7. Backyard small species
Though the word "backyard" is frequently used, it is a generic term and conditions are very variable in practice. In the village, there may be a fence or a wall around the dwelling or group of dwellings. In many other instances, such an area is not defined and animals range and mix freely. Small animals are also raised inside the house due to the lack of external space, tradition or for better protection.
In reality, a lot of factors can be found which determine differences even between one backyard and the next. These are described in Chapter 14 (Analysis of small systems). The species that are raised depend upon the general conditions, but many exceptions can be easily found.
In unfenced backyards, normally only two species are found. These are small local chickens and Muscovy ducks. A third species that is spontaneously spreading is the guinea pig. This is not always acknowledged because small mammals are kept inside the home and are not seen going around like chickens and Muscovy ducks. Many technicians are absolutely sure that guinea pigs are not present in certain areas, even when it is very easy to find them by analysing the system properly.
When the property is a farm, the number of species raised grows to the maximum. Practically all the important domestic small species and many breeds can be observed here and there. Sometimes a lot of them can be seen all together on only one farm.
The possibilities of keeping different species diminish in peri-urban areas. Lack of space becomes a limiting factor and scavenging is impossible. Local chickens and Muscovy ducks tend to be replaced by mash-fed exotic chickens and improved breeds of duck; rabbit keeping also becomes important. In urban areas, where there is no backyard, generally only rabbits remain. They are raised in any available place, and fed on kitchen wastes and grass collected in the fields surrounding the towns. In North Africa and South America, raising rabbits is a traditional activity that can profit from development. The same can be said about pigeons (see Chapters 7.2.1 (Rabbits) and 7.1.3 (Pigeons). If extension workers and technicians wish to promote more small animal species in integrated projects, they need to know about the general traits and methods of improvement of each species.
When environmental conditions are hard and nutritional resources are insufficient, poultry seen in rural areas are mainly small and generally have an elongated shape. It is obvious that this morphological type is best suited to the environment. Unfortunately, their genetic potential for production is low but this, by reducing energy use, enhances survival capabilities.
At the lowest production level, fowl must rely only on scavenging. Different fowl species have scavenging capabilities that overlap only partially. Ducks are able to feed in ponds and pigeons are able to fly far from the backyard, finding nutritional resources that chickens cannot reach. Thus, raising a mixture of different bird species is generally more effective than raising a single one.
A common way of thinking, when the aim is to improve poultry production in low-food no-income systems, is that local fowl are not very efficient, and introducing more efficient, exotic breeds can solve the problem. Only after careful analysis of the system can one evaluate whether this assessment is sound, uncertain, or wrong.
Rural and peri-urban areas are generally considered homogeneous, but they are not. In peri-urban areas, marketing of products from small semi-industrial units is normally easier and some people are willing to risk a small amount of capital. Thus the idea of introducing exotic breeds is more likely to be successful and lead to dissemination by imitation. But, in rural areas, it is advisable to maintain local strains and try only to protect them from predation, look for possible nutritional resources nearby and reduce the number of birds in proportion to the resources.
This can frequently be achieved by a more rational use of males, which are nearly always in excess. Excess of males can be explained in some situations but not in others. A negative example is illustrated in figure 126.96.36.199. in the next Chapter, where the topic is discussed further.
In standard conditions of low-food no-income households, only a few scavenging chickens are raised. When environmental and sanitary conditions are also adverse, it is hard to raise output above the minimum. Nevertheless chickens must be considered as the best potential converter of available feed resources. If feed is scarce, animals may not consume enough nutrients to allow even minimal production. If no concentrates are available, it is better to reduce the number of birds than having all the flock undernourished. It will then be possible to obtain some egg or meat production. Otherwise poultry would simply survive undernourished, until the more feeble subjects die. Scavenging feed resources, when utilised by fewer animals, can again reach the level that allows some production.
Only about 40 small eggs (<40g) are laid by local hens per year. But, as a consequence of losses during incubation and high post-hatching mortality, only 10 to 15 birds reach market weight. Nevertheless output can also be dramatically lower. Feed is rarely and scarcely supplemented, water is seldom sufficient, and predation is common due to lack of sufficient housing (Bonfoh, 1997). Infective diseases (mainly Newcastle disease) and parasitism cause heavy losses when animals, as is the rule in marginal areas, are neither vaccinated nor treated against worms.
Nevertheless, nearly all families keep scavenging poultry in some areas (Bonfoh, 1997). In a random survey in North African villages (Finzi et al., 1988), sixty percent of families were found to keep chickens. In East, West and Central African villages, representative samples (about a hundred observations each time) showed that the female: male sex ratio was constantly 1:2.5-3.0*. This probably results from the small number (3-4) of scavenging birds that are kept by each owner, but also on traditional believing or ritual use. For instance there is a strongly rooted belief in East Africa that hens cannot lay eggs if a cock is not present. Also in many parts of Africa, only the cock can be used for sacrifices and its market price is higher. In any case, a cock must be kept when only 2-3 hens are present because all or most of the eggs are brooded (Finzi, 1998). The small number of birds normally observed is probably related to the amount of scavenged nutrients that can be found around the dwellings. Even after the end of projects which try to improve the number of chickens raised by administering extra mash, it is frequently observed that the number of birds soon decreases compared with the original number. This is because birds within the breeding systems must return to scavenging, if marketing problems make it unprofitable to feed more. This could be the case illustrated in figure 188.8.131.52. Some other points are considered in the analysis.
Another very interesting case is shown in figure 184.108.40.206.
Is the analysis of the scene correct? This is the moment to ask and ask again, because to understand what happened can help to avoid future mistakes. Sometimes other reasons can explain what the technician sees. Before checking, it is necessary for the technician to develop some ideas to explain what is seen, to put forward the appropriate questions and to arrive at reliable conclusions. These will become a precious knowledge base upon which future sound projects can be developed. The use of small shelters is common to protect the animals from predators. A number of different materials and shapes are adopted (figure 220.127.116.11).
Even though protection at night is effective, cleaning the shelters is difficult so that the spread of parasites and infectious diseases is increased. Recycled metal containers, bricks or cement-based products are preferred to wood because they are easily disinfected with fire.
Building a shelter is often considered an improvement, and is certainly better than nothing. But from this point of view it is probably better to plant a shade tree by the house. This will not only improve the environment, but it should permit the birds to perch on the branches according to their natural behaviour. In these conditions it is more difficult for predators or thieves to catch the birds, which can easily fly from one branch to another. Open air reduces microbial concentration and this, together with lower bird density, will reduce the spread of infectious diseases.
The construction of wooden feeders (carved or framed) is described in many manuals.At least for this purpose, industrial equipment is no longer proposed. Home feeders are also used in semi-industrial units (figure 18.104.22.168) . At the rural level, tin or clay is also used.
Mistakes about drinkers are more common. Wide containers or tin boxes are frequently used. Tin boxes, if not secured, are easily overturned while wide drinkers quickly get dirty because birds walk in them, and sometimes cool their legs by immersion. Anyway, it must be remembered that metal quickly rusts. Expensive industrial drinkers are often found in semi-industrial units and this can be considered correct if justified by the economics (figure 22.214.171.124). Industrial equipment is frequently found in peri-urban, semi-industrial units. It is usually recycled material from industrial farms. These were built according to private or State projects without any previous appropriate system analysis. When the project fails equipment is unofficially sold or even stolen.
The example shows that a private initiative can reduce investment costs and relies on simple local technologies. This normally avoids the most common mistakes that lead to failure, such as too many people being employed, lack of competence in both setting of direction and management, marketing problems with production surpluses, and lack of necessary infrastructure. Equipment recycled is not always available and some alternative technology must be developed. Adapting cheap earthenware pots bought in the local market can easily produce good clay siphon drinkers. Properly shaped handmade containers can also be made into siphon drinkers of different sizes according to needs. They are easily produced from moulded clay cooked in an oven. They cool the water by half a degree centigrade and this has some importance in warm climates as a way for the hens to lose endogenous heat (Finzi and Good, 1988). Clay siphons are described in Chapter 5.5 (Looking for appropriate technologies) and illustrated in figures 5.5.5 and 5.5.7.
Most rural clay handicraft is permeable so water in the drinker is lost. It is necessary to glaze the clay. A simple way to get the same result is to deposit a thin cement-based plaster on both sides of the clay container* (Finzi and Good, 1987).
