On every farm there are hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or even annual events that happen and need documentation. These events form the farm story - a narrative whose analysis can give direction to a success harbour.
The simple act of putting these events in writing is called record taking. Records are key decision tools in all aspects of farming. Good records can be used to get a better price for your animal when selling, they can be used to secure loans and make decisions that can increase farm productivity.
Good records should be simple but detailed, systematic, clearly written in a good format, factual and easy to interpret by self or an outsider. Livestock records cover daily production, seasonal reproduction, emergency medical intervention or programmed herd health activities.
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The magnitude of farm activities, even in a small farm, necessitates keeping of records for enhanced memory of what happened. Doing farming as a business, which is the current call to small holders, requires good records.
Commercial farming is about making profit; it will be very difficult for a farmer to calculate farm profitability without records. A mere increase in the amount of money one has from farm produce doesn’t mean profits.
There are several types of farm records, some of them merging into others, subsequently affecting their analysis.
For example, breeding records may be used to tell whether an animal is fertile or not. Infertility can be a result of nutrition or an illness, which might have been captured or will lead to its diagnosis in feeding and health records, respectively.
Individual identification of animals is the first step in farm records, in farms with many animals. In fact, such farms have records for identification. But identification records in small and medium farms may not be needed as the very identities are noted in all other records.
Reproduction or Breeding Records
Reproduction records will assist a farm to keep tract of the herd reproduction. A farmer seriously doing breeding will find great help in such records, so will one interested in understanding the lactation cycles of different livestock species.
Breeding records help in preventing inbreeding which maybe undesirable in many circumstances.
Many farmers assume that breeding records are only kept for female animals. This should not be the case. Where natural mating is used, repeated serving should not be viewed as resulting from a condition in the female animal. Good records will assist in identifying whether the problem is with the male or female animal.
Components of breeding records will include mating or serving dates, identity of the parents and grandparents, calving dates, weight at birth and number of young ones born.
From these records a farmer can calculate fertility indices such as the number of services per conception and size of the litter for multiparous animals (giving birth to more than one young one). Traits such as twining ability will assist the farmer in breed selection and can fetch more money when selling such an animal.
Feeding is perhaps the most important activity on any farm. It is a daily activity that not only consumes a lot of time, but also financial and human resources and is a major determinant of farm productivity. It therefore requires good planning, and records are important in farm planning.
Feeding records will assist a farmer in preparation of rations and future planning. Knowing the daily individual consumption of animals can assist a farmer to decide how many number of animals he can support using the available feeds, or how to make up for the shortfall should there be a deficit.
Good feeding records, when analysed together with performance of production records, will even find application in disease diagnosis and feed quality. In poultry production where many farmers buy commercial feeds, this record will help a farmer in knowing the best feed supplier.
Recording of the various feed types will also in the long run assist a farmer in preparing rations that best meet the animals’ nutritional needs.
Farming as a business requires that a farmer keeps good production records. These records are important in milk and egg production, which are daily production activities. From this, a farmer can calculate the amount of milk per cow or number of eggs per flock of birds.
When these records are put side by side with the feeding records, a farmer is able to tell which feeding regime gives optimal production. Production records can assist a farmer to find out early enough before a disease progresses to levels where management maybe difficult or costly.
Some indices that can be derived from performance records in cattle include daily milk production and milk per lactation. Additional columns can give the amount of milk sold, consumed or spoilt. These indices help in planning how to market the milk and also gauging the productivity of an individual animal.
Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon working with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council -KENTTEC