Three main management systems used for raising cattle in West Africa can be identified: the intensive, the semi-intensive and the extensive systems.

The INTENSIVE SYSTEM is little used in West Africa, since it is not considered appropriate for most of the local breeds of cattle which are the basis of the cattle raising industry. Their response to high levels of management, particularly disease control and feeding does not, at present, appear to justify the large expenditure involved in establishing the buildings and equipment which are necessary, except on large-scale commercial dairy farms. In addition, the saving in labour costs which results from the full use of this system is not yet a sufficient justification for the high investment in labour-saving devices which this system involves.

The animals are housed in pens and are fed with hay and other materials which are grown specifically for them. The amount of exercise they obtain is fairly limited but they are occasionally allowed to graze. With the increasing use of cross-bred cattle, the selection and up-grading of local breeds and the rising demand for dairy products, however, it appears likely that intensive cattle rearing systems will become more widely used in the future.

SEMI-INTENSIVE or RANCHING SYSTEMS, in various forms, are used increasingly on large-scale commercial farms, also by government organisations, including research and experimental stations. The housing provided is less elaborate than that required for the intensive system since the animals spend much more time outside their pens which are mainly intended to provide protection from bad weather. The main requirement is that there should be about 4-5 hectares of land per head for grazing, since the land on which these enterprises are established is generally not fertile enough for arable cropping. Semi-intensive cattle rearing systems are mainly confined, at present, to the tsetse-fly free areas in the savanna regions.

Control of disease, the prevention of deficiencies such as potassium, zinc and copper are essential and mineral and salt licks are required, in addition to an adequate and clean drinking water supply.

The EXTENSIVE SYSTEM is the traditional method of cattle rearing used by the majority of the cattle owners in West Africa who are still nomadic herdsmen, although this way of life is becoming more difficult to justify as the demands for arable crop production and other uses for the land increase. The herdsmen and their animals move in response to the rainfall distribution which  determines the availability of grazing, the avoidance of the main periods of tsetse fly breeding is also a factor which often governs their movements.

The cattle raised by this system are not given the advantage of the more modern techniques which are associated with cattle management such as are used in the semi-extensive systems. Their production of both milk and beef are low but this is due more to the low level of management than to genetic reasons.

 The main areas in which management can contribute to raising production are as follows:

1. adequate housing;

2. provision of shade for grazing animals;

3. improved nutrition, including the use of mineral licks;

4. higher standards of calf rearing;

5. a regular and good quality water supply and

6. effective disease and pest control (particularly flies and ticks).


Large herds cannot be effectively housed but they should be kept in enclosures at night, to protect them from wild animals. Smaller herds can be kept in pens or sheds which provide protection at night and afford shelter during the day from the hot sun and flies.

Local building materials are used for the walls unless concrete blocks or bricks are available. The roof is generally constructed from thatch grass, although aluminium and corrugated iron sheeting are used where more permanent buildings can be erected. The walls of the building may be up to 2-2.5 m in height, the entrance is normally closed with horizontal sliding poles. In the more humid areas, tubular metal supports may be used as an alternative to walls.

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The following are the approximate floor areas per animal required for cattle kept in large pens:

Short horns:    1.8-1.25 m2

N'dama:     2.25-3.2 m2

Zebu:    2.7-3.6 m2

Long-horned cattle may require up to 7 m2 per animal. Young calves which are kept together in pens should be allowed 0.5-1 m2 but adult dairy cattle require 4.5-5 m2 per animal. Calving pens for individual animals should have a floor area of 1.8-2.25 m2. These pens should  have floors which are easy to clean and gauze may be used to cover the windows to exclude flies. Drinking water, mineral licks and a feeding trough should also be provided.


Cattle require adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrate, minerals and vitamins if they are to remain in good health, Calcium and phosphorus are very essential for bone formation and development and also for milk production. Common salt is particularly important for cattle raised in tropical conditions. The important periods in cattle raising are from weaning to the first service and from pregnancy to calving.


Newly-born calves. should be fed on the colostrum which is the milk produced by the cow for the first 4-5 days after calving; this is a very thick and rich milk which contains the antibodies produced as a result of the diseases to which the cow has been subjected during its lifetime. These antibodies are produced in the metabolic system of most animals as a defence against future infection by a specific disease and the transfer of this protective mechanism to the young calf is a very important health factor. Colostrum is also very rich in protein and assists in promoting the working of the digestive system of the calf.

If the mother dies as a result of calving, a substitute feed can be made as follows: mix an egg in a litre of water, add half a teaspoon of castor oil, one teaspoon of cod liver oil and 4.5 litres of milk. The calf should be fed on this mixture three times each day.

