| Microlivestock - Little-Known Small Animals with a Promising Economic Future |
|Part I : Microbreeds|
For the purposes of this report, "microcattle" are considered to be small breeds of cattle (Bos taurus and Bos indicus) with a mature weight of about 300 kg or less. In many areas of the developing world, these are actually the animals most widely held by farmers and pastoralists. They are often treasured because of their resilience and simple requirements. Many survive and produce under harsh conditions, grow rapidly, calve easily, show good maternal ability, yield lean meat, or have other advantages.
Microcattle have generally been ignored in the push towards larger animals, but they seem inherently suitable for traditional and small-farm husbandry. As rural people in developing countries improve their own productivity, as they become more aware of nutritional needs, and as they depend more upon cash economies, microcattle could become vital means for improving personal, dietary, and economic status.
AREA OF POTENTIAL USE
APPEARANCE AND SIZE
Cattle have been classified in many ways, but they are generally designated as humped or humpless types. However, clear distinctions among them are sometimes difficult or impossible to make because they have intermingled for thousands of years. Representative microcattle types are listed at the end of the chapter.
More than two-thirds of the world's 1.3 billion cattle are found in the developing world; one-third is in the tropics. As noted, a considerable number of these could be called "microcattle."
Many strains of microcattle are threatened with extinction because of replacement or crossbreeding with larger types. This is in some respects shortsighted because promoting just a few breeds contributes to narrowing of the genetic base, and valuable traits may be lost when selection is done to conform to any preconceived standard, including large size.
HABITAT AND ENVIRONMENT
Microcattle are adapted to a wide variety of habitats. Many types thrive - even with little or no attention - in climates that are hot, humid, arid, or beset by diseases and parasites.
Cattle are ruminants and digest fiber well, although they are selective foragers and prefer tender grasses and low-growing legumes.
As with other tropical cattle, microbreeds generally reach physical and sexual maturity in 2 or 3 years. Many can breed year-round when conditions are favorable (gestation lasts about 9 months). Cows may remain fertile 10 years or more, and can live more than 20 years.
Cattle usually graze from as few as four hours to as many as eight hours a day. If feed is of poor quality, they must forage (and ruminate) longer to receive adequate nutrition.
Microcattle are commonly docile and undemanding animals, and many small breeds are surprisingly responsive to humans.
Like conventional breeds, microcattle produce the same well-known products: meat, milk, manure, hides, horn, blood, and bone. They are also used for traction.
Small cattle often produce only modest amounts of milk and meat per animal. However, given higher stocking rates, a herd of microcattle is often able to outyield larger, genetically improved animals on a per hectare basis, especially under stressful conditions. When their ability to survive adversity and poor management is taken into account, they may often be far and away the most efficient cattle for traditional husbandry.
Surprisingly, there is a place even for small draft animals. They tend to be active, thrifty (efficient), and more maneuverable in tight spaces, and so are adapted for use in the small fields, terraces, and paddies that are becoming increasingly common. The small hill cattle of Nepal, for instance, are valued because they can negotiate steep slopes and narrow terraces on Himalayan mountainsides.
Microcattle are handled like their larger counterparts, but herding, tethering, fencing, and hobbling are generally easier.
Cattle are familiar animals that are accepted in nearly all cultures; their meat, milk, manure, and leather are in demand almost everywhere. In many societies, beef is preferred over other meats, even by those who can rarely afford it.
In most areas, organized breeding, production, and marketing associations are already in place. Microcattle can also integrate well into traditional forms of husbandry, whether in pastoral herds of hundreds or as solitary backyard milk cows.
Under humid and hot conditions, microcattle probably suffer less than larger breeds because their greater ratio of skin area to body mass enhances their ability to shed heat.
The number of cattle that can be kept on a given parcel of land may be increased, sometimes even doubled, with smaller animals. Microcattle can also be penned and fed cut-and-carry forage more easily than can larger cattle, and more of them can be maintained on the same amount of feed. This permits more continuous production and less financial hardship when an animal perishes.
