


In the interest of project viability, shelter has to be simple. It should be in a fenced paddock and cattle should live in the open when shelter is not required.

In the simple structure, farmers must ensure that calves are protected from wind and rain. A three-sided shed with its back to the wind is ideal.


Fattening beef cattle depends on the diet the farmer wants to use. This is affected by their age, breeding and target weight, among other factors. Cattle also need an average 12 gallons of drinking water each per day.

Beef cattle fattening projects must ideally be carried out in areas with sufficient pasture. Project planning should be sound to allow more pasture than cattle. In Zimbabwe, pastures are green during the summer season. However, some eastern border areas enjoy yearlong green pasture.

Farmers in areas that have dry winters should supplement pastures with other forms of feeds. Hay is rich in vitamins and minerals. Legume Hay produces good fat cattle with quality beef. However, hay does not come cheap for farmers who do not produce it for themselves.

There are various types of hay available: soya bean hay, sweet clover, annual lespedeza, red clover, aliske clover and ladino clover, among others.

Corn is a fast cattle-fattening ground feed that farmers can use if available.

Indigenous grain such as maize and sorghum is also good for cattle fattening. The same applies with molasses, cereal grain mixture, urea and freshly cut elephant grass.

Salt block should be part of the cattle feed as it is essential for the good health of cattle.

Raising and fattening cattle on pasture is more challenging than fattening them on feedlots, but the results are worth it.

Farmers feeding cattle with grains should provide them with antibiotics, since grains negatively impact on the digestive systems of cattle.

Duration of feed

It takes 18-24 months to fatten cattle using pasture and 14 months if using feedlot. Although it takes longer to fatten cows on pasture, the product is much better than if they were grain fed.

If within means, a farmer should feed his herd on pasture up to 15 months and then switch to a feedlot system.

Slaughtering and sale

Government regulation requires that cattle should be slaughtered at a registered abattoir. A registered abattoir meets basic hygienic and other health requirements for cattle slaughtering.

A beef cattle farming remains one of the most lucrative ventures in Zimbabwe and is viable around the country. Zimbabwe produces beef for both domestic consumption and export. – Courtesy of Charles Sanders-The Self Reliant Homestead

Post published in: Agriculture
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