When feeders and drinkers are available to scavenging birds, the containers are frequently exposed to the sun. This makes the water hot and the mash ferments. It is important to set the containers in the shade. Stalls to lay eggs are frequently fixed structures. These are not the best when disinfection is difficult and costly, and for this reason, even cleaning is abandoned. In figure 126.96.36.199 proper mobile nests are shown. They are also good for brooding and can easily be cleaned, washed and exposed to the suns UV rays for complete natural disinfection. Earthenware pots offer no place for parasites to hide. Anyway, they can also be put in the fire and easily disinfected in this way.
The importance of egg production changes according to market conditions. In rural areas, nearly all the eggs are brooded and the presence of eggs for direct consumption in rural markets is rare. The situation can change where there are bigger markets and in peri-urban areas. When eggs for direct consumption can be marketed, keeping laying hens can become profitable, and the introduction of improved exotic breeds becomes advisable. It is very important to analyse the market before developing projects involving exotic laying hens. An example is discussed in Chapter 8. (Local and exotic breeds). The storage of eggs to be marketed is a problem that must be properly considered. A wooden container or preferably a clay pot into which layers of egg are alternated in cloth (jute sacks are better) is the best local technique. The cloth must be kept wet to cool the container by evaporation. The technique can be slightly improved by placing clean sand among the eggs to increase the contact area and extend the drying period. Conditions of storage can be tested by simply immersing the eggs in a pot of water. If eggs lay transversally, they are very fresh. As they get older they begin to incline, with the bigger pole higher than the pointed one. When eggs are completely vertical a lot of moisture has been lost to form the air chamber and this is the limit at which the eggs can still be considered edible. When the eggs float, they should be considered inedible. If many eggs are found floating it means that turnover is slow, selling eggs is difficult and it is wrong to start projects to produce them. After hatching, chickens must be protected from predators and a proper environment and correct temperature maintained. Good cheap, home-made local technology is shown in figure 188.8.131.52.
Prophylactic and therapeutic interventions are frequently considered as a basic need to allow improvement of rural poultry production. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that poultry have been kept profitably for centuries before the development of modern medical knowledge. In rural areas prophylactics and therapy are practically impossible to obtain due to cost, lack of specific drugs, lack of availability of small doses for a few animals, as well as storage problems. Low density, matching of animals to feed resources to avoid under-nourishment, utilisation of movable, easy to clean equipment should always be remembered. Old techniques should be recovered. Shelters made up of waste metal containers can be well disinfected by fire. When wood is used, smoke can be effective. Petrol and sulphur diluted in oil or, preferably, in waste car lubricant, can cheaply substitute expensive drugs used against external mites (figure 5.1.1).
Cooperative work in rural areas reveals many conditions that seem to relate to a very low level of technology. Nevertheless a careful analysis frequently shows that possible improvements introduce a cost factor without increasing outputs. Figures 184.108.40.206 to 220.127.116.11 show some examples.
As can be deduced from the dimensions of the very simple equipment, only a few chickens can be raised in the situation illustrated in the figures above. This is because the number of chickens is related to the available feed that can be obtained by scavenging. If the number is increased, the feed is insufficient and some animals die. This is the rule in small villages but, when dwellings are more spread out, flock sizes can increase. Anyway, no mash can be offered because it will introduce a cost factor not compatible with the system.
A heap of manure can be considered as a source of protein for chickens scratching about. This should not be allowed too close to dwellings. If the yard is fenced, the best way is to accumulate the manure outside the yard and permit the birds to get out during the day and close them again in their shelter during the night. In this way some grass could grow inside the yard, without being immediately destroyed by birds scratching about the ground for food. Turf can be laid to stop the dust and dirt blowing around inside the house and on the food. The presence of grass should improve the hygienic conditions of the environment and can be eaten by poultry if they are allowed to use it for limited periods. This is an example of a possible intervention to favour family welfare according to the scheme illustrated in figure 4.6. A manual on local equipment and raising customs, focused on very simple sustainable hen keeping systems has been published in the Somali language (Finzi et al., 1985). If marketing conditions are favourable, production can be increased by improving breed, feeding, management and by developing simple appropriate equipment. The latter must be home-made from local cheap materials to maintain low costs (figure 18.104.22.168).
Right and wrong points can be found when a system is analysed, therefore it is nearly always possible to suggest improvements. Sometimes something very useful can be learnt by the technician if he is able to look and ask for explanations (figure 22.214.171.124).
Much about poultry breeding has been discussed in an electronic conference organised by FAO (1999) and problems of rural keeping were considered.
In any developing countries, scavenging chickens are frequently found together with ducks. Even though authors do not normally specify (except in Asiatic countries) the reference is always to Muscovy ducks. Apparently chickens are in competition with ducks, since they scavenge in the same environment by the dwellings. Nevertheless they are frequently found together so competition cannot be too extreme, even where there are no ponds and even where water is scarce. Possibly the strong beaks of Muscovy ducks enable them to exploit resources present in the ground (roots, insects and worms) more efficiently, which is scratched only superficially by chickens.
This is not certain and it is worthwhile to investigate the question of whether chickens and ducks are able to give a higher output together than each of them separately.
Ducks belong to the genera Anas and Chairina. Though the first is considered more productive and favoured by projects, its spread into Developing Countries outside the original Asiatic area seems to be difficult. They can be seen mainly by ponds or canals (figure126.96.36.199). Ducks of the genus Anas are more demanding and need appropriate environmental conditions. Nevertheless, they are considered less susceptible to sickness than chickens, mainly in primitive domestic conditions (Pagot, 1985).
If ducks of genus Anas are found out of Asia, which is rather uncommon,they are generally found in the yard of rich people who keep them, together with geese or other birds, mainly as a sport or status symbol. Some information on raising ducks in a simple way can be found in a specific booklet (FAO, 1991).
The genus Chairina or Muscovy duck (figure 188.8.131.52.) originated from South America. When scavenging ducks are mentioned in Africa, the reference is nearly always to Muscovy ducks. These birds are spontaneously spreading into poor environments in rural areas where they can survive and produce under very marginal conditions. This is a sure indicator of sustainability. Projects for low-food no-income people should take into consideration this species which appears to give a guarantee of success.
184.108.40.206 Muscovy ducks
The Muscovy duck is a rustic and hardy species. Though it is a web-footed bird it needs only a minimum of drinking water. It is able to scavenge and to profit from pasture. Its meat is dark, lean and tasty. Adaptability, resistance to sickness and ability to incubate eggs of other species are other positive traits. The capability to spread spontaneously far from South America, where it originated, into very hard tropical areas demonstrates its exceptional fitness (figure 220.127.116.11.1).
Muscovy ducks are efficient predators on mice and snakes. They also feed on insects so they can contribute to the protection of the house and improve hygiene and safety of the environment.
This is another example of the help that can come from language (Chapter 16). What fits the environment is considered as local. As a matter of fact the Muscovy duck is the only web-footed bird that is spontaneously spreading everywhere in Africa. This is a sure indication that any project based on raising the bird will be sustainable whatever the environmental conditions. Of course it is essential that the number of birds does not exceed the amount of natural resources available for scavenging. Despite the fact that it lays fewer eggs than ducks of the genus Anas, the Muscovy duck is much appreciated when breeding conditions are difficult.
Farmers consider the Muscovy as being very productive in developing countries, when some integration is added to scavenging. If all eggs are incubated, a production of about 335 ducklings per year can be obtained. Ducklings are generally bought and sold at a satisfactory price. The fact that two ducks per week (about 4 kg live weight in total) can be obtained for family consumption or selling, from only three mothers is interesting. If we also take into account the fact that a quarter of such production (one kilo of live weight per week as a mean) is still possible, even when no concentrates are offered to the birds, the species looks extremely promising for food-deficit people. Normally all eggs are incubated, but at least some could also be consumed. If they are collected immediately after laying, production increases and brooding could be extended. The eggs are very rich and nourishing. The shell is very thick and resistant, favourable to storage and transport. If eggs are consumed, the shell can be recycled as a calcium source for any bird species. Muscovy ducks need only simple shelters and the keeper only has to provide a dry place to let them lay their eggs. Incubation time is longer (35 days) than in the common duck (28 days). Ducklings must be protected, but adult birds are heavy, strong and aggressive enough to defend themselves from predators. Viverrids (small mammals) are their most dangerous predators because they are able to bite the ducks on the neck, sitting on their backs, so that the birds have no defence. These predators usually drink only the blood and many birds can be killed.