Small cattle may require less labor because they are generally easier to handle, herd, confine, and transport. They usually have few problems with calving, and as a rule require little or no assistance.
Some microcattle have unusual tolerances to disease. In Africa, for instance, there are breeds that tolerate or resist trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease that makes large areas of that continent uninhabitable for most other cattle breeds. Others seem more tolerant of internal or external parasites, theileriosis (east coast fever), rinderpest, or other afflictions.
Microcattle often lack the prestige of larger breeds.
When given quality forage and supplemental feeding, small unimproved cattle may not match the overall productivity of the large, highly developed breeds. Their greatest potential may prove to be for traditional husbandry and for grazing marginal areas where survival is more important than feed efficiency.
In Mexico, researchers are deliberately creating microcattle. Since 1970, Juan Manuel Berruecos Villalobos, former director of the Veterinary Medicine school at the National Autonomous University, has directed this enterprise. He and his colleagues have miniaturized cows by selecting the smallest specimens out of a herd of normal-sized Brahman cattle and breeding them with one another. After five generations, adult females average 15-180 kg adult males 20-220 kg. A few of the smallest cows are now only 60 cm tall and 140 kg in weight. Merely one-fifth of normal weight, they are shorter than the turkeys that share the barnyard with them. Indeed, they even get lost in the grassy pastures so that the farmers cannot see them.
This program seems to have yielded a productive animal that can be cheaply and easily maintained in a small space. Berruecos has demonstrated that the tiny cows can be stocked on one-third the area needed to support one normal-sized cow. He reports that they are giving remarkable amounts of milk: up to four lifers a day, compared with six lifers from their full-sized counterparts. On a feed-intake to weight-gain basis, the tiny cattle are no less efficient than their normal-sized counterparts.
Although 17 years have gone into the selection of what Berruecos calls his "bonsai cattle," the process is not yet finished. Future goals include testing embryo transplants to see if one normal-sized cow can support multiple "microfetuses" (possibly as many as eight). This would help to rapidly increase the numbers of the miniature form, which weigh merely 4-5 kg at birth.
All in all, the Mexican researchers see miniaturization as a new option for governments and farmers increasingly squeezed by shrinking farm land and rising production costs. Small livestock they say, are a way to produce more food on less land faster. For example, a campesino with almost no land can have one or two bonsais, but could never maintain a standard-sized cow.
RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION NEEDS
Their adaptability and robustness make microcattle worthy of preservation, study, and greater use, and they should be incorporated into many ongoing programs.
Selective breeding, although infrequently attempted, can probably improve productivity significantly. Records of breed history should be established, and unusual or special characteristics noted and the information disseminated.
In areas where small, indigenous breeds are being replaced, representative populations should be maintained and studied to increase understanding of their adaptive diversity and to retain a genetic storehouse for the future.
REPRESENTATIVE EXAMPLES OF MICROCATTLE
Dwarf West African Shorthorn
West African coastal forests, and inland. Female 125 kg; male 150 kg. Adaptation to harsh, humid climates and good resistance to trypanosomiasis and other diseases allow these small animals to exist where other cattle die. They are perhaps the smallest cattle of all (often weighing less than 100 kg). In the areas of worst disease and highest rainfall, this hardy animal is often found thriving, but half wild.
Muturu Nigeria. Female 160 kg; male 210 kg. This notable subtype is slightly larger. It is the most trypanotolerant of all cattle, showing no symptoms or loss of vitality. It is widely kept, mostly as a village scavenger and often as a pet, and yields a high percentage of meat.
West Africa. 200-400 kg. These active, stocky animals utilize low-quality forage, produce good beef, and are used as light draft oxen. Milk production, though poor, improves with feeding level. N'Dama mature early and are exceptionally fertile, and they have already become important in breeding programs. They are resistant to trypanosomiasis, and can exist where temperatures average 30Ý C with 1,500 mm annual rainfall. In the least hospitable areas, N'Damas ranging down to 200 kg are often the only cattle that can remain productive.
