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close this bookAnimal Husbandry - Initial Environmental Assessment Series No. 2 (NORAD, 1994)
close this folderPart I: General account
close this folder1 Characteristics of animal husbandry projects
View the document1.1 Introduction
View the document1.2 Project categories
View the document1.3 Choice of technology, animal species an breed

1.3 Choice of technology, animal species an breed

1.3.1 Technology

The mentioned division into types of projects is a general one. In general, projects and activities are also designated according to the types of animals in question, and/or the modes of production. The line of animals that are domesticated is long. In developing countries, the following are common: cattle, buffalo, camel, sheep, goat, llama, pig, horse, donkey, poultry (ducks, hens), mink and bees. In rarer cases, more exotic animals are also used, ea. iguana, crocodile, etc. Development projects can vary in size from market-oriented ranches to traditional grazing-based farms and combined farms (livestock combined with agriculture and forestry/agroforestry) on a domestic level. Production can vary from extensive to intensive. Intensive production utilizes feed that has been either harvested from nature or cultivated. The animals are either grazed in paddock, or stallfed. Extensive production modes apply to grazers that are allowed to range freely.

The main conditions for a successful livestock production are: sufficient feed, healthy animals and good breeders. In developing countries, the challenges in these areas tend to be greater than in ea. Europe. In Europe and North America, overproduction can be a problem in animal husbandry, involving a large input of energy, chemicals, etc. Reduced yields are acceptable, and attempts are being made to reduce environmental impacts. In developing countries suffering from scarcity of food, there is often a widespread wish to adopt technology that will maximize the food production. What primarily prevents such a development is lack of capital. A dilemma can arise when considering whether to introduce technology that will produce more food, but will at the same time also cause environmental harm.

Grazing is generally the least cost and labour demanding way of feeding livestock. Yet it is not always the simplest and most profitable. Variable access to grazing land and water can create problems for the production. Precipitation may be seasonal, and there may be great annual differences. Some places may have droughts lasting year after year, causing loss of animals. Browsers, ea. goats and camels, however, may be less affected by fluctuations in food supply, because shrubs and trees tolerate droughts better than grass. Among nomads, pastoralism chiefly involves herding as well as finding the way to the best grazing land available. In addition, it is vital that the animals have regular access to water. The distance to the water sources, therefore, should not be too great. Selection of breeders, castration, milking, blood tapping (the Masai) and slaughtering are important activities among nomads. Most nomads put their animals into fenced enclosures (boma, crawl) at night in order to protect them against predators. Some give their animals a mineral supply, but regular feeding is seldom practiced.

More intensive grazing systems may involve various measures to increase the yield of the grazers. Fenced enclosures are expensive, but can be necessary in order to control the animals and to prevent other livestock from intruding into the pastures. If no natural shades exist, it may be necessary to build simple sheds or roofs for protecting the animals against direct sunlight. Parasites may disturb livestock production in some tropical areas and chemicals are often used to protect the animals. One method is to apply chemicals by spraying, or by letting the animals walk through a bath with chemicals added to it (cattle dip). In connection with intensive pastoralism, the animals are commonly given a feed supply, especially in periods when pasture is scarce. The grazing are usually limited, and a careful adjustment of the number of animals will be necessary if the feed available is to ensure a satisfactory growth of the animals. Removal of shrubs, fertilization, use of high-yielding grasses and legumes, and rotation grazing are also common cultivation measures in connection with intensive grazing systems.

Animal husbandry near densely populated and urban areas tends to differ from animal husbandry in more peripheral and remote areas. Easier access to the markets is important for the sale of livestock products, among other things because products such as milk, butter and cheese have limited keeping quality. Fresh products may be a prerequisite of a high price. Another advantage is reduced transportation costs. This does not just apply to transportation of products to the markets, but also transportation of any equipment back to the farm. The infrastructure may be better, as may the availability of know-how and extension services. Higher prices on the products will enable the farmers to employ equipment and technology that would otherwise lack an economic basis. The possibilities of utilizing by-products from food industries and other industries are better. In some places, the advantages of keeping livestock near densely populated and urban areas have led to large concentrations of livestock in fairly small areas. The sale of eggs, in this connection, is a special case. Eggs have a better keeping quality than some other livestock products; at the same time, they are fragile and must be packed and transported carefully. The distribution of eggs often takes place locally, direct to the consumer or retailer, without passing through processing plants or other intermediary links. Egg production, moreover, is the type of livestock production in which most people in developing countries are engaged. Even in big cities, many people keep hens in their back yard for producing their own eggs.