The Muscovy duck is one of the best species that must be considered in the context of diversification to improve food security. A certain degree of competition with chickens is probable, but it must not be too great a problem since the presence of both species is common in poor rural areas. Anyway, the Muscovy duck is very efficient at exploiting green plant resources. This could be a problem because small horticulture, that is a very important component of backyard systems, must be protected (figure 18.104.22.168.2.). Enclosing the animals to avoid the problem is not simple because the fowl must be fed in some way. And it is not easy to do it at no cost when the animals are not permitted to scavenge. If the yard is fenced, the best way is to make the ducks scavenge outside the yard. If possible, they should have access to a heap of manure to find animal protein resources, as mentioned with reference to chickens. Ducks should be readmitted to the yard only to be protected in their shelter during the night.
To maximise the efficiency of a backyard system Muscovy ducks may integrate very well with rabbit keeping. It is a frequent observation in the field that ducks choose to sit under rabbit cages as their preferred habitat (figures 22.214.171.124. and 6.6.). If they leave the place from time to time in order to feed on grass or go for a drink, they always come back to the heap of faeces under the cages. There they find a rich protein source from insects, worms, larvae, eggs and earthworms on which they feed very willingly.
The importance of Muscovy ducks to develop advanced models of integration with rabbits has been underlined in Chapter 6 (Differentiation and Integration). Figures 6.7. and 6.8. illustrate the topic.
In peri-urban areas where it is more likely that rabbits are fed on pelleted feed, the pellets that fall under the cages are not wasted, but utilised by ducks*.
Approximately one broiler Muscovy duck can be freely produced with each five does fed on pellets (Gualterio et al., 1988). A negative aspect of raising ducks in peri-urban areas is that the birds make the place dirty, and hygienic conditions of the backyard are compromised. Animal wastes in the form of rabbit offal are also a potential feed source for ducks and can be fed ad libitum. Only half the weight of the administered specific mash is offered as corn, and their growth is higher than with the mash alone (Finzi and Amici, 1989). Any protein-rich waste, as well as duck offal, can be recycled in this way. If ducks are integrated with a fishpond, they can fertilise the pond with their faeces while the birds are able to feed on small aquatic animals and algae, and are also able to properly utilise all the wastes produced when fish are cleaned before cooking. With regard to the use of animal wastes such as protein-rich feed resources, ducks compete with pigs, and pigs are normally preferred. But where pork is taboo, ducks can be considered as the pig of the poor, or the pig of the people not consuming pork.
In some areas of Central Africa, raising ducks is also a general taboo for newly married people until they have produced at least a boy and a girl. The belief is that, since birds are very fertile, they can steal fertility from others. The taboo itself is indirect proof that Muscovy ducks are very efficient egg producers. This taboo can limit the involvement of young married people in projects.
Keeping pigeons is an activity that is unevenly distributed in developing countries. Its origin goes back to Roman times and is still very popular in the area of the ancient Roman Empire, mainly around the Mediterranean. Pigeons nest in natural or artificial holes present in rocks, caves, towers, castles and other buildings. Squabs, about four or five weeks old, can therefore be freely harvested from their nests before they are able to fly. At this time they weigh about 400 grams and to catch them at this age is convenient because, when they begin to fly, their live weight decreases measurably.
It is obvious that, if an appropriate shelter is offered, any family can raise pigeons. The cost can be only that of a few grains offered to the bird in the short period during which they are confined, in order to make them choose their nests and get accustomed to the place. A clutch of two eggs is laid each time and, if no feed is administered, pigeons can brood five to six times in one year. Thus 10 pairs can produce eight no-cost squabs (in total about 3.0 kg live weight) per month (Figure 126.96.36.199.).
Pigeons can be raised industrially in closed structures and fed with grain or balanced feeds provided by the owner But this aspect is not considered here, because the technology is known, specific manuals can be found and an industrial enterprise can be easily begun whenever commercial conditions are favourable. Exotic breeds can be raised and both production and weight at slaughter time can be higher than the values mentioned above. Sexual maturity begins in male and females at seven and six months of age respectively in rural systems, or earlier in industrial conditions. Brooding begins after the second egg is laid, generally two days after the first. Incubation lasts 18-20 days and both sexes sit on the eggs; the male sits for a shorter period of about five hours in the middle of the day to permit the female to fly away for feed. The squabs are fed with a special substance produced in the crop (crop milk) and later with food regurgitated by both parents.
In the industrialised systems females are able to lay two new eggs when the squabs are still present in the previous nest. This is the reason why a two-nest structure is considered necessary. Each nest generally measures 30 x 30 to 40 x 40 cm, with a height of 25 to 30 cm and a small rim to stop the eggs rolling out. It can be made of any material from earthenware to plastic. But in simple systems, two nesting shelves for each breeding pair are only provided if feed can be supplied to obtain a higher production. Birds simply choose the nesting place in the shelter prepared by the owner and, in case they need it, they can choose a second hole. They may also nest at ground level, mainly in a corner, and when holes are free in the walls (Figure 188.8.131.52.).
The best system for building pigeon houses is probably the one developed in the delta area of the Nile. It is based on elongated earthenware pots, about 60 cm long with a diameter of 25 to 30 cm. They are specifically produced by a local earthenware handicraft industry (Figure 184.108.40.206.).
The clay pots are placed horizontally in the body of a circular wall with the mouth open towards the inside. (Figure 220.127.116.11.).
The top of the towers is generally conical in shape. They are provided with external ledges pointing outwards where pigeons can sit before entering the building through the clay tubes (figure 18.104.22.168.).
A simple staircase, fixed internally to the walls, permits the owner to explore the nests up to the top of the building (figure 22.214.171.124.).
The basic unit is the nest-pot and it can be repeated as many times as necessary. In this way the building can grow while maintaining the character of a simple, local, cheap, sustainable and functional technology. This is possibly the only example of a simple technology that permits hundreds of birds to be raised without moving to an industrial model. Sometimes the dimensions of the buildings are really impressive. Probably no industrial farm was ever able to house so many birds as the unit shown in figure 126.96.36.199. This is another opportunity to reflect over the efficiency of simple technologies and how they can compete even with industrial production systems.
Small units can be found in many parts of South America and Africa (figure 188.8.131.52.), nearly always as a cultural effect of the settling of Mediterranean people who have the traditional habit of consuming pigeon meat.
Fig. 184.108.40.206. Try to analyse the system before you click on the picture to read the legend.
Remember that the analysis of what the technician is able to observe is useful in providing clues to appropriate questions and to check the value of the answers. In some regions, for instance in the Nile Delta, buildings to raise pigeons are widely distributed in the rural settlements, villages, peri-urban and even urban areas. The tower buildings are most common in the rich rural area, while the three or four wall shelters set on the roof are more common in poor rural areas (figure 220.127.116.11.) and in towns (figure 18.104.22.168.). Pigeons naturally nest in high places in order to better protect their eggs and squabs from predators. At least in rural areas, sheltering the birds in a structure on the roof helps to optimise space utilisation and it is also a way to make stealing the animals more difficult.
The frequency with which these typical pigeon houses can be observed hints at the economic importance of raising pigeons in the area. A survey in the market will immediately confirm this. Socio-cultural aspects will become clear as soon as the technician succeeds in getting an invitation to lunch or dinner as suggested in Chapter 15 (Rules of conduct). Pigeon will be offered to him/her as a special dish to honour the guest wherever raising pigeons is considered important.
If a small tower is built in a corner of a backyard, faeces and eggshells fall to the bottom of the buildings and this is a very favourable place, shadowed and sufficiently wet, to permit a deep litter formation and production of a good compost. Adding faeces of any other species (for instance rabbits) and vegetal wastes makes the quantity of manure produced easy to integrate into a small animal keeping with backyard horticulture. The fact that pigeons can represent an important element of differentiation and contribution to the nourishment and/or income of the family is seldom considered. But many factors play a role in favour of pigeon keeping, mainly as a component of backyard integrated systems. Pigeons do not compete with other species for space or for feed. In fact dovecotes are normally located on the roof where they are also better protected from predators and theft. The birds, if fed by the owners, tend to remain in the surroundings, but, if they have to look for their own feed, they are able to fly in a radius of 15 kilometres or more to find feeding resources from natural or cultivated grasses. Other information on the species can be found in a manual from the American National Research Council (1991). When different poultry species are present in the backyard, it is obvious that, while chickens, ducks and others birds are scavenging in the same area, pigeons can fly far away, not competing with them and they can also profit from the different vegetation cycle of the plants present on a vast area. It is supposed that the species is not known well enough by project makers. This seems to be the only possible explanation why a species which is easy to raise and able to produce at a very low cost is very rarely considered. But the pigeon component should always be considered, at least in an earlier phase, when food security programmes are being prepared. The characteristics of the species make it a precious element of the small integrated systems. Its adaptability to very small or very big units, without changing the basic keeping conditions, plays a positive role favouring the possible move from subsistence to commercial dimensions, whenever the market makes it possible and convenient. It is not easy to find local housing and managing systems where keeping pigeons is uncommon. It must be remembered that birds flock frequently to market areas where they find wastage to eat (figure 22.214.171.124.).
