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Chapter 4

Selection of animal species

Animals serve numerous functions in mixed farming besides providing products such as meat, milk, eggs, wool and hides. They also serve sociocultural functions, e.g. as a brideprice or as gifts and loans that strengthen social bonds. Quite often they are a form of saving, and sometimes they just serve as ceremonial animals or pets. More than 60 animal species are directly useful to humans, but most attention tends to be given to cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, donkeys and poultry. There are also more unconventional animals such as llamas, yaks, guinea fowl, ducks, bees and pigeons that can adapt to many conditions. Often these unconventional animal species consist of small animals that have the advantage of fast reproduction, i.e. a herd or flock of these species is quickly replaced after a calamity such as drought, a flood or disease outbreak. Large unconventional livestock such as camels, llamas, alpacas, yaks, bantengs and deer are adapted to specific ecological niches, often in mixed systems.


Llamas in the Bolivian mountains


Bantengs pulling ploughs on paddy fields near Malang (East Java, Indonesia)


The term "unconventional" can be confusing because the animals may not be common in general, but they can be quite "normal" in particular niches. For example, the yak and the two-humped camel have an undercoat which enables them to tolerate low temperatures and wide variations in temperature, while the one-humped camel can live in hot arid environments because it has an efficient water conservation mechanism, long limbs and a heat-reflecting coat. These rather unconventional animals can live in marginal areas to produce meat, manure and milk (camels and yaks) and fibres (camels, llamas, alpacas and yaks). In addition, the camel is used for draught and transport in dry areas, llama and alpaca for transport in the Andes, the yak as a riding and pack animal in mountainous central Asia and the banteng as a source of farm power in Southeast Asia (Photos 15 and 16). Multipurpose animals such as these are important to sustain economic activity in harsh environments and are generally associated with mixed farming (based on Reijntjes, Haverkort and Waters-Bayer, 1992).


Milking must have started after people had associated with animals for other purposes, such as for meat production based on hunting, keeping of live animals for sacrifice, or even use of animals for draught or transport. Milk is an important product from animals in mixed systems, but not the only one. Moreover, the feed quality in many of the mixed systems does not allow high production levels. The major dairy animals are goats, sheep, cattle and buffaloes (Photos 17 and 18); each of these has a place in mixed crop-livestock systems and they share a digestive system that allows them to utilize coarse feeds like straws, grasses and tree leaves. The advantage of the small animals such as goats and sheep is that they are suitable for poor people, among others, to start from scratch. Where feed supplies permit, small farmers have started with a goat, a sheep or even a chicken, and have gone on to build a herd and eventually to shift into large animals like cattle and buffaloes. Goats and sheep have different grazing behaviour than cattle and buffaloes, and a mix of these animals can serve to use the variation of feed on and around the farm better. Cattle and buffaloes also come in a variety of sizes and with different characteristics. Apart from the traditional attachment that people have to their traditional breeds, it is the bodyweight, orientation to milk production and tolerance to diseases that determine their suitability to a particular situation.


A dairy goat that produced over 2 litres of milk per day at its peak and is the pride of the owner (Sri Lanka)


Crossbred cow being milked by the daughter of the family, with a calf on the side to promote let-down of the milk - the cow was reared on fodder produced in a mixed system under coconuts (Sri Lanka)

Different levels of milk production are given in Table 5. These levels are determined by body size, genetic background, farm management, health, feeding level, etc. An animal of 600 kg that is well fed and that belongs to a large breed can easily produce twice as much milk and meat as a small animal of 200-300 kg, simply because of the difference in body size. Goats and sheep produce much less milk and meat per animal than cattle but they also eat less, so roughly speaking one can say that the production per kilogram of feed is quite similar for small and large animals. Local tradition also determines the choice for a particular dairy breed based on the shape of the horns, the colour of the skin, the fat content of the milk (higher in buffaloes than in cows), the colour of the butterfat (from dark yellow to pure white), etc. Some types of milk are even believed to have special medicinal value, e.g. goat milk is generally thought to be good for asthma patients, and the finer distribution of the fat in goat milk makes it easier to digest.