Animal husbandry as an integral part of a mixed agriculture has been common in many countries from of old. Products such as traction, high-grade protein and fertilizers have been in great demand in agricultural societies. Some forms of agroforestry (cf. booklet 3 Forestry) also comprise livestock. Such combined farms often constitute ecologically well-adapted forms of production. In addition to the value of the manure, it can also be valuable to include grasses or legumes in a mixed system of crops. If the areas are so small that they must be reserved for food production, the livestock will have to live on by-products such as straw. This is the case in large parts of Asia. The low feed value of straw leads to a low production of meat and milk. Recently, methods for improving the nutritional value of such rough-ages have been developed. A relevant method is ammonia treatment by means of urea, which at the same time is an important nutrient for ruminants. In some areas in developing countries, stall feeding of livestock is common all year round. This applies to ea. the mountain sides of Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya in Africa and other high-altitude areas where agriculture and horticulture are particularly intensive. Many who lack sufficient feed for their animals gather it from common land, often on the lower levels, and bring it to their animals daily. This form of farming is generally called "cut and carry". In this way, the yield of the animals and the amount of manure are increased, which is crucial for the global crop production. Animal husbandry can also be combined with aquaculture (cf. booklet 5 Aquaculture). Poultry droppings, for example, can fertilize aquaculture ponds, either by means of poultry swimming on the water or by the fertilizer being carried to the pond to be dropped. The result will be increased growth of weeds and aquatic plants providing feed to fish.

Livestock manure is a valuable product that is high in nutrients such as nitrogen (N), potassium (K) and phosphorus (P). Use of livestock manure can play an essential role in a sustainable agriculture aimed at the highest possible degree of nutrient recycling. In addition to fertilizing food plants and other useful plants, the livestock manure can be utilized as fuel, in which case the nitrogen is lost while the potassium and phosphorus remain in the ashes. If the manure is handled inadequately, however, most of the nitrogen may evaporate as ammonia, whereas good handling will produce plant nutrients that may minimize the need to buy chemical fertilizers. Only a minor part of the nitrogen in the feed will be absorbed in the animal eating the feed. Most of the nitrogen from the feed, as well as liberated nitrogen from the basal metabolism, is therefore left in the manure and urine.

Use of biogas from manure is gradually gaining entry into various developing countries. Production and storage of methane produced on manure can take place in simple installations. Most of the nitrogen and all the phosphorus and potassium still remain in the manure after the methane has been extracted. The fertilizer value is still high and can be used on the fields, for fertilizing fish ponds, etc. Biogas is a renewable resource which can reduce the exploitation of wood, charcoal and other fuels that may be scarce.

Land use in connection with animal husbandry varies a great deal. Nomadic pastoralism and other forms of free grazing require the largest ranges. As much as 30-50 hectares per livestock unit are needed in the most marginal grazing regions. Intensive modes of production may require large areas for the cultivation of feed. In the most fertile parts of the world, where harvesting can take place up to three times a year, only small areas are needed to provide a cow or an ox with feed. Here the amounts of crop remains and byproducts often decide which is a sustainable number of animals.

In some parts of the world where there are large pastures with little alternative usefulness, ea. in South America, North America and Australia, meat production will be a natural choice as long as it is carried out in an ecologically acceptable way. Grazing will also ensure the recycling of most of the nutrients, although the utilization of N tends to be fairly low.

Meat production based on ruminants fed with concentrates accounts for a low utilization of the energy and can therefore not be regarded as sustainable.

Management entails that potential feed and livestock resources are developed and utilized in such a way that the productivity is maintained (sustainable utilization). Livestock production depends on the feed resources available. Considering the population growth that has taken place in many developing countries, the need for arable land and areas for other purposes has increased. To a great extent, this has affected the pastures, as these are in many places considered as communal property. Development of management plans for grazing land is a challenge that requires insight into the area's topography, flora, fauna, operational conditions and, not least, ethnic, cultural, social and economic conditions. Good, detailed maps are helpful in this work.

