|Microlivestock - Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future |
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|Part V : Deer and Antelope|
Several types of tropical deer' and antelope are no bigger than an average-size dog. These "microdeer" and "microantelope"2 are the smallest of all ruminants. Although there is considerable experience with rearing and utilizing the larger species, little is known about these miniature ones.
Given research, mouse deer, muntjac, musk deer, pudu, brocket, huemul, and water deer, as well as half a dozen small antelope, might prove to have considerable potential. Collectively, they come from diverse habitats, ranging from equatorial to subarctic and from moist rainforest to arid savanna. They are adapted to some environmental conditions that are only marginal for production of conventional livestock because of drought, heat, diseases, altitude, or other constraints.
Deer appear to be unlikely candidates for livestock, but reindeer were probably among the first domesticated animals and have been draft animals for perhaps 2O,OOO years. Even today, tens of thousands of reindeer pull sleighs in the European arctic. On military expeditions, the ancient Romans took along herds of fallow deer as a source of meat, and more than 1,000 years ago deer were annually herded off the Scottish Highlands for winter meat supplies.
In recent years, there have been breakthroughs in the "domestication" of deer. Species already being [armed are: red deer (New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, Korea, Russia, China, Scotland, the United States), elk (New Zealand, Canada, the United States), fallow deer (New Zealand, Australia, England, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the United States), ruse deer (Australia, Mauritius, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea), sika deer (Taiwan, New Zealand), musk deer (China, India), and PFre David's deer (New Zealand). Although not truly domesticated, even the moose has been tamed in Scandinavia and the Soviet Union, the calves being bottle-raised from three days of age.
New Zealand has made particular progress in domesticating large deer (see sidebar). It seems probable, therefore, that similar success with small deer could be achieved. For those seeking interesting, pioneering research, microdeer are good candidates.
ANTELOPE RANCHING AND FARMING
The worldwide experiences in domesticating various deer species suggest that the organized production of small antelope should also be considered. Several large species have already been studied and are used in game farming in eastern and southern Africa. Similar research on the smaller species, which so far have received little or no attention, is one of the more speculative ideas in this report. We put it forward only for consideration by researchers, but if exploratory studies prove successful, this is a topic deserving international support.
In some parts of Africa there are large expanses of uninhabited lands, and producing any sort of livestock there is limited by aridity and by the presence of tsetse flies. But in this habitat live tiny antelope such as dikdik, suni, and klipspringer. In the rainforests and secondary forests are found duikers and the royal antelope. All these creatures have advantages that justify their consideration as microlivestock: they have a more rapid turnover than the big species, and they produce a high yield of quality meat. In addition, compared with cattle, these native ungulates make better use of the habitat. Cattle select a limited number of grass species; antelopes choose a wider range, and also include fortes, bushes, and trees.
More important perhaps is their resistance to many diseases. Most, if not all, are resistant to trypanosomiasis, the disease carried by the tsetse fly. They are not immune to this and other tropical diseases, but they are less susceptible than cattle. However, part of this may be owing to their ability to roam widely; if confined and treated like domestic animals, they may also require some protection against parasites and diseases.
Antelopes are also more productive than cattle; that is, they produce a given quantity of meat more quickly because they breed better in the African hinterlands and grow more rapidly on its existing forages. On the other hand, they generally require a richer diet than cattle.
Finally, in their favor, antelopes affect the habitat less than the same density of cattle does; they spread out more while feeding and thereby cause less erosion.
There are two ways of exploiting this potential. One is by "cropping"—taking a controlled offtake from free-ranging populations without depressing the overall population. Several methods for producing meat this way from large antelope have been attempted in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Few have persisted. Often this has been due to opposition from the vested interests of the cattle industry and from stringent veterinary requirements. Nonetheless, game ranching offers a means by which marginal lands could produce food of a high nutritional quality on a sustained basis.
