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You are here: Home Magazines Global edition Small animals in focus

Small animals in focus

For most small scale farmers, for whom it is important to make optimal use of available resources, livestock still has an essential role to play. In this issue of the LEISA Magazine, we take a closer look at how livestock can be integrated into diverse farming systems and in particular at the importance of smaller livestock for poorer households.

Factors that smaller livestock such as sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks, chickens and many others have in common, are that they are relatively undemanding in their feeding requirements and easy to house and manage. They provide the same products and services as larger livestock, such as cattle, but are less risky, are easier to replace as they are not so costly and reproduce faster.

By optimising the management of the animals as well as the integration of the animals into the farming system, the total production of the farm can increase considerably. The raising of small animals also offers opportunities for a regular cash income throughout the year.

Small animals are often cared for by women and children, and the introduction of milk goats to HIV/AIDS affected families in Tanzania has proved to be a viable strategy in improving the nutritional status of these families.

LEISA Magazine • 21.3 • September 2005

Table of contents:

  • 1 - 1
  • 2 - 3
  • 4 - 5
    The keeping of livestock is part of most farming systems. The importance of livestock keeping lies primarily in its ability to convert biomass that is not directly used by humans (grass, leaves, twigs, agricultural waste-products) into animal products and services that are. For most small scale farmers, for whom it is important to make optimal use of resources, livestock has an essential role to play.
  • 6 - 7
    Farming systems can be roughly divided into on the one hand large scale, highly mechanized and energy intensive systems managed as corporate agri-businesses and on the other hand small-scale farms, which employ family labour and use limited external inputs. In the small systems, a closer integration of the different components, recycling and optimized use of local resources can enhance productivity. This approach aims to imitate the functioning of natural ecosystems, which are sustainable, primarily because the inputs are provided by nature. In the small integrated farm the livestock component has a central role to play. In addition to providing meat and other animal produce the animals are important for the recycling of residues and wastes, converting these from sources of pollution into valuable inputs such as organic fertilizer or biogas. The selection of appropriate livestock species is therefore an important consideration in the development of an integrated farming system. This article argues that smaller species of animals are more appropriate than larger ones.
  • 8 - 10
    Decades of civil war have led to the destruction of the traditional, diverse farming systems in Cambodia. They have been replaced by rice cultivation and as a result many people suffer from food shortages and poverty. PADEK, a local NGO, is assisting farmers to increase their food security by diversifying their rice farms through the integration of other crops and livestock. The authors describe the process of change on three farms in different parts of Cambodia. Diversification has enabled farmers to provide for the needs of their families and earn a good living. At the same time, their dependency on external inputs has been reduced.
  • 11 - 11
    Most Vietnamese farmers are smallholders, most usually with between 0.5 ha to 2 ha of land per household. A typical holding consists of a cropping area and a homestead, with the house, trees, vegetables and livestock. The main activity is growing food crops, and livestock production is usually a sideline. This article describes the development and impact of integrating goat production into existing farming systems in upland areas of South-eastern Vietnam. It shows the importance of integrating agricultural systems that build on the complementarities between the crop and animal systems. Such integration can lead to increased total productivity as well as increased ecological and economic sustainability. In this case, income of the farms increased very significantly with the proportion derived from livestock representing some 65 percent of the total income.
  • 12 - 13
    In the dry tropical regions of India human livelihood opportunities are often closely linked to soil fertility conditions. Although farmers in specific localities have similar social backgrounds and possess similar natural resources, there are often surprisingly drastic differences in their economic status. One of the factors determining the economic well being of farmers is soil fertility. The biological component of the soil, living organisms and dead organic matter, is the major factor limiting fertility of dryland soils. Therefore, improving the biological fertility is a priority of land development programmes. When activities designed for such purposes also provide an opportunity to earn a livelihood, the potential benefits are much larger.
  • 14 - 15