1.3.2 Animal species and breed

Animal species: Choice of animal species as part of development projects is generally determined by natural conditions, culture and traditions in the area (cf. chapter 2). Nevertheless, domestic animals have often been introduced into certain areas in which they have previously been non-existent, with varying success. Small species such as guinea pigs, rabbits, poultry and goats are easier to introduce to farmers who are not used to animals other than, for example, cattle. Otherwise, the feed base will be decisive as to which species one should invest in. Relatively large amounts of feed or extensive grazing areas are needed to provide a milk cow with maintainance and production feed. Dairy goats can be a viable alternative. Moreover, they are easier to handle and transport, particularly in steep terrain.

Animal husbandry, especially milk production, requires a certain infrastructure with access to supplies of concentrates, drugs, veterinary services, oxen (bucks) or artificial insemination, etc. Other things needed may be a collection system and organized distribution of milk and milk products, as well as good market facilities. Milk production based on cattle, buffalo, sheep or goats is far more efficient with regard to the utilization of resources than meat production based on the same animal species. This, therefore, ought to be considered as an alternative if the farmers are willing to try. In many cases, two or three dairy goats per family can provide an important supply of animal protein to children as well as grown-ups. With regard to meat production with limited feed resources, poultry, pigs, rabbits and guinea pigs are more efficient than ruminants. Grits and domestic refuse can provide an important portion of the feed for swine and poultry. Large ruminants in tropical areas and developing countries are often fed below the maintainance requirements. The production, therefore, will be minimal, with an unreasonably large consumption of feed per unit of meat produced. Under some conditions, a combination of cattle and sheep or goats will be favourable because these three species exploit the pastures differently and supplement one another; they exploit to some extent different pasture plants. Goats, for example, utilize brush much better than the other two species. In periods of extreme drought, therefore, goats can pose a greater threat to shrubs and young trees than other species. Introduction of animals that may damage the biological diversity must be prevented (cf. chapter 3.3).

Domestic animals can be divided into two main categories: monogastrics and ruminants. The difference between these two main groups is important regarding the utilization of resources. The most typical monogastrics among domestic animals are pigs. Even if poultry is equipped with an extra craw, they are also generally regarded as monogastrics. This anatomic construction involves that these animals can only utilize easily digestible feed of a kind that can be broken down by the body's own enzymes.

Plant material that is rich in cell wall substances (cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin) is virtually indigestible by monogastrics. As to other monogastric animals (horse, donkey, rabbit), the appendix (and colon) has evolved into a fermentation compartment with a function almost equivalent to that of the rumina of ruminants. Ruminants have developed a fermentation compartment which is situated in front of the intestinal canal, in which billions of micro-organisms secrete enzymes capable of breaking down the bonds that keep cellulose and hemicellulose together. In this way, the animals are enabled to utilize the nutrients. This symbiosis between ruminants and their micro-organisms is the very foundation of livestock production based on coarse feed and plant material which could otherwise not be utilized as nutrition, neither for animals nor for humans. As ruminants can utilize the protein produced by stomach microbes, they can do without high-quality feed protein. As a prerequisite for this, however, they need to have access to simple nitrogen compounds (NPN = non-protein-nitrogen) that the microbes can utilize in their process of synthesizing protein for their own bodies. Ruminants, therefore, can be said to have good adaptability.

Breed: Questions concerning breeds can be delicate. Projects should involve surveys of which breeds of the relevant species exist in the area. One also ought to find out whether breed is an important or touchy issue. One ought to consider whether the development project can be based on local breeds, or whether it is recommendable to introduce or cross in other breeds. Any new breed must be clearly superior in order to justify the extra costs which this introduction will incur, as well as the risk of diseases which it may entail. Local breeds will generally be more resistant to diseases existing in the area than imported breeds. Nevertheless, new breeds are often introduced with the intention of making the production more efficient as well as improving the product quality. Under various conditions, this is both quicker and cheaper than improving already established local breeds. Adaptation to the local environment must be a decisive criterion when the question of introducing a new breed is considered. Introduction through crossing, however, will be less critical, because animals with 50 or 25 per cent of local genes will retain a great part of their adaptability to the local environment.