The breeders place can easily be found by asking who is the owner of the pigeons that can be seen scavenging around or sold in the market. Some simple pigeon keeping systems can be found, such as the one shown in figure.126.96.36.199. A visit can help to analyse the local technology and to discuss the matter properly before drafting an appropriate project for food security, which should also consider pigeons as an important species useful for integrating into small animals keeping systems.
The above example is interesting because it shows how a new, local, simple, cheap and sustainable technology can be spontaneously developed. In cases like this the technician should always profit from the opportunity to study the system to see if it can be disseminated among other people and villages and which are the local factors that can favour or impair it. This is also an example of the way that the know-how competence of the technician can be enriched.
7.1.4. Other birds
Local chickens, Muscovy ducks and pigeons are the only birds which adapt to any keeping condition, and also to environments which are harsh and where they must rely on scarce nutritional resources to provide for themselves. Any project to improve human welfare in a scarce-food, no-income area, must rely on these species. This does not mean that other species or breeds cannot be usefully utilised in these conditions. In previous chapters, consideration has been given to identifying when improved chicken, pigeon or duck breeds can be utilised. But to find scavenging ducks of the genus Anas, geese and even guinea fowl in rural areas is rather exceptional, except in some districts. For instance waterfowl can be found where there are permanent water courses or artificial canals (figure 188.8.131.52.).
Sometimes geese can be found in the yards of rich people who keep them as a status symbol to show their wealth. In a random survey there is little chance of finding geese in poor rural areas. The good habit of paying a visit to local authorities (Chapter 15. - Rules of conduct) before beginning the field survey allowed the photograph showing the birds in figure 184.108.40.206 to be taken.
Figure 220.127.116.11. shows a flock of geese raised by a rich farmer. It is very doubtful that these birds will be profitable, unless they are sold for reproduction to the many people that wrongly believe they can get money from keeping such species. This is not uncommon, and to sell exotic birds for reproduction is sometimes very easy and profitable, but only if there are people who can afford to buy them.
Scavenging turkeys can be found in South and Central America where they originated, but practically nowhere else. Improved turkeys are uncommon in the rural areas in other parts of the world. If they are found, they are always owned by wealthy people (figure 18.104.22.168.).
In Africa, guinea fowl are more common than other fowl species, except poultry, Muscovy ducks and pigeons, but they are nevertheless rare in rural areas. Quail are also rare. In this context, the word rare suggests that the birds in question are unlikely to be found by random searching, but there will be some in the area. When there is a market for guinea fowl meat or quail eggs, then semi-industrial raising of these species is convenient and advisable. A manual on quail production systems has been published by FAO (Shanaway, 1994). Ostrich is also considered as a species of some interest for animal production, but this big bird is unsuitable for sustainable projects aimed at food security. A good manual by Carbajo García (1997) provides the basic knowledge needed to start a keeping should marketing conditions become favourable.
The only important species of mammals to be raised in backyards are rabbits and guinea pigs. Grass-cutter and giant rats are also considered to be of local importance in Western Africa, and pacas, hutías and other rodents in Southern America. But if the backyard where animals are kept permanently is near the house, other species can only occasionally be considered. Sometimes a sow for reproduction or a few piglets for fattening are raised close to village dwellings. They are given kitchen wastes and some extra feed and in this case must be considered as a part of the backyard system (figure 7.2.1.).
Dwarf goats kept and fed permanently in backyards have also been observed many times in West African Countries (Chapter 6. - Differentiation and integration; figures 6.2. to 6.4.). They were fed with locally abundant palm leaves or with other roughage. Even single Holstein-Friesian cows have been found as the result of a positive project in a North African Country. They were fed with alfalfa collected in the oases. With the exception of pigs, which are omnivorous, all other more important species of mammals are herbivorous. Unless specific circumstances allow (abundant vegetal and other resources) the traditional and obvious way to feed ruminants is to take them to graze, and only small mammals should be considered appropriate as backyard animals.
For many years stress has been put on the efficiency of feed conversion, and this has limited the interest in small herbivores. It is true that the feed conversion of rabbits and guinea pigs is lower when compared to chickens, but they are still more efficient than big ruminants. Interest in small mammals is certainly increasing, and they are frequently considered as a valuable means to support food security projects, particularly when food security is a family welfare issue. Their importance as backyard animals is now assured. They give women an opportunity to work without leaving their home and represent a valuable animal protein for the nutritional needs of the family. They are also able to utilise small amounts of vegetal bio-masse combined, if necessary with concentrates. As a consequence, rabbits and guinea pigs are not competing with man for food and this important point favours their spread to support rural development in food deficient areas. Unfortunately, the importance of these species as useful components of integrated backyard systems remains largely unrecognised.
Rabbits originated in the West Mediterranean where they are still very popular. Rabbit keeping remains common in the areas where it has always been traditional, such as Asia, the Western part of North Africa, the Nile delta and some South American countries, mainly Mexico and the Caribbean islands. Where breeding is not traditional it is not easy to introduce, because of problems of producing cages, management and the low thermo-tolerance of the species. Nevertheless, rabbits must be considered as an interesting species for food security because they quickly thrive when some vegetal resources are available. The fact that the species is not competitive with man for food is another advantage, as well as its exploitation of all the vegetal kitchen wastes. The most common, traditional way to keep rabbits is to leave them to dig their burrows in the yards or from some room in the house (figure 22.214.171.124.). Sometimes small stone shelters are prepared. Rabbits will always spend some time below ground and new burrows are usually dug by does to prepare their nest. These breeding systems, though quite common in traditional rabbit-keeping areas are practically unknown to western technicians, and are not mentioned in specific literature.
It must be remembered that rabbits have little tolerance to heat, and are unable to maintain their body temperature when the ambient temperature reaches 30°C. This is a very limiting trait because most Developing Countries have tropical climates. Thus allowing animals to find cooler conditions underground corresponds to the ethology of the species (figure 126.96.36.199.). This point was discussed in Chapter 5.5. (Looking for appropriate new techniques) and shows how new techniques depend upon a correct identification of limiting biological constraints. Technical innovations to reduce heat stress were illustrated in figures 5.5 2 to 5.5.4.
When rabbits are left free to dig their burrows, they form colonies and reproduce freely but their individual control is difficult, there is limited hygiene and production is minimal (only 2 to 5 kittens per doe per year). Nevertheless the system is simple; mating control and nest building is unnecessary and a colony of 5-6 does produces two rabbits a month (total of about 3 kg live weight) on grazing alone. This must be considered a good contribution to the nutritional welfare of the family. Projects are normally based on training to build and to utilize cages. Providing metal cages is generally a mistake because it presumes an amortization plan. This concept is not easily understood. Similarly, expecting poor people to buy new cages to replace old ones is unrealistic. Another limiting factor to the use of metal cages in the tropics is the high relative humidity. This together with the corrosive action of urine means that the cages rust rapidly. This limitation refers to all metallic structures used to raise small animals and was discussed with reference to poultry (See commentary to figure 188.8.131.52). A convincing example is shown in figure 184.108.40.206. To amend the damaged metal floor the keeper had to go back to the traditional and sustainable no cost system using bamboo sticks.
This example refers to the unit illustrated in figure 2.3.3. and teaches how wrong it can be to think that imported technologies are better just because they are costly and efficient in some other place. Cages must be built with local, cheap and readily available materials, such as wood or bamboo. This is the sustainable way that rabbits have been raised for centuries in the nowadays-developed Countries where metal cages are certainly more hygienic and suitable for industrial production. When marketing conditions are favourable, people can buy metal cages to begin commercial production, but this should not be matter to be considered when food security is involved. The very low thermo-tolerance of rabbits (Valentini et al., 1985; Finzi et al., 1986) is a strong limiting factor against the use of cages. Project makers should always consider this point. In North Africa, where rabbit keeping is traditional, animals kept in cages stop reproduction for nearly four months in the hot season. Does are not even mated because, stressed by heat, they are unable to eat enough to sustain pregnancy and feeding (Finzi, 1986). Rabbits are covered by a highly insulating fur coat, and being unable to sweat they have to lose their endogenous heat mainly by increasing their respiration rate, but this is not a very efficient physiological system. Rabbits, in fact, have developed a behavioural defence against heat. In natural conditions, they shelter in underground burrows where there the temperature is normally lower. If they are confined in cages and exposed to above-ground ambient temperatures of greater than 30 oC , they suffer and eat less. Above 35°C and with a high relative humidity rabbits will begin to die after a few hours. This is also true for acclimated strains, though they are able to maintain a lower body temperature compared with exotic rabbits (Finzi et al., 1992b). The topic is discussed in Chapter 8 (Local and exotic breeds) and illustrated in figure 8.3. An expert technician should be able to recognize when rabbits are stressed by heat as the animals become prostrated. They extend their body, trying to maximize its surface area. Ears begin to pulsate and become very red, the degree of which depends upon the increased respiratory rate (Finzi et al., 1992c). When rabbits are heat stressed, the only efficient emergency intervention is to immerse the animals in a bucket of water at ambient temperature*. The recovery is immediate and even animals near to death can be saved (Finzi et al., 1992a).
