Ugandan farmers question cattle measuring tape

The newly introduced tape measure method of measuring cattle weight is facing opposition from most pig value chain actors who claim that the tool is inaccurate and therefore doesn’t enforce transparency.

Pooled together under Pig Production and Marketing (PPM), the farmers and traders have voiced their concerns to the researchers who introduced the method claiming that it never took into consideration several factors. “The effectiveness of the method is wanting and this is mainly because most of the pilot project of the initiative was done in eastern region. The method seems not to have taken into consideration the fact that different pig breeds have different body shape and also depending on the feeding schedule,” noted Chris Mulindwa from PPM.

Mulindwa explained that despite the continued campaign for the method among various circles, they have made their concern s known to ILRI researchers who introduce the tool in Uganda. “The tape measure was being influenced by other growth abnormalities like poor breed management and therefore ending up with wrong values that could not help the end buyer,” added Mulindwa. According to him, most sampled pigs for the pilot project were from Kamuli and may have been different breeds. For instance, if the procedure is done on Landrace then let it be repeated to other breeds like Camborough, Essex among others so that the accuracy of the method is ascertained. The farmers are calling on the researchers to review the method to increase its accuracy.

The method emphasizes measuring of the heart girth of the pig which is the circumference behind the forelegs. The length of the pig, distance from the base of the ear to the base of the tail is also measured. However, according to Mulindwa, the readings from these two points maybe influenced by poor breeding and lack of de-worming.

While using the tape, Mulindwa noted that normally one should get an error margin of about 3 percent. “Most pig farmers in Uganda are backyard small scale farmers and do not emphasize on good husbandry methods like feeding and veterinary schedules. In most cases the pigs are full of worms and this influences their abdominal shape which while measuring using the tape measure one is bound to get wrong estimates.

After slaughter, the remaining carcass should be 75 percent of the total weight but because of the poor breeding and management, for instance a wormy laden pig will have more weight in the abdominal area resulting in weighty offal which are useless to the end buyer or butcher hence the inaccuracies. In fact we end up losing over 7kilograms from the remaining 75 percent of the ‘good’ carcass,” Mulindwa explained.

PPM after realization of these gaps in the tape measure method of weighing has embraced other modalities to sustain the industry. “We recognize that no value chain can be sustained without proper transparency and honesty. For instance if the trader decides to cheat the farmer then the farmer will be demoralized and may opt out of the business. Similarly if a trader is cheated by the far then he may incur losses and ultimately closes down the business because no loss making business is sustainable for long.”

Currently to reduce any doubts, farmers supplying PPM with pigs are encouraged to use the available weighing scales at their abattoir or even carry their own private weighing scales to the abattoir for confirmation.

Weight predictions using body measurements have been studied in other countries across different animals. Backyard farmers in the Philippines already use length and girth measurements to estimate the weights of pigs and have since moved on to use the same model to measure calves.