Jamaica: developing sheep and goat farming
Jamaicans cannot live by rum alone; at least part of their
income derives from their goat herds. One Jamaican farmer in three owns goats,
and the country as a whole boasts a total of some 250 000 heads. (Sheep on the
other hand are rare, with only 2000 or so on the island). Goat meat is in high
demand: curried goat (reportedly delicious) is a national dish, and cuts fetch
the same sort of retail prices locally as beef or pork. Neither the sheep-meat
nor the goat-meat produced locally is sufficient for local consumption, however,
and 20-30 % of both types of meat are at present being imported. The EEC-funded
Sheep and Goat Project, initiated in 1987 and set to run until 1995 or so, has
its objectives to reduce these imports, permit better use of skins, upgrade
small farmers incomes, and generally improve the sectors economy.
Jamaicas goats are bred principally for meat, with only a
few (Anglo-Nubians in particular) kept for dairy purposes. Goat-owning farmers
usually work very small acreages (two acres or so, often including rocky lands),
and the goats rarely constitute the farmers principal source of income.
Jamaica has only one state farm, Hounslow, producing milk which is processed by
Dairy Industries Jamaica Ltd. Of the islands total herd, some 185 000 are
breeding does, producing, on average, four to five kids over two years, with the
kids sold at about 10 months.
Farmers associations formed
The Sheep and Goat Project covers the whole country and, through
a network of local associations, a maximum of farmers are involved. The
associations (often built around existing micro initiatives
involving goat rearing in one way or another) are designed to be as self-reliant
as possible, dealing with their own administrative matters and development with
a minimum of outside help. They consist of between 15 and 60 members and cover
an area of some seven miles in diameter. Bigger groupings are impractical:
transport is scarce, and the farmers, who are often very poor, have to walk,
sometimes barefoot, to association meetings. When the groups are formed, five or
six members are elected as an executive and standard statutes are
adopted. A stock of basic medicines, worth some Jam. $ 1000 is given to them,
and one of their responsibilities will be to manage the stock in common to their
By the end of November 1989 some 49 associations of this kind
had been established in the island, with a total membership of 1418. Numbers
were growing rapidly, and in April 1989 a National Association was formed, with
each local association sending a delegate with voting power commensurate with
his or her association.
A key element in the project has been Hounslow Farm, a state
farm created in 1983 from a nucleus of 70 dairy goats imported from Canada.
Hounslow Farms role is to produce improved breeding stock for farmers and
to provide training facilities. The farm now has 200 breeding does and, despite
a considerable shortage of both funds and equipment, the animals are kept in
The Jamaican breeders receive practical assistance in a number
of forms. Firstly, there is the batch of medicines mentioned earlier, which the
Association buys wholesale and sells to its members at a mark-up of some 30 %.
The medicines include vitamins, disinfectant sprays, an antibiotic, drugs for
use against external parasites, syrups and syringes. Field days are organised
during which the medicines are delivered and their use demonstrated. This kind
of assistance is perhaps the most useful that the project provides, because the
vast majority of Jamaicas goat breeders have never before treated their
animals, nor made use of the services of vets. Now, through the associations,
they have easy access to medicines, in appropriately small quantities, at
A further initiative has been the tattooing programme, the
object of which was to permit individual goats performances to be
monitored, such is already the practice at Hounslow. Farmers have shown great
interest in this possibility, though not always, it has to be said, for the
intended purpose, but rather because tattooing helps in the battle against goat
stealing, which is a major problem on the island.
A recent survey conducted within the project showed that only
13% of Jamaicas farmers owned a goat-house, even of the most elementary
kind. It seemed useful, therefore, to devise a simple house, suitable for humid
conditions (with a slatted floor, for example) and made with inexpensive
materials, whose construction could be demonstrated to farmers by means of a
scaled-down model, since farmers often found plans difficult to decipher.
A further area in which the project sought to make progress was
nutrition. The south coast of Jamaica, in particular, experiences a shortage of
fodder during the dry season (January to April), and the hope had been to devise
means of providing adequate supplies of feedstuffs year round. Experiments are
being carried out with storing some of the rainy seasons excess grass in
small containers, but more experimentation is needed to find the optimum
solution to the dry-season shortfall.
Finally, the project provides for the demonstration of proper
slaughter and skinning methods, and training in leathercraft has been on offer.
The latter took the form of two 3-week courses which were attended by
association nominees. Those who had attended the course were asked in turn to
train the other members of their association.
An objective about to be achieved is the publication of a
three-monthly newsletter, Jamaica Sheep and Goat News, which will
carry technical articles, news about local developments in the field,
advertisements and space for members to write of their own experiences or
Though the project is, by the admission of those running it,
still far from perfect, its structure is well established and the
goat farmers are well able to manage it themselves. Priority areas for future
assistance include animal nutrition, the development of small-scale goat milk
production and the reshaping of the tanning and leathercraft businesses. But,
with its wide impact on Jamaicas farming population, the project is
already achieving many of the objectives it set