INTEGRATED APPROACHES TOWARDS INDIGENOUS LIVESTOCK IMPROVEMENT
“A BROADER PERSPECTIVE”
In view of current trend in human population, demand for food (crop and livestock products) is expected to rapidly increase and the ability to fulfill this growing demand lies on the capacity to increase efficiency and productivity in the agricultural sector.
An important aspect in agriculture systems that needs to be bore in mind is ensuring increased productivity while maintaining the natural resource-base and the environment to enable the systems to respond to changing social, economic and environmental challenges.
For the livestock industry in developing countries, efficiency and productivity can be enhanced by the adoption of advances in science and technology in key areas such as breeding, reproduction, feeding and health management. This greatly contributes to improved productivity of livestock especially the indigenous genetic resources which form a larger proportion of livestock breeds in developing countries.
Breeding strategies: The wide genetic diversity of IL allows for the expression of advantageous traits which offer the opportunity for choosing the appropriate breed for a particular production environment. Among the traits possessed by IL, adaptability to harsh environments and disease tolerance/resistance are the most valuable which are not present in the exotic livestock.
Examples of some of these local breeds include the trypanotolerant N’dama cattle of West Africa and the Red Maasai sheep of East Africa, which shows high levels of resistance to gastrointestinal worms. However, IL are underutilized in conventional breeding programmes, due to misconceptions over their value in terms of low productivity and failure to identify breeds and animals carrying advantageous traits.
For utilization of IL to remain economically viable, it is essential to incorporate genetic improvement strategies. This can be achieved through crossbreeding of the local animals with the exotic animals to combine high productivity and reproductive efficiency of exotic livestock with hardiness, disease resistance, and adaptability of IL resulting in breeds of improved performance under the tropic conditions.
However, crossbreeding as a breeding strategy should be carried out at restricted levels to prevent genetic erosion of the indigenous breeds available since they forms an important repository of genetic diversity. It is worth noting that crossbred animals are only useful to farms that can afford provision of improved feeding and management conditions which are not present in smallholder farms and nomadic/transhumant herds.
Pure breeding within the IL is also a viable strategy that can be carried out since it contributes to the conservation of these animals and also applicable to areas with low input, and adverse climatic and nutritional conditions.
Reproductive management & technologies: Efficient reproduction is of utmost importance for sustainable improvement of animal productivity and is a critical factor influencing the economic viability of livestock farms. Low reproductive rate is often identified as one of the primary constraints hindering the effectiveness of IL production systems in developing countries.
IL are known to mature late, have low conception rates and long calving intervals, among others which are majorly attributed to poor reproductive management (such as failure to detect estrus) in combination with poor nutrition and harsh climatic conditions (resulting to cases of silent heat).
Accurate detection of estrus is one of the keys for successful reproduction and can be performed by close observation of the animal for estrus signs, use of teaser males, ultrasound technique or measurement of hormonal levels. Reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer can also be applied to the IL industry to improve their reproductive capacity.
In addition, they enable producers gain access to superior genetics for crossbreeding or pure breeding to improve productivity of their livestock. As such they can be used to satisfy both genetic and financial objectives simultaneously through improved production and reproduction efficiency.
The techniques have received widespread application in the livestock industry (dairy and beef cattle, goat, sheep, swine and recently poultry industry) in African countries, greatly contributing to improved performance of IL. However, owing to a number of technical, financial, infrastructural and managerial problems their applicability (especially embryo transfer) in Africa has not yet matched that of its success in the developed countries.
Artificial insemination increases the efficiency of male usage, particularly those of superior genetics hence enabling the production of a very large number of offspring from a single elite male. Embryo transfer on the other hand seeks to amplify reproductive rates of genetically valuable females, especially in the case of cattle species known to naturally have low reproductive rates and long generation intervals.
