JIS News

The Ministry of Agriculture’s Livestock Research and Improvement Unit, located at Bodles in St. Catherine, continues to undertake activities aimed at enhancing the quality of livestock and animal products.
Deputy Research Director for Livestock, Jasmine Holness tells JIS News that the activities comprise seven sub-projects focusing on research and evaluation of animal feed; systems for animal husbandry; breeding of dairy and meat animals; meat goat, and pig commercialization, and a cattle rescue programme.
In the area of feed research and evaluation, Ms. Holness says primary focus has been on reducing feed cost. “Feed, in any production system, (amounts to) at least 50 to 60 per cent of the cost of production. So, we are looking at areas in which to reduce feed cost,” she explains.
The Deputy Research Director advises that over the last five to six years, the Unit has pursuing research aimed at increasing the level of nutrients in the forage fed to the country’s ruminants. A ruminant is a hoofed, even-toed, usually horned mammal, such as cattle, sheep, and goats.
“We are trying to increase the level of nutrients that the forage component adds to the diet, that is the grass, any legumes, any shrub crop that will produce additional nutrients to the diet,” she informs.
Ms. Holness says that up to the 2007/08 fiscal year, when they received upwards of $10 million from the national budget to carry out their programmes, research in new forage crops was being undertaken.
“We have been testing three new forage crops – the jarra grass, which is a digiteria (species of grass native to tropical regions, such as the crabgrass). And we have been looking at the mulberry, which is a shrub, and the trichanthera, also (a) shrub. These are the main [crops] that we have been looking at,” she states.
According to Ms. Holness, the feed research exercise entails evaluation of both the plant and how the animals respond to it, “because if it (animal) doesn’t eat it (forage), if it is not palatable, (then) it is of no value,” she explains.
Ms. Holness says laboratory analysis and production work on the mulberry shrub has been completed, with the results showing a protein content in excess of 25 per cent, “which is high for forage material”, adding that production rate and harvesting techniques are being examined.
Regarding the jarra grass, Ms. Holness informs that water management, fertilizer, and cutting regime tests have been conducted, and that the Unit is looking at expanding from the current introductory plots established.
“We are looking at how we can put it into a grazing system. So.. we will be expanding some of our introductory plots, usually less than an acre, into five acre pasture plots, where we will be putting in the animals to see how it (grass) responds to grazing. Because, some grasses do not respond as well to grazing, (and) they do better with a cutting regimen,” she points.
The Deputy Research Director says the expansion of the introductory plots will also assist the Unit in analyzing water management regime of the grass, among other things. Analysis, she adds, is also being done on the trichanthera to determine its suitability as a feed stock option.
“That is why the introduction of some of these new forages takes some time, because we have to ensure that we are able to advise (on their) usage and application,” she states.
Regarding research and evaluation of breeding systems for dairy and meat animals, Ms. Holness says the Unit has been collating data on the traits of dairy and beef cattle, as well as goats, sheep, and pigs. This, she explains, entails, among other things, evaluation of the animals’ reproductivity and yield.
She points out that during 2007/08, the Unit commenced breeding and multiplication of the newly introduced Dorper breed of sheep, noting that the local industry, for which the Unit provides genetic material, has expanded.
“So we have brought in the Dorper, and we are now in the process of breeding and multiplication so that we will be able to disseminate “seed” stock to farmers,” she informs.
In terms of goats, Ms. Holness says, focus was also placed on the Boer, and to a lesser extent, the Nubian breed of goats.
“We have been looking at performance testing of our young bucks (male goats) and young rams (male sheep); this is a growth performance that we take them on. Once they are weaned, they go on (a) ration, and what we are evaluating is their average daily gain, to see how well they would do on feed lots,” she explains.
“And this (is so), because it’s a trait that is easily passed on. it’s easily inheritable. meat production, growth, and so on. So it indicates what their off-springs would do for future herds {and} we are now in the process of completing that performance test as well,” she discloses.
Ms. Holness says the Unit has been working on increasing individual production for dairy cattle, pointing out that their herd has yielded upwards of 400,000 litres of milk, thus far this year.
“This is one of the adjuncts to having breeding herds, which not only helps us in terms of our research work, but they also can form production units,” she notes, adding that they have been able to earn from the sale of animal stock as well as milk.
Regarding beef cattle, Ms. Holness says the unit practices seasonal breeding, adding that weaning for 2007/08 has been completed. She advises that five young bulls were put on performance tests, from which one of two will be selected for future use.
“So it means that all of our calves that were born, basically, all have been weaned. Therefore, we are able to make a selection process, both in terms of our future heifers for breeding and our future bulls as breeding stock,” the Deputy Research Director explains.
In the area of livestock husbandry, Ms. Holness says focus in 2007/08 was placed on developing a system that reduced the attendant cost for rearing animals. Focus in the regard has been placed on the calves of dairy cattle, as well as early weaning of piglets to facilitate timely breeding of sows.
“We have not focused on beef cattle, because it’s just a suckler herd and the calves are weaned at eight months. It’s easier and simpler that way, because the calf is looked after very well and much better than we can by its mother,” she explains.
The sheep and goat development project focuses on the distribution of breeding stock to farmers and serves as a “start up” for these persons, with activities for both sets of animals complementing each other, Ms. Holness explains.
In the case of goats, she says: “we would have ‘packages’ of four does that we try to get pregnant, and they would be sold at minimal cost to farmers.” She stresses that farmers must have less than 20 goats, and be members of the breeders association to qualify for one of these packages, adding that to date for this year, 32 animals, primarily does have been distributed to approximately eight farmers.
Regarding sheep, Ms. Holness says that, currently, focus is on multiplying the herds, pointing out that some 29 animals were brought in earlier this year of which 22 were females, distribution of which has not yet commenced. “We have just been focusing on the goats, (but) during this (2008/09) financial year, we will start for the sheep,” she advises.
On the pig commercialization project, Ms. Holness notes that their breeding stock of sows has increased and currently numbers some 70, adding that they have been using improved genetics which have enhanced the productive parameters. Among the parameters which are looked at are: total number of piglets born; those born alive, pre-weaning mortality, and growth performance. Focus, she points out, has been on the Large White, Landrace, and Duroc breed of pigs.
“Those are the things we evaluate the animals by, and there has been improvement in quite a number of the parameters that we have been looking at. And we have surpassed all (of) our targets,” she informs.
The cattle rescue programme aims to prevent livestock farmers disposing of animals, particularly heifers due for breeding, by purchasing same. The animals are usually sold by the farmers to butchers to offset cost incurred by the rearing of the animals, praedial larceny, and other challenges the farmers experience. “So far, we purchased over 25 animals, and (that is) quite a lot, because, believe it or not, by the time you are able to discover that they were out there at risk, they were already sold to the butcher. So we were able to rescue 25 so far,” Ms. Holness says.
She says thus far the Unit has purchased beef heifers, ranging between 18 to 24 months, at an average cost of $50,000 each. There is, however, the possibility that this will be expanded on.
“The price that we have to pay must, at least, match what the farmer is going to get at the butcher. Because it doesn’t make any sense for him (farmer) that he is at the bottom line (with) bills to pay, and the Government is going to offer him $10,000 (if) the butcher is going to offer him $15,000; he is going to go with the higher bidder,” Ms. Holness argues.
She says that for the current year, the Unit will be continuing its work in the project areas, in the hope of advancing on what has achieved thus far.