Mountains are probably the only areas of tropical countries where, thanks to a lower ambient temperature due to altitude, there are no problems associated with raising rabbits in cages. Wherever cages are used, they should not be placed in closed buildings. To build a sheltering structure has a cost and frequently it produces only problems. Buildings are generally hot and lack ventilation. Microbial concentration is high, particularly if the ambient temperature is also high; the building must be kept well cleaned in this situation. Openair keeping is certainly more convenient and the only important condition is an open and well shaded site for the cages. In hot climates, tradition (use of straw or palm leaves for roofs) and nature (climbing plants) offer the right means to reduce temperature inside the buildings (figure 220.127.116.11.).
Nevertheless the improper use of galvanised roofs is spreading. It is difficult for people to understand that metal, hit by the sun's rays, becomes hot and works as a source of radiation over the animals. Still worse is if the roof is low, as frequently happens. An impressive trick to convince people is to make them to touch the metal which is burning hot. This problem seems to be better understood in North Africa where heaps of straw (sometimes very high) have frequently been used on roofs to provide an insulating layer (figure 18.104.22.168.).
Wooden cages are easily built by breeders (Finzi, 1986; 1987; Finzi et al., 1992c). but should not have projections which can be nibbled by the strong chisel-like front teeth of rabbits. Rounded shapes are good for this purpose since rabbits have a limited capability of opening their mouths. A beautiful cage built using raffia bamboo is shown in figure 22.214.171.124. Long wooden nails were stuck in drilled holes to fix the frame. Another possibility is tying the frame up with ropes that are made from vegetal fibre. Figure 126.96.36.199. shows how a specific technique must be utilised to keep the main poles perpendicular, but taking care that the ropes remain out of reach of the rabbits teeth*. As indicated in the introduction, the reader is reminded that original technologies developed by the author in the field or by the Experimental Centre in Viterbo are indicated with *.
A mixed technology has also been developed that adapts common hutches into cages which can be used to transport poultry to the market*. They are very cheap and can be found easily everywhere. It is sufficient to protect the wood frame from the inside with a thin wire-net to avoid rabbits nibbling it (figure 188.8.131.52.). Another mixed technology* to build up a cage is shown in fig.5.5.3.
The cage floor should not allow faeces to accumulate. The technique is properly described by Lebas et al. (1997). Where it is difficult to disinfect the cages, hygiene becomes of paramount importance. A floor that can be easily removed and immediately substituted with a clean one* is shown in figure 184.108.40.206. The removed floor can be washed later and exposed to solar radiation for natural disinfection. Wood should be treated with used car oil to make it less susceptible to impregnation with urine and termite attack.
There is nowadays a tendency to build smaller cages than the ones described in the old books and still built in the rural areas of developed Countries. This is due to the influence of technicians who make reference to modern cages in the industrial units where the cost of structures is a limiting factor. Small cages can reduce the costs also in developing Countries if building materials are not free or cheap. But the ancient model of wide and tall cages has some advantages such as permitting a lower animal density for a given number of rabbits and the possibility of utilising rake feeders (figure 220.127.116.11.). A very good old-fashioned rabbit breeding unit in the Guinea gulf area is shown in figure 18.104.22.168.
A very beautiful hutch unit to raise rabbits has been abandoned. It is easy to recognise from afar, looking at the roof, the open doors of the cages and the grass growing again where the workers used to walk. In the wet equatorial climate grass is abundant all the year round, therefore it is puzzling why a production unit that should be sustainable and profitable was abandoned.
This is an example of the effect of para-technical factors. The topic is discussed in Chapter 2.2. (Technical and para-technical factors).
An appropriate technology has been developed to raise free ranging rabbits inside a yard forming a closed warren* (Finzi and Amici, 1988; Finzi et al., 1994). A scheme is shown in figure 22.214.171.124. To avoid rabbit burrows being flooded by heavy rains, it is sufficient to prepare a haystack or any heap of straw or hay covered by a plastic sheet or other material*. Rabbits choose always to dig their burrows under the straw heap and stop digging elsewhere. Appropriate nests can be prepared. They are chosen by does if the entrance is through a piece of tube, though they often give birth to their young in the hay.
A self-catching system* can easily be prepared using a closed area where food and water are available. A swinging door can be activated to permit rabbits to enter but not to get out again. The animals can then be caught for checking as required by the breeder (Finzi and Amici, 1988; 1991). The system works well in exploiting marginal areas or to produce organic meat in developed Countries, provided it is well protected from predators. It has not yet been tested in developing Countries where it should also work. Of course it is a colony system but individual control is possible if the buck is kept aside and does, trapped in the self-catching area, are taken to its cage for mating whenever necessary. Pregnancy and sanitary controls are also possible. Trapping the animals every two weeks is an efficient management system that allows the owner to keep them under control. Normally three does are kept in a 100 m2 area. This is divided into two parts that are used in rotation for periods of six months. Also an underground cell system* has been developed by the Centre and tested in very different conditions. It proved to be the best system to be adopted in tropical areas. The topic is discussed in Chapter 5.5. (Looking for appropriate new techniques) and a scheme is described in figure 5.5.2. Each unit is formed by a small cell (about 40 x 40 cm or wider) covered with earth and connected by a short tube to an external cage. A lid to permit access forms the top of the cell. The lid should be made of wood or insulating materials to avoid the cell becoming hot by irradiation from above. Rabbits shelter in the cell during the hottest hours of the day and enjoy better microclimatic conditions. The animals that utilise the underground cell have a lower body temperature than the ones raised in cages. (Finzi, 1987, Finzi and Amici, 1991; Finzi et al., 1992b). The system is modular and the producing units can grow slowly according to needs. The underground model can be built directly by the owner at low cost with local materials that are normally clay, cement or bricks for the cell, and wood or wood and wire-netting for the external cage. Cheap clay pots, very common in local markets, were later adopted by North African technicians. Because of the relatively small size of pots, they developed the idea of adding a smaller pot to be used as a nest. Of course all the system is interconnected because the nest links with the central pot and this in turn with the external cage. Figure 126.96.36.199. shows a small demonstration unit.
The lids were put upside-down, partially filled with earth and used as flowerpots. In this way a more beautiful environment was created and the wet earth in the lids had the effect of refreshing the cells. Indigenous grasses collected in arid zones were planted to maintain soil humidity when it was irrigated, and to keep the sides of the pots moist. The wood-framed wire-net cages were placed at ground level over a gutter (figure 5.5.2.) to collect faeces. Periodic cleaning was possible by moving the cages. If a plastic sheet is laid over the gutter, urine nitrogen can be recovered for manuring purposes*. The need for specific equipment should not necessarily make technicians think of industrial models. Wood could be used to prepare nests, but locally crafted clay pots should be preferred. They are not nibbled by rabbits and can be easily washed and disinfected in the fire if necessary. Two good prototypes are illustrated in figures 188.8.131.52. and 184.108.40.206.
In the underground cell system the nest is easily formed by putting a brick or a stone to close a part of the cell* (figure 220.127.116.11.).
Feeding rabbits with no-cost roughage achieves the aim of food security. The traditional high hutches may be provided with rake feeders (figure 7,2.1.18.) while, when smaller cages are used, some system must be found to avoid putting grass on the floor where it is quickly trodden and dirtied with faeces and urine.
Two systems to prevent forage being spoiled on the floor are illustrated in figures 18.104.22.168. and 22.214.171.124. When the cage is low, administering the forage from the top is certainly the best way to feed the rabbits. It is quick, any amount can be provided and it is not necessary to open the cage.
Whenever a bowl or any container is seen inside a cage, it means that some concentrates are being fed to the animals. It is useful then to study when and how much is administered. Maybe higher production is required to supply the market, or simply fewer animals are better fed and give a good meat output.