Calves are normally allowed to suckle from their mother for about six months, until they are weaned. They will require about 5-10 litres of milk per day during this period. This natural system is suitable only for beef producers, dairy farmers adopt the artificial method of rearing since it is required to reduce the calf's dependence on its mother's milk. One of two main versions of the artificial method of rearing can be adopted. One is to use a nurse cow or foster dam to suckle up to four calves at one time. This period may last from 12-16 weeks and the calves are encouraged to begin to learn to graze at about 3 weeks of age. They may be introduced to concentrates and hay after 4-6 weeks. The main disadvantage of this system is that it is not possible to record the amount of milk produced by the foster dam or the quantity obtained by each calf. There are several variations of this general weaning system and a cow which has a normal period of lactation or milk yield can probably suckle a second or even a third group of calves.

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   The alternative is to allow the calf to suckle for the first four days, to ensure that it receives the full benefit of the colostrum from its mother, and then to feed it on milk for several weeks. The initial ratio should be about 1 litre of milk 3 times per day which increases to about 6 litres near the end of the weaning period. After this, it may continue to be fed on milk or on milk substitutes for up to 12 weeks. After this period, calves can be regarded as being weaned and can be fed on concentrates, hay and finally on fresh grass.


CALF RATIONS AFTER WEANING Young calves, up to two years of age can be fed on silage, hay or sweet potato leaves during the dry season, with the addition of 0.75-1.5 kg per day of concentrates. These can be made from mixtures of cotton seed, guinea corn, maize, groundnut cake or other available cereal or legume source. During the wet season, young calves can graze on fodder crops and rarely require additional rations.

MATURE HEIFERS require hay, guinea corn leaves, silage, roots and up to 7-10 kg per day of mixed fodder and grazing during the dry season. Concentrates should be fed as from about 12 weeks before calving since during this period it is essential that the animals receive a high level of nutrition.

MILK COWS can obtain an adequate diet from grazing grass or legumes during the wet season with additional concentrates related to the level of milk yield.

During the dry season, they may be given sweet potato leaves, cowpea, groundnut or soya bean haulm, hạy, corn stalks, guinea corn leaves or stylo (Stylosanthes gracilis) at about 5-6 kg per day. Up to 3 kg of concentrates for each gallon of milk produced per day should also be provided.

WORK ANIMALS require more liberal feeding, adjusted to the hours of work per day. In the non-working season, a bull weighing up to 540 kg can be allowed to graze and be given 1.4 kg per day of concentrates which should be increased to 2.3-2.8 kg per day during working periods, plus 0.5 kg for each additional hour of work.

Many of the rations fed to cattle are analysed into Dry matter (DM), Digestible crude protein (DCP) and Starch equivalent (SE) and the following table gives the approximate daily food requirements for calves in kilograms.

The term 'digestible crude protein' is the digestible true protein, together with the other nitrogenous compounds which are contained in a feeding stuff or concentrate and is expressed in kilograms. The ratio of protein to the starch contained in feeding stuffs is important in selecting the right constitution and amount of food. The 'starch' equivalent can be defined as the number of kilograms of pure digestible starch which is equal in value for fattening purposes to 45 kilograms of the feeding stuff.

These figures vary with the ecological environment in which the crops are grown, and are liable to fluctuate particularly in relation to soil type and rainfall.


Most of the minerals which are essential for the maintenance of health are available to cattle in the herbage they consume while grazing but even mild deficiencies of any one element can cause a loss of production. Phosphate deficiency is one of the most common problems in West Africa, due to the low phosphate content of many soils. A lack of phosphate can cause a loss of weight, a poor appearance, a stiffening of the jaws and weak bones. This may also lead to irregular breeding. The condition can be corrected by feeding with bone meal or by adding disodium phosphate to the drinking water; adding a phosphatic fertiliser to the pasture can also correct a deficiency in the animals. All animals require salt and this can be mixed with supplementary feeds. About 0.5 kg of rock salt is adequate for 10 animals for one week.

   Young calves, in particular, require a good supply of minerals, particularly calcium, phosphate and some trace of elements; these can be either provided in the form of salt lick bricks suspended on the wall of the pen or added to supplementary feeds.


During the dry season it is important to provide enough fresh, clean drinking water for cattle. Most cattle require between 5 and 20 litres per head per day.

Water is taken mainly during the day and it is estimated that an animal requires about 5-10% of its live-weight in water per day. If water is not available in the amounts normally required, this may affect the quantity of food an animal will eat. During the wet season, a large proportion of the daily water requirement is obtained from grazing.


This is an important factor of management and many exotic or cross-bred animals require shelter from the hot sun, particularly during the middle of the day.

This shade may be provided by buildings, thatched shelters or the planting of shade trees. Where trees are established, care should be taken to avoid using any which have either poisonous leaves, fruits or seeds.

Suitable trees are those which are fairly drought resistant such as the Shea nut (Butyrospermum parkii), the  Rain tree (Samania saman), the Tamarind(Tamarindus indicus) and several Acacia species.


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