6. Diversification and integration

 

Production systems can overlap or develop in sequence to balance the advantages and disadvantages of each activity, or to exploit wastes from a previous activity as a positive input for the next.  These activities may or may not take place at the same time. An example of a functional sequence is when polluting duck droppings (negative trait) become useful to fertilize fish ponds (positive trait) or horticulture wastes (negative) are utilized to feed rabbits (positive).

 A variety of possible combinations of animal rearing and plant production systems have already shown that they can be useful and are commonly practised. Not all of them are well known, nor have they been properly analysed to optimise the contributions of the components of the integrated system under field conditions, or with respect to seasonal variations. Many new combinations should be tested. Any good field technician should be able to identify empirically the elements that can be introduced or more efficiently balanced in order to improve the system. This should be don to avoid new inputs or to reduce inputs in comparison with each separate activity. It is often possible to integrate different components that are currently unconnected with the system, but to which they could contribute.   This is a very difficult subject to treat theoretically, and it is better to give a number of both simple and more complex examples before attempting to draw general conclusions. A good example has recently been reported  (Watkins, 1998).

The technician describes how he was successfully raising chickens in portable, bottomless pens, placed over high quality legume-based forage. The pens are moved daily to fresh forage. The forage helps to supplement the grain fed and the chickens help to fertilize the pasture and eradicate insect pests, particularly larvae that pupate in the soil. 

When chickens follow cows in rotation, they scratch apart the cow dung and eat parasites and fly larvae (no-cost protein component of ingesta), helping to break the parasite cycle (no-cost biological removal of insects). When chickens follow vegetables, they help to eliminate such persistent pests as cucumber beetles and squash bugs.

 After being exploited by chickens the pasture grows quickly, and then it is grazed again by cows. The following season, vegetables are planted which receive all or most of their nutrients from the livestock excreta. The health of both animals and plants is satisfactory.

 It is obvious that moving the chicken pens every day makes a great deal of extra work. This is not a problem since the initial hypothesis is to act inside poor economies, where part-time work is commonly available and can be carried out by unemployed people, excess labour on very small farms or by women engaged in primitive housekeeping. This simple no-input integrated production system seems ideal for developing countries and it may appear surprising that  the example above comes from a certified organic, paddock-based, intensive grazing farm.

This is the second example showing that what is suitable for  production in developing countries is also suitable for improving produce quality in developed countries. In fact the underground rabbit shelters described in figure 5.5.2., designed to alleviate heat stress in tropical countries, can also be utilized to improve animal welfare when a better standard of husbandry is required. While it is difficult to transfer technologies from the industrialized systems to the backyard without infrastructure, it is easy to do the opposite. This allows industrial production to be achieved in less artificial conditions, with lower economic inputs although maybe needing more labour to supply good organic products to a very demanding market, which is prepared to pay extra for them.

This is possible because efficient, sustainable systems in developing countries are necessarily less intensive and more environmentally friendly, rightly, according to the increasing demands of rich consumers. The extra money they are prepared to pay for organic products pays for the expensive extra work required in this case.

To physically separate species is a condition necessary but not sufficient by itself to achieve integration. Diversification in itself can be useful in providing different self-consumption or income needs of the family, but it can also lead to a meaningless mix up of species. An example of this is given in figure 6.1.where hens and ducks are simply put together in a dirty room where they will only compete for the mash fed. 

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Fig. 6.1. A very bad mix of species, obliged to compete for the mash fed.  

A more ordered use of different species is shown in figure 6.2. In this case, dwarf goats are not put out to pasture, but are kept permanently inside the closed area, thus becoming part of the backyard system. They are fed with palm leaves, guinea grass or elephant grass. Rabbits are raised in the cages hung on the wall. Hens' nests are placed under the cages. There is space and cleanliness. Faeces can easily be collected to provide manure for the orchard and horticulture on the outskirts, from where plant wastes are collected to feed the rabbits. The system looks sound and profitable.  

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Fig. 6.2. Permanent backyard keeping of dwarf goats is not uncommon in West Africa. Here they are raised together with rabbits (in the cages hung on the wall) and hens (a low set of nests for laying or brooding hens can be seen under the cages).

A still better, and nearly perfect, example of differentiation is shown in figure 6.3. Six different species are raised in the clean and well-managed backyard. 

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Fig. 6.3. Try to analyse the system before you click on the picture to read the legend.

Sometimes diversification can lead only to competition among species, as is shown in figure 6.1. with reference to fowl. The same can be frequently observed (figure 6.4.) with herbivorous mammals. 

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 Fig. 6.4. Rabbits are competing for feed with a goat. It is not clear if diversification here gives any particular advantage.  

But an unexpected possibility of integration between mammals was found when analysing a grass-cutter-breeding unit. 