Sustaining late pregnancy and first lactation could be an appropriate goal. Also concentrates can be administered to maintain production in the dry season when no green forage is available. Sometimes concentrates are fed without any specific purpose. Much can be learnt by the technician who exploits every opportunity to ask questions, and this often results in some valuable suggestions. Siphon drinkers utilising waste glass bottles (as illustrated in figure 126.96.36.199.), are common and the technology to build them, together with other systems, is known and described (Lebas et al., 1996). An interesting model locally invented is shown in figure 5.5.5. Applied research by the Experimental Centre in Viterbo has produced good drinkers and feeders utilising recycled plastic bottles inserted in a hand crafted clay base*. The scheme is described in figure 188.8.131.52. and a prototype to make drinkers for guinea pigs is shown in figure 184.108.40.206.
Waste plastic bottles can now be found everywhere and the newly designed drinkers have the advantage of easy replacement with no loss of water.because the bottle does not need to be turned upside-down Simply a hole is made in the base by using a red-hot nail. The feeder is produced by discarding the top of the bottle and then cutting a hemispheric hole in the border. In Developing Countries all the available vegetable matter should be properly utilised, aiming at limited but no cost production. In these conditions a doe can produce from 6 to 10 weaned young per year. It is not much, but a goal of 2 kg live weight per week, for the needs of the family, can easily be achieved by keeping 6 to 8 does. Mashes are not suitable for rabbits and granulated feeds are rarely available. Anyhow the use of balanced feeds is only economic if a convenient market can be found, and this is only likely in peri-urban areas. In this situation, good breeders can attain a production up to 20 young/doe/year. Two rabbits per week can thus be produced by a stock of only 5 does. If the nutrition of rabbits is based on roughage, first mating must be delayed until 6 or more months of age, and a new mating is not generally recommended until at least 6 weeks after parturition. Unfortunately, technicians often suggest re-mating only two weeks after delivery, or even immediately after delivery. The result is an extremely high mortality and loss of litters. No doe is able to sustain repeated pregnancies and simultaneous feeding without a break after parturition, especially if balanced feeds arent available. Molasses blocks or crumbles can be produced at rural level (Finzi and Amici, 1996; 1997) and rabbits use them well but many factors such as high molasses content and palatability of roughage must be considered. Anyhow losses are less than when pellets are fed, particularly if the latter are administered in poorly designed feeders . When blocks are used, the remnants should be recovered and included in new blocks, before they become so small > that they get lost under the cage (figure 5.4.4.) as appens with pellets. Production and correct utilisation of blocks and crumbles is discussed in Chapter 11.2. (Feeding and simple technologies).
Mice are considered the worst predators of new-born litters since they are able to pass through the spaces left among the floor slats to make drops fall down in wood or bamboo cages. Then mice eat the small new-born in the nest. Bafflers against mice are described in Chapter 5.3. (Old technologies still utilised) and illustrated in figure 5.3.2. A clever, simple, appropriate system to protect the litters, according to a locally developed management, is described in Chapter 5.5. (Looking for appropriate new techniques).
Cresol is very active disinfectant against coccidia*. Oocysts are killed by a concentration 0.1% of the chemical (Margarit et al, 1996). Cresol is very cheap and it is relatively easily found, but it is necessary to pay attention because phenols are frequently sold as cresol. They have a good bactericide action but they are nearly inactive against coccidia. Also bleach is active, cheap and easily found, but chlorine must reach at least a 0.5% concentration to kill the coccidia.
It must be remembered that rabbits are very well integrated by ducks (Muscovy ducks). The birds choose to stay constantly under the cages as a selected habitat (figures 6.6. and 220.127.116.11.3.). The reason is that, also when they cannot feed with pellets fallen from feeders because of a grass-based diet, they scavenge among faeces and always find insects and their eggs or larvae, that are a protein rich nourishment (Gualterio et al., 1988). This point is discussed in Chapter 18.104.22.168. (Muscovy ducks).
Rabbits integrate also with backyard horticulture. They offer good manure and receive and exploit properly all the vegetal wastes. More information on this topic can be found in Chapter 6. (Differentiation and integration) and Chapter 9. (Small species and horticulture).
If technicians or consultants are ready to learn from experience, unexpected cultural traits can be discovered (figure 22.214.171.124.). The acquired knowledge must be taken into account when project for development are prepared since added values can be useful to make sustainable the keeping of the species involved.
Information on simple systems and equipment to raise rabbits can be found in many manuals (GTZ, 1985), (Finzi and Amici, 1991), Lukefahr (1992), Sandford (1996), and the Self-Teaching Manual on Backyard Rabbit rearing of the Caribbean network of co-operation in small animal development (1986). Useful information is reported also in the book, already quoted, from Lebas et al. (1996).
Though many people are unsuccessful, due to relatively difficult managing, generally projects succeed to create some new breeder. Their presence is a permanent stimulation for other people to begin, so that they can be considered as indicators of success also if they remain a small percent of the persons initially involved. This is true also because people who are capable to produce are nearly always educated persons, able to teach and to diffuse a proper technology.
7.2.2. Guinea pigs
Guinea pigs are an autochthonous species that archaeological research shows was raised since very ancient times in the Andes mountains. It is locally known with the name of "cuy". The animals are commonly kept in the kitchen, where they run freely around among the pots, eating any kind of vegetal wastes (figure 126.96.36.199.). Probably this keeping system was originated because guinea pigs suffer cold environments and die in the rigid climate of the high Andes unless they can range freely near the fireplace. Nevertheless this explanation is not sufficient and other reasons (for instance its simplicity or a cultural heritage) must explain why the same system is the most common also in the hot African climates.
Sometimes the animals can be found also in the bedroom, where it exists. Keeping in cages is possible, but it looks very uncommon in rural areas (figure 188.8.131.52.). Raising guinea pigs in the kitchen is a system so widely diffused that it must be considered as easily accepted when the goal is to diffuse the species to support programs for food security. The species is spontaneously diffusing, maintaining its specific keeping system that is sustainable and profitable. To support this process leads certainly to develop successful projects. Kitchens, anyhow, are always kept very clean and hygienic problems should be considered more theoretic than real.
Guinea pigs are rustic and are seldom sick if density is not becoming excessive. Adult weight is less then one kilo and young should be slaughtered to a live weight of no more then 450 g, since their growth becomes later very slow. A heavy breed has been selected in Peru and many projects are diffusing this strain or advising to make crosses. As a consequence the original native strain is becoming endangered and should be protected.
The reasons to protect native guinea pig are many. First of all it is nonsense to loose the smallest mammal utilised by man. The meat of the native strain is considered more tasty and preferred in the rural areas. It is known that the Peruvian breed grows faster, as it is obvious, but feed consumption is also higher and generally concentrates are administered. This is not possible in rural areas. Anyhow the efficiency of the two breeds has never been compared in poor field conditions where it should be difficult to demonstrate that the Peruvian breed is more efficient that the native one when all parameters are considered, including feed conversion, cost of feed integration with concentrates, health, replacement rate and others.
Native guinea pigs pertain to the cultural world of Andean people. The meat is offered to important visitors and eaten in social or religious feasts, since it is considered absolutely the best. The animals are also used for sacrifices and in ethnomedicine. The many functions of guinea pigs in the socio-cultural system have been treated in Chapter 2.1. (Dynamics of animal production systems).
Though the fact is nearly unknown, guinea pigs are spreading spontaneously in Centre and West Africa (figures 184.108.40.206. and 220.127.116.11.). This shows its exceptional fitness to be bred by no-income low-feed populations. To find the animals in the villages it is necessary to know the local name because generally people do not know the English or French word and technicians do not know the local word. The problem is discussed as an interesting example in Chapter 16. (Language).
In Africa the species has lost its original reference to the magic world, though some new peculiarity is being created again. Other species are utilised for sacrifices or for social reasons while guinea pigs are mainly directly consumed. This is a good point in favour of guinea pigs to be considered when programmes for food security are projected (figure 4.4.).
Guinea pigs are more eaten than sold, thus well contributing to nutritional welfare of poor populations. They request nor cages nor specific cares. The animals go simply around in the kitchen and eat any vegetal waste and some leaf or grass which is easily collected in small amount to nourish them. It is wise to consider always this species when programmes are developed to help rural populations.
Guinea pigs produce a mean of 2-2.5 born per litter and can have four or five parturitions per year. Losses are not many in warm climates and predation is a minor problem when the animals are kept in the kitchen. Thus it is reasonable to wait for 8 produced per doe per year.
