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Livestock and small-holders

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January 2014

In this bulletin:

Integrating livestock into small-holder family farming systems


In this January edition of the Agromisa Bulletin we look at the positive effect animal and poultry keeping can have on the productivity, sustainability and welfare of small-scale farming communities.  We also review the Agrodok handbooks that deal with the introduction and management of cattle, pigs, goats, chickens, ducks and rabbits into small-scale and family farming systems. 
 

Livestock deliver valuable by-products
Livestock can be integrated into diverse farming systems and – in addition to milk, meat, eggs, wool, feathers and hides - they produce manure that can be used to improve soil fertility, reducing dependence on artificial fertilizers, and as a source of fuel.  In many rural cultures cattle, for example, represent a farmer’s savings – a source of credit that can be used in times of crises. And animal traction can play an important role in soil cultivation, in which farmers can work together.
 
Smaller livestock are particularly important for poorer households.  Sheep, goats, rabbits, ducks and chickens, for example, are relatively undemanding in their feeding requirements and easy to house and manage. They provide the same products and services as larger livestock but are less risky and are easier to replace as they do not cost so much. They also reproduce more quickly.  Raising small livestock can help smallholders acquire a regular cash income. Women can also combine their household tasks with the care of smaller livestock and this can be an important source of income in female-headed households when paid labour is scarce.

The importance of livestock lies in their ability to convert biomass that can
not be directly used by humans - grass, leaves, twigs, agricultural waste-products - into the animal products and services farm households need.
Integrating livestock into small-scale farming systems is seen as an important step towards overcoming the problems of hunger and malnutrition in the subsistence and marginal small-scale agricultural sector. Animal protein in the form of meat, eggs, milk and fermented dairy products help alleviate hunger and these products also provide minerals and vitamins needed to combat (hidden) malnourishment.


Local production to keep pace with growing demand
The rapid growth in world population and changing dietary habits means that steps must be taken to ensure an adequate and healthy supply of food worldwide. Paulo Titonell, Professor of Farming Ecology at Wageningen University in The Netherlands is among the growing number of agricultural researchers and practitioners who argue that conventional agriculture alone cannot meet the growing demand for nutrient rich food. Producing more food in Europe will not mean less hunger worldwide now or in the future. The current trend towards stimulating conventional large-scale and intensive livestock farming in the North to meet future food demands, for example, carries with it the risk of increased incidences of zoonosis and antibiotic resistance as well as escalating energy and environmental costs. Food products are now being transported over huge distances to areas that have a strong potential for improved, integrated and more productive farming.

Local production for local needs
Currently 50% of food consumed worldwide is produced by low-input, small-holder subsistence systems but constraints such as inadequate infrastructure and the lack of access to training and information means that they are often unable to meet their own needs let alone the needs of the rapidly growing urban populations of their home countries.
 
There is a need to intensify at the local level but the question is what form should this take and what role can livestock play in ensuring that increased production delivers the proteins, calories, vitamins and minerals essential to a healthy diet. The following
Agrodoks deal with these issues androvide practical and well-illustrated guidelines on how to select and manage the animals best suit ed to specific community needs, household conditions, and local demand.  

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Agrodok  4    Small-scale chicken production

N.van Eekeren et al (revised 2006)

 

This Agrodok provides information on how to overcome the main constraints in small-scale poultry production and how to deal with threats from predators and infectious diseases.  It is a practical guide with chapters on housing, hatching, nutrition, feeding methods, health and raising chicks. The authors provide guidelines on how to select the chicken breed best suited to local conditions and describe how local breeds can be improved.  The importance of record keeping is stressed and the facts that should recorded is dealt with in detail.  There are two useful Appendices: Nutrition Tables and Common Feedstuffs. These show the nutrient content of the different foodstuffs chickens need and indicate which nutrients should be given at different stages of development.   The extensive reference section includes useful internet addresses and the contact details of organizations that can provide information and answer questions on poultry keeping.
 

Agrodok  33   Duck keeping in the tropics

S.J. van der Meulen and G. de Dikken (revised 2004)

 

The authors show that ducks are tough animals and scavengers and are easier to keep than chickens. They provide eggs and meat that make a valuable contribution to family diets.  They can also be sold and by-products such as feathers can be marketed as well.  This Agrodok  provides basic facts about duck keeping and illustrations are used to help clarify the methods described. Selecting a breed and managing a flock as well as combining duck keeping with other activities such as rice cultivation and fish culture are also dealt with.  Other chapters focus on health care, feeding and ways of record keeping that enable farmers to calculate the costs and benefits of their duck business over a longer period of time.
 

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Agrodok  20   Back-yard rabbit keeping in the tropics

J.B. Schiere and C.J. Corstianen (revised 2008).