It was observed that elephant grass and guinea grass, very common fodder used for herbivorous mammals in West Africa, are not completely consumed by grass-cutters or rabbits (figure 6.5.). The cages or boxes where grass-cutters are raised are full of leaves that the animals carefully discard, stripping them to eat only the stems  (figure 7.2.3.1.). On the contrary, rabbits choose the leaves and waste the stems. The question was then discussed with local technicians and they agreed that an integration of the two species is desirable to get complete exploitation of the grass. It was established that the logical order is to feed the local grasses to  rabbits first and then it is easy to collect the stems to feed them  to grass-cutters. 

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Fig. 6.5. Advantages of integration. Both rabbits and grass-cutters eat guinea grass and elephant grass. When a single species is raised, part of the forage is lost due to specific feeding habits. If both species are kept, the grass can be completely utilized and the system perfectly integrated*.

But forms of integration can be generated spontaneously. They remain generally unnoticed but they are of extreme interest because they show how to improve efficiency and sustainability of backyard systems. It is quite common to observe that Muscovy ducks sit or wander and scavenge most of the time under the cages where rabbits are raised (figure 6.6.).

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Fig 6.6. A good spontaneous integration. Ducks are used to living under  rabbit cages as a chosen habitat. There they feed on insects, eggs and  worms found among the faeces.  

Ducks can profit from the fallen pelleted rabbit feed, avoiding waste, and they can also find insects, eggs and worms which represent a very rich source of protein which would be difficult to supply otherwise. Again,  ducks utilize any kind of animal slaughtering wastes very well (Finzi and  Amici, 1989) and this is another reason to keep them as a part of  integrated systems (figure 6.7.).

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Fig 6.7. Rabbit offal is chopped before feeding to Muscovy ducks. This  species is able to exploit any slaughtering waste. A wooden rabbit cage  can be seen at the bottom. 

Very useful ideas can be obtained by project makers and field technicians by carefully analysing how species interact. Development of systems based on spontaneous animal integration has a good chance of success (figure 6.8.).

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Fig. 6.8. Try to analyse the system before you click on the picture to read the legend.  

In the trial illustrated in figure 6.8, 5 rabbit does and 1 buck were raised in an area measuring 6 x 2.5 m. Rabbits received pelleted feed and each doe produced a mean of 39 rabbits in one year. This  corresponds to nearly 4 rabbits a week (10 kg live weight). When no  feed was administered to ducks, an area corresponding to 6 adult  rabbits was necessary to permit 1 duck to feed on insects and fallen  rabbit pellets, but only when grass was also fed or pasture was available to the rabbits.  Every 12 weeks, a mean of 2.5 kg body weight of Muscovy duck was produced. From the shaded arbour, 45 kg of pumpkins were harvested. Also a few strawberries were collected from the area around the underground part of the rabbit house.

 The potential to achieve such diverse and valuable production from a  backyard of only 15 m2, well protected from predators and thieves, is an  important object lesson for field technicians and project makers.  The integrated scheme is very complex because pumpkins give shade that is  an important factor for rabbit production in tropical countries. Leaves, stalks and the external part of pumpkins are protein rich fodder for  rabbits. Also they can be easily dried and maintained as a very palatable  feedstuff to be used when green grass is scarce. The pumpkin is a tasty  fruit to nourish the family, and the seeds, dried and salted, are loved by  children, providing a food which is vitamin, protein and energy rich. It  must also be remembered that the pumpkin seeds are a traditional medicine, which is active against intestinal worms.  Other climbing plants can also be used, such as beans or grape vines.  

From a 5 x 15 m Kiwi fruit arbour, covering 40 rabbit cages, 318 kg  of fruits were obtained. No chemical manure was necessary. Leaves, stems and unripe fruits were a very palatable feed for rabbits*.  

Rabbits are excellent meat producers and their droppings, before becoming  manure for pumpkins and other vegetables, attract insects that are eaten  by ducks, together with insect eggs and larvae. Muscovy ducks produce  excellent meat and eggs. Compared to common ducks, the meat of Muscovy  ducks is dark and lean. The whole system represents a very attractive  enterprise for the housekeeper, who can take care of the animals without  leaving her home.  It must be noted that animals compete not only for food but also for  space. Space is limited in backyards, and it is very important to  obtain different integrated products from the same area, as in the example  reported above.  Backyard systems are also still very common in rural areas of developed countries. Centuries of practice guarantee their sustainability. They normally show a more or less good degree of integration. The same may be observed in developing countries. This is a field where a lot of good work can be done through the action of well-performed co-operation.  The examples mentioned above might give an idea of what can be done. In the  next chapters single species are described, taking into account the traits  that favour or impair integration. The information is useful to put  together the more favourable combinations of species, according to the  specific traits identified when analysing the local systems.