Milk production of tropical and commercial goats and tropical and western cows



Number of days of lactation

Small tropical goats



Commercial goats



Small tropical cows



Large western cows




The number of animals used worldwide for work is estimated at 250 million and it may well be over 300 million. A wide variety of work animals exists, including cattle, buffaloes, donkeys, mules, horses, camels and elephants. They provide the means by which millions of families make a living; they can also contribute to the establishment of ecologically and socially acceptable production systems. The use of work animals can reduce drudgery, it can intensify agricultural production and it can help to raise living standards throughout rural communities. Animals provide transport and mobility, they help in water lifting for irrigation, milling, logging, land levelling, road construction and local marketing (FAO, 1996; Starkey, 1996). Females are often incorrectly believed to be unsuitable for draught as they are lighter and can pull the plough only at the expense of some milk production. As feed becomes scarce, however, there is a trend towards the use of female animals, albeit with a drop in milk yield.



Even large and very complex agro-industrial estates have recognized that, in appropriate situations, the use of animal power is economically justified. For example, in the Caribbean, on one of the largest sugar plantations in the world, animals and machines have been used together effectively and continuously over the last 75 years. In 1994, more than 8 000 oxen were employed continuously for six to seven months to transport one-third of the sugar cane harvest.

(FAO, 1996)

Animals to work the fields

The introduction of animal traction can increase or accelerate the exploitation of the natural resource base, particularly in EXPAGR. For example, when yield per unit area starts to drop, an animal-drawn implement can lead to an increase of the total land area under cultivation. As a result, the declining yields are masked for some time and farmers are not compelled to farm the same land more efficiently. Extra land preparation can also help to accelerate the degradation of soil organic matter, thus enhancing the impression that farm power through animals and traction can help to increase crop yields so as to keep pace with population growth (Photo 21). Alternative, more defusing uses of animal draught occur where animals are used to allow better weeding, more timely preparation, ridge building for more infiltration, etc. Expanded land use is associated with the use of animal power in West Africa where it was introduced only in the last decades. More intensive use of the land through use of animal draught is found in the age-old tradition of animals that pull the plough or that puddle the paddy field in the NCA oriented sys tems of South and Southeast Asia (Photo 22). Another "accelerating" aspect of animal traction could be the increase of women's workload in some societies. Often more land can be ploughed with animal traction, also where women do much of the weeding and harvesting. Moreover, the preparation of women's fields is almost always given low priority and it depends on the local arrangements whether husbands, brothers or fathers are willing to plough the women's fields.


Bullock cart with straw (Sri Lanka)


Bullock cart on a sugar-cane estate (Dominican Republic)


Animal draught in dryland farming in Africa: horse traction in Burkina Faso

Also at village level the social organization determines the adoption and usefulness of animal draught. The introduction of tractor power in some areas of the Pakistani Punjab made small farmers less dependent on the bullock pairs of large farmers, i.e. fields could be ploughed more timely. The fast adoption of animal traction in Africa was experienced in areas with relatively developed crop marketing systems, particularly for cotton and groundnuts, as in southern Mali, central Senegal and much of Zimbabwe. The cotton development organizations had a strong interest in removing the constraints that farmers could encounter in the use of animal traction. Therefore credit schemes and veterinary services were made available and loans could be repaid from the sales of the cotton or groundnuts.

During the 1960s and 1970s, it was thought that the increasing use of tractors as in Europe and North America would also take place in African countries. However, by the late 1970s there were higher oil prices, foreign exchange shortages and numerous failed tractor schemes, which suggested that rapid motorization was not viable or practicable in many of the African smallholder systems. Donors and governments, even in oil-rich countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon, started to see animal traction as a viable alternative with economic, environmental and social benefits. Also in Latin America animal traction is now promoted as being less expensive, more flexible and more environment friendly than tractor use. A campaign from Nicaragua shows that one tractor costs as much as 30 pairs of oxen that can do the work of three tractors, or 115 horses that equal 12 tractors. In Central America, there are potentially 160 000 pairs of oxen that can do the work of 16 000 70-hp tractors. This is a large potential saving on foreign exchange and, after a full working life, the animals can still provide meat for human consumption (Fomenta, Nicaragua, 1994).


