JIS News

The Ministry of Agriculture’s Bodles Research Station and its Livestock Research facility continue to fulfill the mandate of technology-led agricultural development.
“Some of the technologies entail breeding and genetics, pasture/fodder research and husbandry and management systems,” Livestock Researcher, Byron Lawrence told JIS News.
The Research Station has generated information, which has enhanced the contribution of the livestock sub-sector to national economic development even as the research assists in improving animal productivity and production.
Key to the agenda is the restructuring of the industry with focus on the performance of herds, which involves genetic performance and environmental performance. This is one of the ongoing initiatives. Additionally, time has been invested in the development of livestock farmers to enable them to become competitive and efficient in their businesses.
“Along with infusing new genes into the nucleus herd, which is the central herd from which genetic improvement emanates, restructuring is also taking place through the farmers and marketers,” Mr. Lawrence said.
While genetic performance is readily understood to involve the infusion of new genes, environmental performance refers to how the animal is fed and how the environment is modified to satisfy the animal, rather than forcing the animal to adapt to its environment.
Bodles is interested in both genetics and environmental effects, with the emphasis placed on genetics. The research station has improved that section by breeding and selection, and also by introducing new genes within the herds through cross breeding to boost the herd stock, as the industry is currently at its lowest ebb.
“A herd population of between 5,000 and 10,000 beef animals will double in two to three years but would require a restriction on the slaughter of beef animals,” he added while, “cattle numbers across the island for beef cattle is between 60,000 and 70,000 animals, about half of what it used to be,” Mr. Lawrence pointed out. Crossbreeding will increase those numbers.
Dairy cattle has also declined by about one-half, reduced to between 15,000 and 17,000 animals. Though with crossbreeding, “it will take about 10 years, which is not good, before Jamaica will get back to producing 38 million litres of milk,” Mr. Lawrence said.
“For the area of genetics, we use crossbreeding which is the introduction of new genes within the population. We have done that before. Collaboration with a private entity allows us to use improved genetics, which we disseminate to the farming community,” Mr. Lawrence explained.
Speaking of beef cattle, he added that the Jamaica Black, which is one of the four tropically adapted breeds, is being improved by, “infusing Angus [cow] genes into the Jamaica Black breed population.” The Jamaica Black is a breed adapted to a tropical environment and has existed in the island for 51 years. This breed is the offspring of animals of mixed Aberdeen, Angus and Brahman lineage. It matures early, has a high ratio of meat to bone and is very tasty. As a result the Jamaica Black is in demand for use in crossbreeding programmes.
Infusion of genes is part of a three-year strategic plan geared towards increasing efficiency of production. The Livestock Research facility is now in the first year of this three-year plan.
The focus is on selection and breeding and estimating the genetic merit of the animal. The genetic merit or genetic potential of the animal is assessed by selecting what is passed on from parent to offspring and then selecting the best animals to be the parents of the next generation.
Genetic selection focuses on traits, for example with dairy cattle, milk production is of economic importance. In assessing genetic potential, those genes that control that particular trait are desired and targeted. After doing this, by the end of the three-year plan, the facility hopes, “to have had enhanced the competitiveness of the industry, its efficiency and to sustain capacity,” Mr. Lawrence declared.
With such quick returns and to sustain capacity, Mr. Lawrence is encouraging people to enter the sector, especially young people.
Giving details about the environmental effects, Mr. Lawrence explained that modifying the environment for the animal is achieved by taking care of the animal, controlling parasites, feeding them adequately and reducing stress.
Having better dip-vat, and cattle-handling facilities for feed yards are measures to reduce the levels of stress for the animals. A dip-vat is a narrow, long swimming pool, two metres deep through which the animals move one at a time. It contains pesticides to kill external parasites, lice and ticks. Dip-vats were previously poorly designed and the cattle often panicked because they were forced into the vat down a slippery, steep incline.
They often refused and sometimes would fall over backwards and drown. Information on the improvements to dip-vats and other measures will help to improve the state of the industry.
As it relates to fodder, which is highly nutritious and will assist in the growth and development of the animals, Bodles’ research has developed fodder that utilizes an agricultural by-product.
Cassava is one such product, whose leaves are high in protein and the tuber dense in carbohydrates. It is a high-energy food for pigs and cattle.
Another cost effective food for goats, which Bodles is experimenting with is mulberry (leaves). It provides the five major groups of nutrients in food needed by goats. They are protein, carbohydrate/energy, water, vitamins and minerals.