JIS News

The Animal Breeding and Husbandry Division, established in 1973 in the Ministry of Agriculture, has taken a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation, development and utilisation of farm animal genetic resources, for the attainment of food security in animal protein.
The Division seeks to facilitate research and development, while applying new technologies to animal production in an effort to contribute to the country’s food security, while enhancing the quality of livestock and animal products.
“Our main mission is to enhance the contribution of the livestock sector to the economic growth and development of Jamaica’s agriculture, and we do this by facilitating the exploitation of cost effective animal production systems through the development and application of new technologies,” explains Deputy Research Director of Livestock, in the Ministry, Jasmine Holness.
She tells JIS News, that the primary activities that have been undertaken are: dairy cattle, breeding and genetics, production research, animal nutrition, forage and pasture research, sheep and goat improvement, and swine production research, among others.
According to Ms. Holness, there have been many achievements, which have ultimately led to the continued development of the sector.
“One of the major achievements that have resulted from a lot of the major research that we have been doing is the development of our four native breeds of cattle: the Jamaica Hope, the Jamaica Brahman, the Jamaica Black and the Jamaica Red Pole,” she says.
She adds that these [achievements] have been acquired in the areas of introduction, testing and dissemination of improved variety of pastoral; and testing and demonstration of pasture management techniques.
“In terms of dairy cattle production and rearing,” she continues, “we have been doing studies in calf rearing [from as] early [as] in the 1970’s and up to the late 1990’s; [as a result] we have demonstrated the various techniques in terms of calf rearing studies.”
Ms. Holness advises that the management system for grasses as it relates to pasture production systems has also been further explored. She adds that there have been spin-offs in terms of the productivity of those grasses that are now on farms.
“In former years we only had common grasses but we now have introduced improved varieties that are much more highly productive. With the greater dependence that we have on our forest species especially for our ruminants, introducing and evaluating improved forages for higher productivity is one of our main goals that we have been working on at least in the last five/six years,” she discloses, adding that “this has been one of our main planks of production.”
Additionally, she informs that husbandry practices have also been further developed and have been extended to farmers of beef cattle.
These achievements, she informs, have significantly impacted activities within the Division. “For instance, the production level of the animals that we now have, are much higher, (and) the rates of productivity are much higher, and so our animal unit is able to contribute more to animal protein production whether in terms of milk production [or] in terms of meat,” she informs.
The Deputy Research Director informs that the ultimate goal of the Division, is to increase and demonstrate the improved genetic capacity for milk and meat production, adding that, “our aim is to evaluate, select, multiply and disseminate animals of improved productivity, [this will allow] the animal to become a more efficient unit.”
“We also are going to be looking at ensuring that for the ruminants, forages of all nature whether it is from legume or grasses provide the main source of the diet for the animal, so the little ‘topping-up’, for [the] little extra productivity will be used for concentrate,” she adds.
She notes that based on the fact that the Division deals with biological factors both in terms of animals and plant species, a specific timeline as to when these goals will be realised is uncertain.
“But what I know is in terms of the units, the important thing is that the measures that we have to take is the constant evaluation of these animals. So it means that you provide the optimal environments for the animal to be able to produce and by that method, you are able to select the parents of the next generation,” she says.
Ms. Holness points out that this will ensure that the animals for future generations should be more productive than their parents. “The important thing also is having produced these animals, we now disseminate those animals to the wider farming public, and continue to look out and evaluate new feeding sources.so we are on both planks, we look at both the animal unit and the environment,” she tells JIS News.
The environment, she explains, has to do with the feed, the conditions under which the animals are reared, and animal health. She points out that the Veterinary Services Division plays a vital role in ensuring the health of the animals. “It is a two prong approach, we look both at the animal units and we look at the environment in which the animal has to survive,” she states.
Ms. Holness notes that the indicators that are examined in order to measure the rates and levels of successes are: production, productivity, reproductive performance, longevity in the herd, and cost benefit ratios. She adds that “we also have to make sure that we utilise most of our local materials – animal or feed, as much as possible.”
“A cow has a nine-month gestation of reproductive performance; it implies that in one year she would only have a calf, the exceptional cow would give you two calves in two separate pregnancies in the same year,” she says, adding that “it means that if we are improving the reproductive efficiencies, we have to ensure that the cow is in good health so that she will be cycled, pregnant and calved in a good environment,” she informs.
Ms. Holness states that within 24 months, sheep or goats can have three sets of lambs or kids. “What we want to focus on is improving reproductive efficiencies so that you don’t have long periods in which animal not pregnant, have not calved, have not kidded and just be non reproductive, we cannot afford that,” she asserts.
Another indicator, she adds, is ensuring that the animal spends longer periods in the herd. This will ensure that the animals remain productive so that they can produce as long as possible and in good health.
“The average time that a cow would spend in a herd in Jamaica is sometimes eight to 10 years. When you look at the time of an animal in the herd, it does affect the genetic improvements.but also you have to ensure that the animal remains reproductive,” she explains.
“Livestock production has had a tremendous battle over the last couple of years to maintain its usual performance and it is my hope that with the coming years, that we will go back to the sort of prominence that we had before and be able to actually contribute much greater to our animal protein needs,” she tells JIS News.