Vet on call: To produce tender beef, we must adopt feedlots
We are used to the hard, difficult to slice and chew beef. But have you ever wondered why most of our beef is so hard that we have to tenderise it by excessive cooking?
By the time the animals are presented for slaughter, they have clocked very high mileage, they are about five to six years old and their meat is well-conditioned to their harsh environment and the corresponding trekking they have done all their lives.
I recall in 2015 when I was working in Turkana at a place called Katilu. I asked a man who had 250 head of cattle why he could not sell half and use the money to take his children to school and develop himself and his family.
The man took a long look at me, shook his head and told me. “You are a doctor, but you do not understand the community respect that emanates from my large head of cattle. Nobody will see the money hidden in the bank.”
The man may not have been representing the whole community but then, the large number of animals we see dying during every dry season is a good indicator that the pastoralists have not yet agreed to monetise their cattle by regularly and systematically rearing them for the market.
Such cattle are in high demand. They fetch good prices and business profit of about 20 per cent for the farmer. The problem is that they are not readily available on the Kenyan market.
Gakuo is very passionate about beef cattle and their potential to transform the livelihoods of their owners. “I can assure you that feedlot farming for beef cattle can greatly increase the livestock earnings to pastoralists, reduce grazing pressure on the rangelands, reduce the effects of climate change and reduce cattle rustling,” he said.
His concept is that cattle feedlots should not necessarily be situated in the rangelands. They should be situated in areas close to the beef market, where there is high security and where infrastructure and water are readily available.
The pastoralists and other cattle owners should produce the animals, rear them to about 18 months and then sell them off to feedlots for finishing. That way, the cattle producers will rear and sell more animals at much better prices.
Gakuo’s feedlot is on two acres and handles about 450 cattle every three months. He plans to expand it to handle about 1,200 cattle at once. He buys animals mainly from Northern Kenya and fattens them for 90 days on average.