A working animal husbandry model: the case of CUT

By Regis Mhako

THE introduction of the 5.0 Education Model for tertiary institutions under the second republic has seen innovation hubs being established at universities and colleges with most institutions grabbing the opportunity to steer the ship to the shore.

The model has seen Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT) establishing an industrial park underpinned by animal breeding.

It also includes production of patented feed for domestic and wild animals in the form block licks to supplement vitamins, proteins and phosphorous.

The institution is also cognisant of the commercial aspect which saw CUT’s business development unit establishing a medicinal feed production plant and cattle fattening facility capable of accommodating 600 animals. 

The integrated model includes a biogas digester which is driven by the huge volumes of cow-dung with the ultimate objective being to self-sustain the energy needs of the industrial park and supply excess gas to the public.

With a herd of 600 cattle including 119 dairy cows, the university has embarked on a national cattle health and artificial insemination programme for which the necessary technology is in place.

“We have a cattle herd of 600 and 119 are dairy cows and the remainder is a beef cattle herd. Our breeding project makes use of eleven bull breeds that include the Bonsmara, Hard Mashona, Tuli Brahman and others. It is a project that requires attention to the animals and the farmer should always monitor his or her herd and check for diseases. With proper animal husbandry practices, the mortality can be very low,” said Mr Lawrence Gweme, cattle breeding project manager CUT.

This unit is set to undertake a pen fattening programme, with an expectation of having 600 cattle for fattening at one go.

“We are in the process of constructing some cattle fattening pens, and we have two units and each will accommodate 300 cattle. We look forward to completing construction of the pens by September. Our expectation is that each beast under the fattening programme should gain at least one and half kilogrammes per day over a 60-90 day period and take them to the market. Otherwise if a beast can’t gain at least one kilogrammes, the project will be unviable. During the fattening process, farmers should always check out for foot rot caused by some bacteria which affects the hooves due to wet conditions in some of the pens,” said Mr Gweme.

What is even more remarkable is that the industrial park is an amalgamation of all facets with everything starting and ending at the centre.

To supplement the dietary needs of livestock during seasons when some nutrients are scarce is a licking block press factory which produces 150 by 25kg vitamin licking blocks daily.

“We mix a variety of ingredients which we use to make the block licks which provide nutrients that are not found in the pastures during certain seasons. We have winter and summer vitamin blocks for domestic livestock and for wild life. On a daily basis we are capable of producing 150 blocks. These are supplements that keep one’s herd healthy and shiny. As for goats, the supplements have the effect on fertility,” said Mr Itai Zengeni, Block Licks press factory manager CUT.

With each 25kg vitamin licking block capable of feeding up to ten cattle for a month and 40 goats or sheep over the same period, the unit is also supplying major stock breeders in the country.

To compliment the efforts of the medicinal feed mill and the licking block press factory, another protein feed in the form of a select species of worms, the black soldier fly, is produced under a green house.

The end product, dried black solider flies, are supplied to manufacturers of stock feed and are touted as a high protein source.

There is also a specialist for the Black Soldier Fly (BSF) breeding unit.

“Our responsibility at this unit, the BSF, is to breed worms which we then dry and supply manufacturers of feed. The worms are mixed with feed raw materials and are ground together during the feed making process. The worms are very rich in proteins and little quantities are enough to provide sufficient nutrients. For breeding purpose, we provide an environment for the production of larva, which then grow into pupa and the process takes place in a greenhouse under controlled temperatures and humidity. Our main breeding conditions are kitchen left overs which we collect from the University canteen,” said Mrs Martha Magwaro, assistant at the Black Soldier Fly breeding unit.

The aspect of artificial insemination, which feeds into the animal breeding programme at institutional level, has also been adopted at national level, as part of well-crafted measures to boost the national herd.

The programme relies on semen derived from eleven different bull breeds at the institution’s industrial hub.

“The ejaculate is brought to the lab for analysis for quality parameters. A bull can produce 5 to 15 millilitres of an ejaculate containing between 500 000 and two billion sperm cells. Sperm cells with a lower concentration are discarded. One can get up to 400 straws of semen from a single ejaculate. We use different pieces for quality parameters like the photometre to check sperm concentration for sperm viability and for their shapes and structures. Sperms below quality parameters are not frozen. We make sure we meet standards as per national and international regulations.

“After analysing the semen, we then put it in straws which are kept under very low temperatures in liquid nitrogen tanks, a process called cryo – preservation. We add additives into the ejaculate so that the sperm cells remain intact and undamaged by the cold temperatures. Each liquid nitrogen tank can take 20 000 straws of different breeds. The straws are kept in different canisters to differentiate the breeds,” said Raviro Machabangu, Gemplasm laboratory technician.

Another form of artificial insemination, the IVF embyro culture is also on cards. 

The process involves fertilising an egg outside the uterus using semen kept in straws.

“It is a new technology in which we fertilise the egg outside the animal womb. The fertilised egg is kept in an incubator for some time before it can be implanted into the uterus of an animal. We are still working on the technology but it is part of artificial insemination,” said Tafadzwa Nyagomo, IVF/ embryo culture lab assistant and technician.

So far, the artificial insemination programme has been used on 20 000 cows and heifers across the country.

With innovation, the country is poised for growth in the agriculture sector particularly in the area of animal livestock production.