Among the reasons for choosing rabbit keeping is the limited amount of space a smallholder may have available, their quality of rabbit meat and the fact that the initial capital outlay is minimal. Rabbits can be tended by women and children and unlike bigger animals force is not needed to restrain them. An added advantage is that their manure can be used for vegetable growing.  In this Agrodok the authors aim to provide information on the management, housing, breeding, nutrition and veterinary issues connected with keeping rabbits. There are chapters that deal with selecting breeding stock and reproduction as well as administration. In the Appendices Common diseases of rabbits and Administration are dealt with.  The Agrodok is well illustrated and has a useful reference section.
 

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Agrodok  7   Goat keeping in the tropics 

Carl Jansen and Kees van den Burg (revised 2004)

Among the reasons for choosing rabbit keeping is the limited amount of space a smallholder may have available, their quality of rabbit meat and the fact that the initial capital outlay is minimal. Rabbits can be tended by women and children and unlike bigger animals force is not needed to restrain them. An added advantage is that their manure can be used for vegetable growing.  In this Agrodok the authors aim to provide information on the management, housing, breeding, nutrition and veterinary issues connected with keeping rabbits. There are chapters that deal with selecting breeding stock and reproduction as well as administration. In the Appendices Common diseases of rabbits and Administration are dealt with.  The Agrodok is well illustrated and has a useful reference section. 

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Agrodok 1     Pig farming in the tropics: From free-range to small-scale intensive production systems

Johan van't Klooster and Arie Wingelaar (revised 2011)

There is increasing interest in smallholder pig keeping. Pigs have always been an important secondary activity on mixed farms worldwide but research shows that smallholders are becoming increasingly interested in these animals. This handbook provides information relevant to three main smallholder pig production systems: free-range scavenging; semi intensive and small-scale intensive pig keeping. The authors point out that good pig farming relies on a combination of inter-connected factors such as housing, breeding and reproduction, nutrition and disease prevention.  These aspects are dealt with in detail in this Agrodok.  Attention is also given to the management and economics of pig farming and the importance of record keeping. All important details and events relevant to breeding and illness should be recorded, for example, as well as the inputs (costs) and output (revenue) associated with pig keeping activities.  These records will enable farmers to improve breeding and assess whether their pig keeping activities are delivering optimal results. There is an extensive reference section, a useful address list and a glossary that covers the technical terms used in this handbook.
 

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Agrodok 14    Dairy cattle husbandry: More milk through better management

Hans Blauw et al (revised 2008)

This well-illustrated Agrodok provides information about the main aspects of dairy farming in the tropics such as feeding, breeding, health care and reproduction.  It is intended to help smallholder who are planning to start or want to increase milk production.  The authors show how improved management and genetic improvement of existing herds can help increase milk production.  These are important considerations as the demand for dairy products worldwide is increasing. Many governments are encouraging milk production and this makes dairying attractive. However, as the authors point out, keeping dairy cows is labour intensive – “365 days of the year”  -  and cows are expensive and vulnerable animals. Milk is also a very perishable product.  Farmers not only need knowledge, skills and management capacities they must also be able to rely on a well organized infrastructure and support service.  This handbook covers all these issues and includes detailed information on feeding, health diseases and reproduction. Attention is also given to the rearing of calves and young stock as well as clean milk production. There is an useful and up-to-date reference section that includes information about Heifer International, an international NGO that supports sustainable smallholder animal husbandry projects.
 

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Coming soon – February 2014
Agrodok 52    Back-yard grasscutter keeping

Adri Vink (2013)

Back-yard grasscutter keeping can provide families with high quality meat and it can also be sold locally for good prices. Grasscutters are also known as cane rats and these animals are easy to integrate into low-input ecological agriculture. Keeping grasscutters can be profitable. After the initial investment in breeding stock and housing, care and maintenance are relatively easy and feed can be cheap. This handbook shows how to select and house stock. Reproduction and growth together with the health and nutrition requirements of grasscutters are dealt with in detail.  Guidelines on the growing of elephant grass as feed and ways in which farmers can keep a record of their stock and the returns generated are also covered in this guide.
 

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How to order

 

If you would like any of the Agrodoks reviewed here, please send an email to agromisa@wur.nl. They cost Euro 10 each (excluding postage). If you would like the whole series – 50 titles that are of direct relevance to those working in or with the small-scale agricultural sector these can be ordered in bulk for Euro 350 (excluding postage).

The Agromisa Foundation has recently moved to the General Foulkseweg 37, 6703 BL Wageningen, The Netherlands. There is also a new telephone number: +31 (0)317 483151. The postal address and email address remain unchanged.
 

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