The technique involves hormonal manipulation of the reproductive cycle of the female, inducing multiple ovulations, coupled with artificial insemination, embryo collection, and embryo transfer to obtain multiple offspring from genetically superior females, by transferring their embryos into recipients of lesser genetic merit. Success rates of the technologies are highly dependent of on good management practices which may not be present in most IL production systems.
Improved nutrition & feeding strategies: Feeding systems practiced by IL farmers are mainly based on the use of natural pastures during the rainy season and agricultural by-products and low-cost feed during the dry season. Natural pastures, in addition to having low carrying capacity, are often inappropriately used and overgrazed resulting to soil degradation, an acceleration of erosion and desertification process, and hence low livestock production and income insecurity.
It is important that farmers consider efficient use of native pastures, crop residues and fibrous agro-industrial by products. However, these feeds do not contain the balance of nutrients needed to support both animal productivity and maintenance. The supplements needed to balance these feed resources are largely high in protein and arise from a variety of sources such as oil seed cakes and by-products which may not be readily available to the smallholder farmers.
An integration approach of crop, tree and livestock production ensures nutrient recycling which is an essential component of any farming system contributing to sustainable livestock production and environment management. Animals can be herded on harvested fields to use crop residues such as cereal straws, dried stalks of maize and sorghum, and groundnut tops.
Cultivation of fodder trees and legumes form a good source of protein supplement for livestock and they contribute to the enrichment of soils through nitrogen fixation. Feed resources such as straws and hay have low intake and nutritional value which can be enhanced through cutting, chopping, grinding and treatment using urea or molasses to increase intake and digestibility.
Given that livestock must have feed all year round and crop growth is determined by weather and rainfall distribution which is not steady due to effects of climate change, conservation of feed resources by making hay and silage forms a good strategy to reduce seasonal variations in feed availability.
Health management: Proper animal health is essential for successful livestock productivity. Disease prevention is often the favored means of preventing animals from contracting a disease in the first instance and can greatly help improve livestock production.
Indigenous livestock owners practice prevention using a combination of approaches such as indigenous veterinary medicines, learning to cope with disease by spreading risks (through keeping mixed herds), using animals tolerant to local diseases, and avoiding flock/herd mixing with others especially in communal grazing pastures or watering points. All livestock producing societies have a rich culture of traditional wisdom on the treatment of sick animals.
Ethno-veterinary medicine offers a viable low-cost health care for simple animal issues, although it tends to be ineffective against infectious diseases which greatly contribute to major economic loses.
In such situations it will be obvious that veterinary intervention is the best or only option. Most of these diseases are caused by viruses and have no treatment, and can only be controlled by vaccination; some of these diseases include rinderpest (cattle), contagious bovine/caprine pleura-pneumonia (cattle & goats), foot and mouth disease (cattle, goats, sheep & pigs), pox disease (cattle, goats, sheep & poultry), Newcastle disease (poultry) and trypanosomosis (cattle).
Vaccination against these diseases has proved to be the most cost-efficient intervention towards health management; however this is usually an expensive undertaking, often beyond the reach of many pastoralists and smallholder farmers. Therefore in such situations, the implementation of mass vaccination campaigns against economic important diseases should be considered by policy makers in the livestock industry.
A couple of mass vaccination campaigns are underway in Kenya for diseases such as foot and mouth, trypanosomiasis, rinderpest etc. If planned properly, vaccination campaigns have the highest cost-benefit ratio of all veterinary interventions. The kind of vaccination programmes which need to be applied can only be decided on the basis of its economic contribution towards the livestock industry.
Besides vaccination as a preventive technology, simple health management regulations can be put in place to help prevent, control and/or reduce diseases. These include control of movement (border control, import restrictions, control of border districts, issuance of health certificates, control of livestock markets), control of individual herds (restriction of purchases and sale of animals, fencing, disinfection, quarantine, destruction of infected animals or animals at risk, disposal of dead/slaughtered animals), monitoring of diseases and vector control.