    HECOSAN is an ecologically managed farm of 3.8-hectare. It is situated in the Chillón river valley of Peru at an altitude of 750 metres, in an area with a dry temperate climate, high levels of solar radiation, an average annual temperature of 24 °C and with annual rainfall of less than 100 mm per year. At present HECOSAN has 2500 guinea pigs, 200 avocado trees, 100 lucuma trees and 20 producing granadilla plants. The farm also has 100 chickens, 30 ducks, 10 sheep, two heads of cattle and one horse. These closely integrated farm components ensure a sustained economic income over time, help achieving food security and, through the process of nutrient recycling, enhance the stability of the system. The average monthly gross income of HECOSAN is almost US$900.00, a very acceptable figure given its small size. In comparison, local farmers that produce cotton in a conventional way obtain a gross monthly income of US$1024.00, but the costs of the external inputs that they use is high and no lasting value is added to their property.
  • 16 - 17
    In many parts of the Peruvian Andes the keeping of indigenous breeds of sheep is part of the traditional culture. Farm families depend on the sheep for meat, wool, manure and some income. Indigenous sheep have, however, consistently been neglected by researchers, extensionists and government officials, and this has contributed to a very low productivity. During the last few years farmers and NGOs have become aware of the situation and are working to improve these indigenous breeds. The farmer’s association ACOC, supported by the NGO Arariwa has developed a breeding programme based on proper selection and this has led to increasing quality and productivity of the sheep herds, as well as increasing interest amongst farmers to improve other aspects of livestock management.
  • 18 - 19
    HIV/AIDS has afflicted over two million Tanzanians. In rural areas farm families are faced with great problems when, often the most able, adults become ill and the remaining family members, often women and children, have to take care of the sick as well as try to manage the farm. Heifer Tanzania has started focusing their projects on these families and is working to improve their nutrition by introducing activities which are easy to manage, such as dairy goats, biointensive gardens and the raising of chickens. Keeping goats and healthy chickens near the house provides the families with milk, eggs and sometimes meat, as well as producing manure for the garden beds - in which nutritious vegetables are grown all year round.
  • 20 - 21
    In parts of North-Eastern Thailand, farmers have become increasingly dependent on mono-cropping of maize. The maize is a cash crop and increasing amounts of fertilizer and pesticides are required to compensate for the ongoing reduction in soil fertility. This has left the farmers heavily indebted and without possibilities to make investments to improve their farms. To raise some income, farmers have organized themselves in a small network to supply batches of native chickens to the market. The network has managed to coordinate and streamline the production of local chickens within the village, so that a regular supply of chickens is available to the traders.
  • 22 - 23
    Together with interested farmers, scientists of the Agro-Ecology Institute of Zhejiang University and the Agricultural Bureau of Chunan county, Zhejiang province, China, have set up a small number of pilot farms to study an innovative farming system combining chicken rearing with bamboo growing. As part of the chicken-bamboo agroforestry system, forage crops are randomly planted in the bamboo forest. They include clover (Trifolium spp.), alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and a number of cruciferous plant species (belonging to the cabbage and mustard family). The chicken feed on insects, weeds, grasses and forage crops. Chicken excreta are directly deposited in the forest, making the soil more fertile which benefits the plants in the system. The bamboo and the vegetation cover supplied by the clover, alfalfa and cruciferous plants enhance the conservation of the soil and contribute to water conversation.
  • 24 - 24
    Goat keepers in Karnataka, India, are mainly marginal farmers and landless people, and many have only recently taken up goat-keeping. When researchers from BAIF Development Research Foundation (India) and the Natural Resources Institute (UK) visited the area to identify constraints in goat production, the goat keepers identified high kid mortality during the rainy season as their main problem. The researchers suspected that the kid mortality was linked to the worm burden of the does. The goat keepers did not practice de-worming and most were not aware of the presence of gastro-intestinal parasites in their animals. Trials were carried out with two treatments: Fenbendazole, a drug that was considered to be the least likely to cause abortion, and the use of trichomes (hairs growing on pods) from Mucuna pruriens, a leguminous creeper present in the area. The results strongly suggest that the Mucuna pruriens-based treatment is as effective against gastro-intestinal parasites (helminths) in pregnant does as the commercial anthelmintic medicine Fenbendazole. Goat keepers have a preference for this treatment, because it does not need to be purchased and is widely available in the project area. All the goat keepers who participated in the trials are now using the Mucuna treatment.
  • 25 - 25