Use of animal draught in Sri Lanka to work the field - a rather unusual combination of a buffalo and a cow


The choice of implements can determine the efficacy of animal power - a head yoke such as used here can sometimes be replaced with a yoke that allows easier pulling (Peru)



Extension services in the Gambia introduced animal traction with ox ploughs between 1955 and 1975, but by 1988 more donkeys were being used than oxen. Donkeys are inexpensive animals that offer more timely cultivation. The use of donkeys for animal traction came from the neighbouring country Senegal and was informally adopted by the Gambian farmers. Two extension schemes, one formal and the other informal, helped to make animal traction a normal part of the farming system in a relatively short period of time.

In Mali, farmers often take three oxen to the field to plough instead of two. The reason is that the oxen are in poor condition at the end of the dry season and cannot work well due to fodder problems in the area. The three animals per team allow for rotational use. The animals plough for an hour or so, after which one is exchanged, thus reducing the adverse effects from low nutritional status. In the village most of the households own at least one traction unit. This is vital because the short and uncertain rainy season dictates the rhythm of fieldwork. Timely ploughing and seeding are crucial to achieve a good crop in the area.

(Based on Starkey, 1996)

BOX 10


Cows are increasingly being used for draught as so-called multipurpose animals. For example, 25 percent of the farmers in one village in Senegal use draught cows. Compared with oxen they produce less liveweight gain, but the production of calves and some milk compensates for this. Liveweight gain in young oxen can be used for profit by selling the animals after a few seasons while buying new young animals for the work. In some villages in northern Nigeria this has led to a kind of specialization where young bulls are bought, used for one season, fattened and then sold. The opposite is seen elsewhere, for example in Guinea where farmers keep the animals until they are old and lose weight. The animals are considered as friends and for the farmers it is unthinkable to sacrifice this friendship for financial gain.

(Based on Starkey, 1996)

Animals for transport

Transport of goods and people by animals is also a very ancient practice. In mountainous regions such as the Andes or the Himalayas the transport of agricultural produce is often only possible on the backs of animals because the roads are too narrow and inaccessible for motorized vehicles. Llamas are used to transport goods in the Andes over longer distances, just like dromedaries that transport goods on their backs through the Sahara. Market days in towns of rural West Africa (Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso) give a formidable sight of rows of donkey carts. The donkeys are tethered nearby with a bundle of grass or hay, or allowed to graze on nearby wasteland. The number of carts used increased greatly in the 1980s and they are used throughout the year to transport the harvest from the field to the threshing point or to the granary, to transport the crop residues and the manure produced, to transport bricks or other goods. Such rows of donkey carts are paralleled by long rows of bullock carts transporting sugar cane to the sugar mills, whether on large estates or in smallholder cane cultivation around the cane mills in India. As is typical in mixed farming systems, these animals eat the cane tops and straw that is left over from the produce that they carry.


Community organization can also revolve around ploughing

activities - an example of community ploughing (Peru)


Donkey carrying milk to the market (Sudan)


Horse used to transport milk from the farm to town (Peru)


Donkey cart transporting hay to town (Dilaba, Mali)


The term "poultry" refers to birds, a class of animals that produce eggs, meat, dung, feathers, etc. It includes a variety of species such as ducks, geese, chickens, song birds, fighting cocks and turkeys (Photos 32 and 33). They often provide a living for the family or an indi vidual by scavenging the homestead (chickens and turkeys) and by grazing on harvested rice fields. Specialized forms of production are possible but they do not play a large role in the mixed systems discussed in this report. Several kinds of poultry function as "watchdogs" (geese), for rituals, as a social activity or for betting (song birds and fighting cocks). The particular features of these animals in mixed systems are that they are small, they reproduce easily, they do not need large investments and they thrive on kitchen waste, broken grains, worms, snails or insects. Common problems are that poultry, like other animals, are susceptible to disease, theft or to predators. They can also cause tension between neighbours and/or within the family between men and women, for example who feeds and eats the chickens. Problems with disease can be overcome, as listed elsewhere in this document; good housing overcomes problems of predators and thieves; while the tension in the family and between neighbours can be a stepping-stone for social development programmes.