Raising begins generally with a pair at a cost that normally is about one dollar. It must be considered that this is a very small amount to help people to begin. Later on a colony is formed. One male to 8-10 females is an appropriate ratio though males are frequently in excess. From such a small stock a meal from 1.5 to 2.5 kilos of live weight could be expected each month.
Avoiding raising the animals inside the house is often suggested for hygienic reasons. It is doubtful that to keep guinea pigs is less hygienic then to keep any other animal. On the contrary guinea pigs are believed to scare mice away. This believing is very diffused and it was possible to confirm it when small mice were found killed by guinea pigs raised in a controlled environment. It can be also considered that, if they compete for food, guinea pigs are bigger than mice are. These reasons should be considered before judging negatively the custom of raising guinea pigs inside the dwellings in poor villages of Andes or Africa.
Anyhow to keep the animals in small boxes inside a specific building is a system that has a tendency to diffusion in the original area. These small boxes are called "pozas". They are about 0.5 to 1.0 m2 wide and the walls are about 1 m high when a specific environment is utilised. Inside the kitchens generally dimensions are quite smaller. Pozas are built with adobe but also bricks or other materials can be used. They represent a simple, cheap, local technology (figure 18.104.22.168.). A poza very well managed was found in the kitchen of a West African dwelling, newly re-invented by the housekeeper. This is an example of spontaneously convergent technology and it means that it is appropriate and easy to be accepted and realised also outside the original area.
When pozas are utilised in small buildings or empty rooms, cold weather, common on mountains, can be a problem. Guinea pigs flock together to keep themselves warm and new-born are easily quenched.
The best solution to keep guinea pigs out of the house is probably to prepare small appropriate shelters according to a technology spontaneously developed in the Andes (fig. 22.214.171.124.). The scarce volume of these shelters makes it possible that the warmth produced by bodies is not dispersed and the temperature can remain sufficient to permit the animals to survive during the cold nights.
When the building is wide, avoiding losses during the cool nights is difficult. All the animal of the colony crowd together and litters are easily quenched. The efficacy of reversed pots to which small passages have been opened on the border to give entrance and shelter to young guinea pigs has been tested* (figure 126.96.36.199.). Only the smallest subjects can enter and gather there in. They are protected by quenching, while the physiological warmth produced is not dispersed in the environment. The shelter works well if a rigid base is applied at the bottom of the pot to permit only to young animals to enter.
Guinea pigs can be fed with freely collected grasses or leaves, beside kitchen wastes. In this case production is practically inexpensive and contribution to family welfare may become very important. This happens in very poor areas. Unluckily grasses and wastes are usually thrown on the ground where they are trodden and spoiled by faeces and urine. This happens also in bigger units and even in research centres. The spoiled feedstuffs are about 16%. This amount can be reduced to 1-2% if roughage is offered in special wire-net baskets (figure 5.5.1.). Holes of about one inch in the wire-net are the most suitable* (Finzi et al., 1994).
But very poor people are not even able to buy wire-net. Two pieces of wood or a split branch can be then used. The device was called "barra"*. The stems of the grass are pressed between the halves of the barra and then hanged over the poza (figure 188.8.131.52.). In this case also up to 14% of the grass normally spoiled can be saved.
When guinea pigs are fed with cultivated grass, mainly alfalfa is utilised. In this case raising the animal can become too expensive in comparison with selling prices and sparing 15% of the forage or raising 15% more animals adopting the use of wire-net bags is a factor of improvement that should be always considered. Barras are cheaper but the work is more; the choice depends on the cost of personpower.
Guinea pigs need drinking water, though this is not always done when fresh forages are administered. Technicians advise the use of clay bowls, but it must be considered that bowls are frequently overthrown wetting the litter. Anyhow guinea pigs are used to make dirty drinking water with faeces and urine, so that hygienic conditions are quickly impaired. To avoid these problems, bowls have been cemented to a brick and a brick stair was made to rise the level of the bowl over the litter* (fig. 184.108.40.206.). In this way bowls are no more overthrown and the technique looks very advisable. Hygienic conditions are also improved and a mean reduction of dirties of 77% can be obtained (Finzi et al., 1997).
A further improvement was obtained with a new prototype of simple no cost drinker. It can be produced also by the breeder himself moulding clay or cement to obtain a base on which a wasted plastic bottle is inserted. A hole is made with a warmed nail in the bottom of the bottle to permit the water to pour out and a very practical siphon can be obtained* (figure 220.127.116.11.). The drinking surface should be about 4x4 cm. The dirties collected are the half than in the bowl and can be reduced to a minimum of only 2 g/week in a colony of 1 male, 5 does and their litter if the drinker is disposed at a higher level.
The same thing can be said with reference to feeders built up with a similar technology. The scheme is the one described for rabbits and shown in figure 18.104.22.168. Dimensions may be proportionally reduced, but may also remain the same if the equipment must serve all the animals of a colony.
Though the use of concentrates is frequently advised and it can improve both reproduction and growing, feeding cost increases and the technique may be adopted only if marketing conditions are favourable. This is sometimes possible if a town market can be reached. In the rural areas far away it is much better to produce at no cost and feed the animals only with freely collected roughage.
Guinea pigs are easy to be bred and suitable to improve the nutritional conditions of families. Considering that spontaneous diffusion of the species is a consistent proof of sustainability of the keeping, its positive traits should be always kept in mind by project makers interested to food security also outside the Andean area. But projects must be developed according to tradition and a new social relationship cannot be introduced without risk of being unsuccessful.
To prepare projects easy to be financed is not the same as to prepare sustainable projects. Unfortunately donors are used to look to reality through the eyes of project makers and project makers find it easier to work according to what they think reality is. Once again is shown the importance of analysing systems and testing new ideas before starting projects. In this case social para-technical factors have been constantly underestimated. In Chapter 2.3. (Development modifies sustained production systems) the disastrous effect of starting an industrial production of guinea pigs without a previous analysis of technical parameters has been described.
If training is thought necessary, probably it is better to teach and practise in the agricultural schools (figure 22.214.171.124.). Here is the right place and the right time to learn something about physiology, nutrition, reproduction and other topics.
7.2.3. Other mammals
Other mammals can be or become species of interest in specific areas they have originated from and can be profitably raised also elsewhere. One example is grasscutter (genus Thryonomys) in Africa.
The species is not properly domesticated but it can reproduce in captivity. Thus it can be hunted, captured alive and reared in cages or in some unused room where some concrete pen of about 4 m2 can be built. Animals are kept at a density of about 2-3 subjects per m2.
The animal is present in western Africa, from Senegal to Nigeria (Adoun, 1992), as in eastern Africa and southward until South Africa. Its presence has been observed in the semiarid Sahel as in the great equatorial forest belt, near the cost as in the highlands at 3.000 m of altitude (American National Research Council, 1991). In this wide area it can be considered as an element of a possible species differentiation.
Grasscutters are fed on local grasses, mainly elephant grass and guinea grass (figure 6.5.). According to Ganmavo (1992), over a cultivated area of about one ha, an income increase of about 15% has been estimated as possible raising grasscutters. The species eats only the stems, so that leaves are wasted (figure 126.96.36.199.). It was observed that rabbits eat only the leaves and leave the stems, so that grasscutters and rabbits can constitute a perfect integrated system for the complete utilization of local grasses*. The best scheme is to feed rabbits first. Then it is easy to collect the stems and administer them to grasscutters; the inverse is less easy because leaves are more and probably they have been dirtied and trod by the animals before collecting.
The meat is very appreciated and expensive so that to raise these animals could be convenient. But raising grasscutters is not easy. They are rather aggressive and their powerful incisive teeth are dangerous and able to nibble and destroy the equipment (figure 188.8.131.52.)
Before beginning to produce grasscutters, market condition must be well examined because a great deal of the marketed animals is coming from hunting (figure 184.108.40.206.). Of course, hunted animals can be sold at a lower price then if they are coming from a production unit, and this can be a serious impairment to marketing. Not profitability was still the main limiting factor at the second half of the eighties (Baptist and Mensah, 1986) and the situation does not look changed significantly since then.
Apparently perspectives are better with reference to giant rat (genus Cricetomys). In fact it is much easier to find these animals raised in the villages (figure 220.127.116.11.). Even though some research has been performed (Malekani, 1996), keeping is done mainly according to local, spontaneous technologies. It begins generally with a pair of young rats trapped in the forest.
Giant rats are naturally tame and are managed catching them by the tail (figure 18.104.22.168.) They are fed with fruits, tubers, leaves and by-products of agriculture and can produce 3-4 puppies, 3-4 times a year. Higher yields can be observed but it is unrealistic to consider such outputs as repeatable means.