    There has been relatively little research in India on “village chickens”; on local practices, constraints and affordable technological improvements suited to small-scale chicken keeping. A research project has been investigating the production problems facing poultry-keepers in Udaipur district, Rajasthan and in Trichy district of Tamil Nadu, two semi-arid locations in rural India. In both districts egg spoilage was the single most important loss factor. Eggs that are sterile can be consumed or sold, but villagers were unable to distinguish them from fertilized eggs, so they would incubate all the eggs, thereby losing the opportunity to sell or eat the infertile eggs that were not going to hatch. Candling, the shining of a bright light through the shell, makes it possible to see whether the egg is fertilised and to remove them for direct consumption or sale.
  • 26 - 27
    The Natural Resources Development Project (NARDEP) in India has been working on azolla for the last three to four years, studying its potential as a feed for farm animals and exploring cost effective methods for the mass multiplication of azolla in farmers’ homesteads. Azolla is a floating fern and belongs to the family of Azollaceae. Azolla hosts a symbiotic blue green algae, Anabaena azollae, which is responsible for the fixation and assimilation of atmospheric nitrogen. Azolla, in turn, provides the carbon source and favourable environment for the growth and development of the algae. It is this unique symbiotic relationship that makes azolla a wonderful plant with high protein content. Azolla is easy to cultivate and can be used as an ideal feed for cattle, fish, pigs and poultry, and also is of value as a bio-fertilizer for wetland paddy. It is popular and cultivated widely in other countries like China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, but has yet to be taken up in India, in a big way. Dairy farmers in South Kerala and Kanyakumari have started to take up the low cost production technology and we hope that the azolla technology will be taken up more widely by dairy farmers, in particular those who have too little land for fodder production.
  • 28 - 28
    Nelson Aguilar, a citizen of Cuban’s capital Havana, is one of many people who have managed to set up a small-scale animal production unit in an urban setting, making use of locally available resources. Nelson developed his production system on the roof of his house, with an area of 136 m2. The system consists of an animal and a plant component. Rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens constitute the animal subsystem. More than one hundred rabbits, including two bucks, 23 does and their offspring are kept in cages that cover a total surface area of 68 m2. Underneath the rabbit cages there is another confined area, with 40 guinea pigs, and in a nearby 2 m2 area Nelson keeps 15 chickens of a local breed. The vegetative subsystem occupies the other part of the roof. ...
  • 29 - 29
    Batu Kumbung, a little village on Lombok Island, is situated in one of the most important fish producing areas of Indonesia’s West Nusa Tenggara Province. Many farmers practice traditional rice-freshwater fish farming. In 1980 Erman Abdul Wahab, the oldest son in the Wahab family, inherited 1.2 hectares of farm land that had been managed under the traditional rice-freshwater fish system by his father. Soon after starting his farming activities, he found out that the traditional rice-fish system had several disadvantages - the fish were not able to reach full maturity in the limited time span of a single rice crop and the income from the fish sale was totally dependent on the rice crop cycle.
  • 30 - 31
    Agricultural research and university teaching programmes in the tropics have usually concentrated on the large-scale, conventional livestock production systems developed in industrialized countries. These systems have proved to be “successful” with respect to increasing the total production, but require sophisticated and expensive technologies and often lead to environmental problems. Training and research based on this type of production system have resulted in a lack of appreciation of the role of livestock in agricultural systems for smallholders and a lack of interest in the small scale farmers who make up a major part of the population and account for a large part of agricultural production in the South.
  • 31 - 31
    Emuria Ekai and his family had no option. Life in Kolua village had become unbearable after they had to sell their last goat and they were forced to migrate to the town to search for a job. In 2000 they arrived in Archer’s Post town in Samburu District, Kenya. Emuria soon discovered that goats could be purchased cheaply in the animal market. The drought of 2001 caused many goats to become thin and weak, lowering their market value. Emuria and his wife scraped together sufficient money to buy two weak goats. He was convinced that the goats could recover their health if they were given proper care. Emuria tied the two goats to a pole in a shaded area near his work. Every day he would use his work breaks and free hours ...
  • 32 - 33
  • 34 - 34
  • 35 - 35
  • 36 - 36
    Paddy cultivation and duck farming have always been closely interlinked in the Trivandrum district of Kerala, the southernmost state of India. The ducks are released on paddy fields after harvest, feed on leftover rice grains and in the process enhance soil fertility through their droppings.
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