The other method is by farming - that is, domesticating or partially domesticating the animals, keeping them in pens or herding them like cattle. Experiments in farming antelopes have been less common than game ranching, but one of the most interesting is that conducted on the Galana Ranch in Kenya. Three wild species - buffalo, eland, and oryx - were selected for comparison with cattle. Half-grown animals were preferred for capture, and it was found that if they were kept in the dark for the first week after capture, and then gradually provided with more and more space while they became familiar with people, after about six weeks they could be released into the open and herded from place to place. Grazing during the day under the eye of a herdsman, they allowed themselves to be herded back to a pen at night in the traditional African manner, where they would sleep around the campfire. This was a promising advance in behavior modification leading toward domestication. The oryx, for example, gained weight on grazing that would not even sustain cattle, and it required only a quarter of the amount of water.
At bottom, the question is not what contribution antelopes can make to the African larder, for they already make a significant contribution through (largely illegal) hunting. The question is whether farming could make them a sustainable asset rather than their being senselessly squandered, as is the case at present. Although its potential has yet to be realized, antelope farming is not a panacea for Africa's food problems, and certainly not the world's, but it might pave the way to a new and more gentle way to make savannas useful.
Since the 1970s, deer have taken the place of sheep on many New Zealand pastures, and today the country has more than 5, 000 deer farms carrying over one million head, mainly red deer. It is now common along country roads to see tall fences surrounding graceful deer quietly grazing ryegrass and clover. And there are all the appurtenances for deer that exist for cattle and sheep. Auctions and shows are held regularly. Deer farmers have a professional association and produce their own glossy magazine. Government scientists publish pamphlets on the care and management of deer. There are recognized stud stags, computerized recording schemes for breed improvement, and even veterinary services specifically for deer. Hybridization between wapiti and red deer, and PFre David's deer and red deer, is accepted practice. The animals are moved by use of dogs (which command by mere presence rather than by bark or bite), and herds of up to 80 are shifted by truck. Slaughter facilities specifically for deer are in operation throughout the country.
This transformation of a nervous, jumpy, and retiring wild species into a farm animal is a remarkable achievement. Once accustomed to people, many specimens become gentle, even affectionate, and will come at a farmer's call. Males are generally as easy to handle as females, except during the rutting season when they become aggressive and cannot be handled at all.
However, even at the best of times the farmed deer must be handled gingerly. If the causes of stress are not quickly suppressed, hysteria can erupt throughout a herd; in an instant, quiet animals can be leaping suicidally in all directions, disoriented, diving head-on into fences, charging gates. Chronic stress, the causes of which are not always obvious, can result in illness or death, although this trait diminishes in subsequent generations of farm-born stock.
A deer farm has to be laid out to certain special specifications. To prevent escapes, the boundary fences must be 2 m high with netting of 15- or 30-cm mesh. Inner fences need only be 1.5 m high. Water troughs are placed in the middle of the fields, and nothing is allowed to jut inwards from the fences because the animals tend to walk fencelines and take comfort from the illusion of openness. Because deer like to wallow in hot weather, some farmers also provide shallow waterholes.
Deer yards can be of any design, but the sides of the passageways and holding pens should be solid, as deer do not see fences very well, particularly when under pressure, and may injure themselves in a leap towards what appear to be wide open space. (New Zealanders usually make the sides of plywood.) Also, the holding pens should be roofed, as semidarkness has a calming effect. Animals that in the sunlight become hysterical on seeing a person in the distance, can, in the relative darkness of a roofed shed, be touched and even given injections.
Despite the special facilities, however, handling deer takes time and care and experience. The most successful farmers spend much time among the deer so that the animals become accustomed to human presence. This helps to make yard work easier. Also, new arrivals are allowed to wander through the yards on their own to become familiar with them. In addition, special tame deer are used as leads or decoys to encourage the rest of the herd to follow. Using such simple techniques, a formerly intractable species has become almost fully domesticated.