Southeastern Europe. Female 200 kg; male 350 kg. A humpless multipurpose breed - draft, milk, and beef - that is exceptionally hardy. The milk is high in butterfat. Possibly adaptable to the subtropics. It is rapidly being lost to crossbreeding.
Zebus are among the most important tropical domestic animals. However, the dwarfs are not well known, although in many areas they are preferred, especially as draft animals. Zebus use less water, even though their sweat glands are larger and more numerous than those of most other cattle. All have a low basal metabolism and resist heat well. In general, they also have high resistance to ticks and other parasites.
Taiwan Black Taiwan. Female 250 kg; male 250 kg. Well adapted to poor tropical conditions, these work animals are also used for meat.
Kedah-Kelantan Malaysia. Female 200 kg; male 250 kg. Hardy, well adapted cattle with exceptional fertility on a poor diet, both sexes are used as draft animals as well as sources of meat and cash.
Sinhala (Dwarf Zebu) Sri Lanka. Female 200 kg; male 250 kg. An ancient type of zebu, preferred for its handiness in cultivating small paddies and terraced fields.
Nuba Dwarf Sudan. 180-220 kg. These work animals are well proportioned but are not slaughtered for meat, and milk production is low. Although tolerant to trypanosomiasis, their numbers have dwindled because of crossbreeding.
Small Zebu Somalia. 160-230 kg. These small native cattle are used for beef, milk, and for work. They are well adapted to poor feed in a desolate environment.
Abyssinian Shorthorn Zebu (Showa) Central highlands of Ethiopia. Female 225 kg; male 305 kg. These widespread, small-humped cattle are very hardy. They produce beef and are generally milked, with surplus production about 2-4 kg daily. Resistant to many parasites, they also have a gentle disposition and make good work animals.
Dwarf Zebu (Mongalla) Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Female 150 kg; male 250 kg. A highly variable, long-entrenched, small, East-African zebu with some nonzebu blood. Pastoralists favor it because of its hardiness. Although slow-maturing, it is well-fleshed, can yield excellent beef, and some types are milked.
Mashona Zimbabwe. Female 200 kg; male 250 kg. This hardy zebusanga type (see below) is widespread in drier areas and has a high resistance to disease and parasites. Since the 1940s, it has been bred for beef production and selected animals now weigh more than 500 kg.
Mini-Brahman Mexico. 135 kg. Downsized from 450-kg Brazilian zebus through selective breeding by Mexican researchers, these gentle animals are reported to yield two-thirds as much milk (3-4 liters daily) as the parent stock. Because of much higher stocking rates on grass, production per hectare is reportedly greater than with full-sized animals (see sidebar, page 22).
Central and South America. Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese cattle imported over 400 years ago, "criollo" cattle have adapted to a wide range of harsh climates. Many varieties are small: mature females often weigh 200-300 kg or less. They sometimes produce little beef or milk under traditional conditions and management, but they are extremely hardy and survive when other cattle perish. Through importation and crossbreeding, many local types have been lost or are threatened.
Chinampo Baja California, Mexico. 200-350 kg. Extremely tolerant of wild desert conditions, these docile criollo cattle exist largely on scrub and cactus. They get most of their water from succulent plants, have a low metabolic rate and body temperature, and are mostly active at night.
Florida Scrub Florida, USA. 225-300 kg. Genetically isolated for more than 300 years, the Florida Scrub is very hardy in harsh, subtropical conditions. It has good resistance to ticks and screwworm, and can subsist on forage with a high roughage content.
This type - an ancient cross between longhorns or shorthorns and humped animals - is found throughout eastern and southern Africa. It weighs from 150 to 500 kg or more. Some types have been selectively bred or crossed with European cattle and are quite productive.
