Thursday, June 25, 2015

Weathering the Winter: Cattle Nutrition in Nicaragua

This post is drawn from Ashley Conway's trip report about her recent Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Nicaragua. 

This was Ashley’s first time in Nicaragua, and her first time participating in the Farmer-to-farmer program. After serving in the Peace Corps in Zambia as an agriculture extension volunteer, she was eager to combine her background in tropical livestock system production with her M.S. in animal science. With her thesis research specifically studying improving the utilization of low-quality forages with alternative energy supplementation, this program provided an invaluable opportunity to apply her education and experience in a valuable and productive manner. The purpose and objective of the visit was to provide nutritional technical assistance to producers to improve their operational resilience and production metrics.

Over the course of the two weeks, the two volunteers conducted approximately 10 site/field visits to producers’ operations or plants. One afternoon workshop and one all-day workshop were conducted with producers and technicians. The final days in Nicaragua included presenting briefly on at the 2nd Annual Regional Farmers Congress and conducting an hour-long radio interview on a national broadcast of a weekly agriculture program.
Participant with his favorite cow

The month of April in Nicaragua is a difficult time for livestock producers. It is the end of their dry season (“winter”), and with no rainfall for approximately 5 months, there is little available feedstuff for cattle to graze. The pasture that is available is generally of very poor quality since the plants are near the end of their growth cycle. Feed tends to be high in fiber (NDF and ADF), low in crude protein, and virtually devoid of energy, all of which limit dry matter intake.  The producers are making great strides in improving their supplementation programs through the use of concentrates and silage during the dry season, and the majority of the recommendations in this report are intended to improve upon these programs.
Checking the quality of sillage

Another critical contextual observation that will help prepare future volunteers is with regards to the type of cattle that are being produced in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is on a very exciting cusp of agricultural revolution, with the specialization of livestock industries beginning to emerge away from traditional small-scale farming. This creates a unique set of challenges and exciting possibilities for farmers and future volunteers. The producers want to move toward specialized breeds of cattle and capitalize on the genetic component of production for specific industries. This means that currently most of the cattle that are being fed are dual-purpose animals, neither specialized for meat or milk, which changes the metabolic partitioning of nutrients and subsequent diet recommendations.

Producers seem to think that improving the genetic specialization of their cattle is the key to increased performance; however it is critical that future volunteers emphasize that nutritional management is the priority and any genetic improvements made will be wasted without appropriate nutritional programs.  Overall, the livestock and agricultural industries in Nicaragua are thriving, and provide several unique and exciting opportunities for improvement as well as innovation.

Conway and participants
By adopting the recommendations made, many of the producers may see an increase in resiliency during the end of the dry season next year. Many of them were looking for a solution to rapidly increase milk production and growth, but the more immediate need (and, in several cases, the most considerable oversight) is to maintain body condition and production during the winter. Hopefully, planning ahead and making some of the recommended changes now will improve their ability to continue production when feed and water are limited next year. Some of the immediate dietary change recommendations were an attempt to mitigate some of the detrimental effects of the long drought and winter. It was obvious when working with producers who have already had previous F2F volunteers that the recommendations made have been taken seriously and to great effect.  Apart from F2F, Masiguito Co-op has begun to see success with promoting the production of silage as a dry season feed for the dairymen. This is an excellent practice and this local intervention will complement the F2F recommendations in that area in a positive way.
Conway speaking on air in Matagalpa

Like many F2F volunteers, Ashley described the positive impact the assignment had on her as well as the high value for the host organizations. “This assignment was an incredibly valuable and enriching experience for me, both personally and professionally. As has been my experience in previous situations, I feel that I gained as much (if not more) from the people we met than they gained from us. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience, one that I hope to participate in again in the future.  Professionally, I believe that my experience in Nicaragua was an excellent addition to my previous international agriculture experience while greatly expanding my exposure to other animal production systems. I hope to continue my professional development in international livestock nutrition, particularly in creating sustainable integrated systems in tropical regions. The F2F program is a valuable component in continuing my personal and professional education in this area, and I am glad I have been able to participate. Without hesitation, I would return to Nicaragua to continue working with F2F and the many wonderful people I met during my brief time there.”

1 comment:

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