Leonard Ncube Victoria Falls Reporter
MORE than 500,000 cattle in Matabeleland North Province are likely to succumb to drought this year if no mitigatory measures are put in place as a matter of urgency after the livestock production department declared grazing pastures a write-off.
To add to the woes, farmers in Hwange District alone lost close to 1,000 cattle to predators such as lions and hyenas last year.
The province has 560,000 cattle excluding those in commercial farms, according to December 2015 statistics.
Scores of the beasts are now feared dead due to depleted pastures. The national herd is estimated to be at five million cattle.
The veterinary services department is compiling statistics amid reports Binga and Tsholotsho districts are the hardest hit as many cattle are dying on a daily basis.
Acting provincial head in the livestock production department, Admore Chikowa, said the situation was critical.
“Rainfall figures recorded so far aren’t encouraging. Nkayi recorded the highest at 200mm on January 15. This means there’s nothing in terms of grazing pastures in all districts. Binga and Tsholotsho districts are the worst hit by drought and cattle are dying,” he said.
Chikowa referred questions about the actual statistics to the veterinary services department.
The Vet department said it was still compiling figures.
Chikowa said water and grazing pastures were now depleted.
“If an animal has adequate water it can pull through even if there’s little grass but the situation is critical because pastures and water sources are depleted. In Binga we heard they’re now taking cattle into Chizarira National Park but there’s a problem with Parks and Wildlife and predators,” he said.
Villagers in Hwange and Lupane districts have started taking their cattle into areas adjacent to the national park and forest areas for grazing where they contend with rangers and wild animals.
Chikowa encouraged farmers to approach and work together with stock feed companies and abattoirs to save their livestock.
“The situation is critical and we’re trying to see if there’s any assistance that can be sought for livestock. We’re calling on all stakeholders to come together and start programmes that can save livestock.
“Animals are calving this season and they’re bound to be losses because of drought. Farmers can save by selling some of their cattle to buy stockfeed. They should sell well-nourished animals which is why we say they should work together with feed companies and abattoirs to develop feedlots.”
Chikowa said there was also a need for a change of mindset among farmers.
This comes after nearly 7,000 cattle were reported dead in parts of Matabeleland South (453), Masvingo (5,000) and the Midlands (1,300) provinces due to inadequate pastures and acute water shortages last month.
Last week the government announced that it had set up task teams for the establishment of feed lots for supplementary feeding of cattle around the country. The targeted provinces are Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and Matabeleland South.
A veterinary officer told a drought relief meeting in Hwange last week that 700 cattle were killed by predators such as lions and hyenas last year.
“While there is drought, people in Matabeleland North especially Hwange district, are more scared of wild animals as they attack people and kill livestock almost on a daily basis. Cattle have adapted to eating tree leaves because of shortage of hay but the more they go into the bush the more they are prone to lions,” said the officer.
Traditional leaders are concerned with the continued loss of livestock to wild animals.
Acting Chief Mvuthu, Bishop Sibanda, said cases of livestock being devoured by wild animals were common.
“We always get reports of cattle being killed by predators. We’ve received several reports. I wouldn’t be able to give statistics because some villagers report their cases directly to veterinary services,” he said.