Bavenda Transvaal, South Africa. 240-290 kg. This hardy and disease tolerant tropical variety is small and prolific. It is generally used for draft, barter, and beef. However, it has been crossbred with larger animals so frequently that the smaller types are almost extinct; most "Bavendas" now weigh more than 300 kg.
Ovambo' Northeastern Namibia. Female 160 kg; male 225 kg. A calm and docile animal with a small hump, it is used by seasonal pastoralists for beef and milk.
Nilotic Sudan. 180-300 kg. These cattle of southern Sudan show great variation in size, partly due to environmental factors. They are generally resistant to local parasites and worms, have good potential for increased beef production, and their milk is very important locally.
Chadian "Native" and Dwarf Black Cattle
Chad. Female 225 kg; male 275 kg. These two types are small, humped meat animals that graze the sparse savanna and are very drought resistant. Little scientific information exists about them.
Middle East. Small types (female 225 kg; male 300 kg) are used for meat and some milk, especially in Lebanon. There are many local forms with variable appearance, but all have small humps. Well adapted to grazing sparse vegetation on rough land, they are becoming rare due to crossbreeding.
Nepal. Female 160 kg; male 200 kg. A widespread type often recrossed with Indian zebu animals, they are bred to be small. They are thrifty creatures that maintain themselves well on poor forage. Bulls make sure-footed draft animals on rough ground and slopes, and the cows are milked.
Tibet. Less than 250 kg. These humpless cattle are used as pack animals and can tolerate poor forage and high altitudes.
Southwest and south China. Female 220 kg; male 380 kg. In the subtropics and tropics, small multipurpose types of Yellow Cattle withstand high temperature and humidity. They are used mainly for work and meat, and seem well adapted to poor feed, harsh conditions, and rugged terrain. The Chowpei (190-380 kg) is a hardy working breed of more temperate areas in Hubei Province.
Korea. Female 230 kg; male 280 kg. A yellowish-brown Cheju Island native that has almost no calving difficulty, it is well adapted to poor grazing conditions in harsh environments and is docile and obedient.
Indonesia. Female 220 kg; male 300 kg. An ancient cross between humped cattle and the banteng (see sidebar), these heat- and disease resistant hybrids also have good grazing and mothering ability, and are kept in the most extreme humid tropical environments. Breeding for fighting and racing has given them a poor disposition.
Ireland and North America. 220-360 kg. This breed can be traced back to eighteenth-century Ireland and is believed to have been developed by peasant farmers living on rough land. It is exceptionally hardy and produces both milk and meat. In North America, it has become popular among city folk who acquire country property, as this microbreed is particularly well suited to their usually tiny farms.
BANTENG: THE CUTEST COW
The banteng (Bos Javanicus) is a small Southeast Asian bovine with a promising future.* It is a different species from cattle. The two will interbreed, but the hybrid offspring are normally sterile.
Although almost entirely neglected by the animal science community, the banteng is remarkable for an ability to thrive under hot, humid, and disease-ridden conditions where cattle often grow poorly. The sexes are easily distinguished: males are jet black, females are golden brown. Both have bright white socks and rumps as if they had been freshly whitewashed.
Wild banteng are found in remote areas of countries from Burma to Indonesia. But only Indonesia has used it as a farm animal so far. It has more than 1.5 million domesticated banteng - some 20 percent of the country's total "cattle" population. Indonesian farmers value the animal's agility, which allows them to cultivate Relds too narrow for cattle to turn the prow. In addition, gourmets consider banteng meat the tastiest of all. Indonesia appreciates the banteng so much that it has established a genetic sanctuary on the island of Bali - banning cattle in order to maintain the banteng's genetic purity.
Outside Indonesia, only a few scientists have studied this animal, but it seems clear that it is particularly useful under tropical conditions. In heat and humidity, it thrives; even when cattle are starving, one rarely sees a skinny banteng. And demand for its meat is never ending.