The meat is very appreciated and easily sold, if not directly consumed; thus to begin with small units of 2-6 pairs can be advised as possible, sustainable and convenient. Keeping the animals in an empty tank of gasoline is the local technology. The system looks efficient, cheap, well accepted and spontaneously diffusing. The tank must be covered with a lid because rats are able to jump out. Rats are frequently escaping when taking out the lid to feed them. A villager got the idea of limiting the top of the tank with a concave lid opened in the centre (Figure 22.214.171.124.).The lid was made adapting a recycled old metal basin.
This is a good example of appropriate, simple technology, locally developed. The analysis of the system gave the chance of discovering it. Technicians have proposed also the utilisation of cement boxes or cages, but these systems are more expensive. They look as an unnecessary complication, at least in the actual phase of raising giant rats at family level.
As grasscutters and giant rats in Africa, coypu (genus Myocastor) could be raised at backyard level in South America. Though the species is considered able to get 2 litters per year and 4-5 animals per litter, data calculated from real yield show an output of about 4 per doe per year. The yield is about 4.5 kg live weight per animal at 6-8 months of age (Biasatti et al., 1998-99). In a corral of about 5 m2 in the backyard, a family of 1 male and 6 females can be arranged. The expected yield is about 9 kg live weight per month. This could be a very good contribution to cover the protein nutritional needs of the family.
If coypu is raised for purposes of food security the system looks sustainable, supposing available nutritional resources are at disposal. The AA. mentioned above have developed an integrated system including production of earthworms and manure. The matter attains the topic treated in Chapter 6 (Differentiation and integration). The flows diagram in the integrated module is shown in figure 126.96.36.199.
Fig. 188.8.131.52. Flow diagram in the integrated system of coypu-earthworm-manure (Biasatti et. al., 1998-99). Though the meat is well liked and could be considered as the sole production goal, coypus have also been described as a dual-purpose (meat and fur) species. The original interest was for fur. It is interesting to consider how para-technical factors, some of them described in Chapter 2.2. (Technical and para-technical factors), negatively and decisively affected breeding. These factors were the growing pressures from environmental groups against the use of animals for fur and market fluctuations arising from a change in clothing fashion . More information on small mammals was produced by the American National Research Council (1991).
7.3 Other species
Other species can be raised to contribute to the nutritional needs of the family and to produce some occasional extra income. In this context, African giant snails and Central and South American iguanas are an new interesting species. Bees are mentioned as a traditional keeping.
7.3.1 Giant snails
Snail species produce appreciated and sometimes very expensive meat. Giant snails are consumed in West African countries and contribute to the nutritional welfare of food-deficient people. They are mainly collected in the field, but many small backyard raising units have been put in place, thanks to the assistance of organisations or programs for rural development. Giant snails pertain to the Achatina and Archachatina genus (five species in total). They weigh 150 to 300 g, but Achatina can reach 400 and even 500 grams. The potential to cover protein deficiencies is thus evident. Snails are easily commercialised and may become an appreciated source of extra income. But it is important to remember that they are also utilised in traditional medicine and this increases their value, due to socio-cultural implications. A colourless liquid is utilised, produced by the dorsal part of the animal when the top of the shell is broken in a particular way. The liquid is widely believed to protect against tetanus and epilepsy; in some places it is also utilised to cure wounds, burns, asthma, bleedings and eye diseases. This importance in ethno-medicine must be properly exploited to reinforce the efficiency of snail-raising projects. To underestimate it is a mistake and technicians can be alienated, or even treated as enemies, with respect to peoples traditions.
Heliciculture can be practised in small concrete houses (50 to 100) sections or inside holes dug in the earth and plastered with clay containing 20 to 50 sections (Sodjinin, 1998). Concrete units with less than 20 sections, but apparently very well managed and productive, have been observed (fig. 184.108.40.206.).
In the villages, snail keeping is often carried out inside old metal or plastic buckets or pots and waste materials are efficiently recycled (fig. 220.127.116.11.). The simplest system observed is formed by a heap of stones where snails find shelter (fig. 18.104.22.168.). Management, in this case, is difficult, but it is sufficient to wet the area and to offer something to eat in the late afternoon. This encourages the snails to come out at night and makes them easier to collect.
Snails are fed with papaya leaves and integration with bran is possible. Husbandry involves feeding the animals, regularly wetting the structure, protecting the animals from predators (mainly domestic fowl) and ensuring that the tiny newborns do not escape. Protection from predators and prevention of escape need properly designed housing systems. Apparently it should be possible to mould clay containers according to the scheme* drawn in figure 22.214.171.124. When they are set partly underground, it should be easy to keep them wet. These clay pots can be produced locally nearly everywhere and it is possible to make a protruding internal rim that prevents the escape of newborn snails. The lid prevents escape of bigger snails.
If preventing ants entering the pot is a problem, a small external circular gutter filled with burnt machine oil is normally sufficient for this purpose. The proposed new technology comes from field analysis of practical snail keeping problems, but has not yet been tested and probably need some adaptation for improved functionality. Staphilinids are more dangerous snail predators. Carnivorous beetles, such as carabids, calosomids and others eat dead snails as do ants (Various Authors, 1998). In Africa, the presence of ants on dead molluscs has generated a general belief that they are able to kill snails. Although we know that they eat them only if dead, it is wise to prevent ants and other insects entering the production units. Giant snails have different local names according to region, species and colour. It is necessary to know the names before beginning to work in the field, but a local survey can produce wrong information. This problem is discussed in the Chapter 16. (Language). Snails can contribute to animal diversity in the backyard. The housing structure can be relatively small and situated in a corner of the yard or in the lower part of a multi-floor structure. In an integrated system, snail shells can be used as a source of calcium for laying hens. Animals discarded because they are dead, eaten by ants or for other reasons are a good source of protein for all fowl species. Leaves wasted as a result of feeding can be composted . Useful information can be found in the publication mentioned above (Various Authors, 1998), although it is devoted to industrial production. Simple information, well supported by figures, can be found in two booklets produced by FAO (FAO, 1986, 1988). They are specific to the African species and promotional aspects are considered particularly for commercial purposes. In the case considered here, the market should be previously analysed because local prices depend on snails freely collected in the bush. Other snails (genus Pomacea) are farmed in some Asiatic Countries in ponds and concrete tanks as human food and as a source of income. Escaped snails have become a pest in rice fields and instead of a chemical control, trapping has been proposed to utilise them as animal feed. Whole or crushed snails have been tested as a possible feed integration for chickens, ducks, tilapias and pigs (Serra, 1997).
Another species, which offers good perspectives, is the green iguana. These reptiles have a range that extends form Mexico to Brazil. They are often called "chickens of the trees" and have been eaten both as a delicacy and a staple food for at least seven thousand years. According to Werner (1998), farmers can raise iguanas in fence rows formed by strips of trees stratified according to height. The largest iguanas occupy the tallest fastest growing species in the centre, while trees planted towards the ends of the rows allow perches for smaller iguanas. Since iguanas are cold blooded, they need sun to maintain their metabolism. Narrow strips of trees provide the reptiles with an optimal amount of sunlight. Hatchlings are contained and protected from snakes in enclosures of tall metal sheet walls. Wire netting strung over the enclosures protects them from opossums and hawks. Trees and thick branches placed in the enclosures provide shade and perches. On the ground, tiny bamboo compartments in which lizards can hide are raised on stilts and set in trays of water to keep out ants. Nearly 100% of iguanas kept in captivity survive, while in nature about 95% fall prey to predators in their first two years. They are raised on cheap high-protein supplements, fresh-cut leaves, flowers and fruits. In these conditions iguanas reach sexual maturity one year earlier, and one year-olds weigh twice as much than in the wild.
One or a few honeybees' hives are sometimes observed not far from dwellings. Correctly set a little distance from dwellings to reduce the risk of people being stung, they can be still considered as a part of the backyard, or near-the-house system. Several species can be utilised, though Apis mellifera is the most common and important. Man has been able to gather honey since ancient times, but beekeeping is also so old that the guarantee of sustainability is absolute. Appropriate, simple and cheap technologies are described in the old books. A lot of different products can now be obtained and profitably marketed when socio-economic conditions are favourable (Krell, 1996). Bees are not competing with other species and they do not need daily care. As a consequence they should always be considered as an element of possible diversification. The only problem is that management requires specific competence. Equipment required is generally not cheap, but it can easily be produced by the beekeeper with free local materials. Beekeeping should be more frequently considered as part of an integrated animal keeping system for poor rural people.