Weighing scales to transform NRT Trading livestock business

The new livestock purchase method using weighing scales promises to transform NRT Trading's livestock business, as more accurate prices can be paid to pastoralists. This is the first time NRT Trading have ever used a scale at livestock markets.  

The portable scale will ensure more accurate prices are paid to pastoralists, leading to a fairer market and giving better incentives for healthy rangelands 

The portable scale will ensure more accurate prices are paid to pastoralists, leading to a fairer market and giving better incentives for healthy rangelands 

NRT Trading's Livestock Manager, Patrick Ekodere, describes the cattle markets as organised chaos. As pastoralists trek their cattle from near and far to the market destination, each is looking to get the best price for his cow. In theory, the aim of the livestock business is for NRT Trading to purchase livestock directly from conservancies, cutting out the need for pastoralists to trek cattle for days to the nearest town market. NRT Trading tries to buy selectively to reward good conservancy performance (governance, conservation, rangeland management etc.). Once bought, cattle are quarantined on Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, fattened on Loisaba and other private Laikipia ranches, and slaughtered on Ol Pejeta Conservancy. NRT Trading pays the conservancies a conservation fee premium for every cow purchased, which goes towards supporting operations and livelihoods. Revenue from the livestock business goes toward conservancy operations and livelihoods projects. There is also a livestock tax, paid by NRT to the county government.

Cattle are fattened for 12-15 months on Laikipia ranches.

Cattle are fattened for 12-15 months on Laikipia ranches.

This market aims to incentivise conservancies to practice effective, transparent governance and sustainable natural resource management by linking local livestock owners in high performing conservancies to ready markets. The market also aims at introducing commercial livestock trading by encouraging better production systems and management at conservancy levels.

However, without an accurate way of knowing what a cow weighed, tensions frequently arise at cattle markets over the true value of the animal. There is also confusion as to what NRT Trading are looking for in the livestock they chose to purchase, and challenges associated with poor genetics and inbreeding among community cattle. The latter could mean an animal will never be able to reach market weight. 

There are three advantages to the new weighing scales, which were trialed at Ltungai cattle market in June 2016.

  • The first is that communities will be able to see what market demands are
  • The second, is that communities are able to understand what the beef market requires and therefore work towards supplying the right cattle. 
  • The third advantage is that it allows for communities to invest cattle upgrading and breed improvement for better income from cattle over time. NRT Trading are in the process of employing a vet to focus specifically on breed improvement - so watch this space. 
Left: a bull at market with the potential to reach the top grade weight. Right: a 2 year old bull at Ltungai market, weighing a healthy 252 kgs

Left: a bull at market with the potential to reach the top grade weight. Right: a 2 year old bull at Ltungai market, weighing a healthy 252 kgs

Patrick feels it will transform attitudes at markets. The minimum weight NRT Trading will buy cattle at is 200 kg. Cattle then have 12-15 months to fatten to slaughter weight on Laikipia ranches. Patrick works on a weight gain of 7 kgs per month minimum, and is looking for cattle to reach a finished weight of 320 kgs.