A Friesian horse pulling a carriage in the Netherlands - a case of animals having a ceremonial function and cultural value in a western society


The same ceremonial and prestige function for horses is encountered in Burkina Faso


Bullock cart transporting goods from the village to the city (Sri Lanka)


A cart with straw carried from the rural areas to the city (Sri Lanka)

Ducks and geese

Ducks and geese are basically waterfowl, but they can do without water and, except in some rare cases, the keeping of these birds does not develop into large-scale, high-input production. Rare cases of specialized production of these animals are, for example, geese for "foie gras" (fat liver) or ducks for meat in countries such as France and China (Photo 34). More typical for mixed farming systems is duck keeping for eggs in harvested rice fields, such as in Java, where fallen grains, weeds, snails and worms provide free feed for large flocks of special runner ducks kept by individuals from the village (Photo 35). The occasional use of geese as "watchdogs" is worth mentioning as an indigenous way to fend off thieves.


Turkeys in rural Madagascar


Ducklings in the vegetation of a Vietnamese backyard


Foie gras, a roadside advertisement for this delicacy in the Vosges (France)


A flock of runner ducks on a homestead that are commonly used to graze the rice fields after harvest (Indonesia)

Scavenging chickens

Common practice categorizes chicken development in terms of traditional, backyard, semi-commercial, commercial and industrial systems. This sequence, however, implies a progression from traditional to industrial. In other words, it represents an undervaluation of the small traditional production units and it does no justice to the role that scavenging chickens can play in a household economy of mixed farms, i.e. it disregards the importance of the so-called traditional poultry, also called family or farmyard poultry (Photos 36 and 37). Indeed, many extensionists tend to approach family poultry with a narrow mindset. They focus on so-called improved housing, and avoidance of inbreeding and good veterinary care - issues that are more related to the keeping of confined than scavenging chickens on free range. For example, inbreeding is not a problem for family flocks where new blood is introduced by exchange or gifts of eggs and/or male birds.

Improvements can well be achieved within this kind of animal production provided that development agents approach the subject with a proper mindset. Birds can be kept, for example, as a flock of some adult chickens, one rooster and some pullets that are all sleeping in a low-cost night pen or even in a tree during the night. Feeders are not essential, but old tin cans or bamboo poles can be an inexpensive way to avoid wastage of feed. The chickens need to be supplied with additional water during the dry season, and nests can be made from leaves or clothes, often under baskets; it is essential that some place of refuge is provided where the hens can hide. Keeping chickens on pasture is also possible (Photo 38).

Many projects have tried to improve poultry production by using better feed, health care, housing and imported cocks. However, the more elaborate technologies and project interventions are rarely used for village chickens because of the expense involved and because of the difficulty even to find the necessary inputs. A flock of scavenging birds uses almost no inputs and it can still be a viable component in the mixed farm. Scavenging chickens can be fed with waste products and grains to supplement the weeds and insects that are found in the backyard. Moreover, eggs from scavenging chickens in mixed farming systems are preferred to eggs from the commercial farms. In Nicaragua the eggs from the mixed farming system are called huevos de amor (love eggs) and people prefer them because of their yellow yolks and freshness. Higher prices are also often paid for scavenging chickens than for meat from chickens produced in intensive systems, mainly because of taste.

Chicken husbandry is often regarded as an activity for women, especially in the case of small flocks of scavenging birds. When there are higher cash returns, the husbands tend to become involved, leaving women only in charge of doing the work. Indeed, small-scale poultry production is liked by women and it can be an important way to increase their income. Rural women in tropical countries often use their chickens as a source of cash for the purchase of basic items such as salt, soap or school materials.

A major problem in chicken keeping is the occurrence of infectious disease. Scavenging chickens within mixed flocks do receive a certain natural immunity because viruses and/or antibodies are transferred from the elder chickens to the younger ones, which also suffer less because of lower stocking density. However, one typical "killer" is Newcastle disease, which can considerably minimize a flock if the chickens are not vaccinated. Vaccination against diseases such as Newcastle disease can be economic, practical and well adapted. Most mortality in mixed farms occurs amongst the young chicks (>50 percent). Also adult chickens die from disease. Predators such as birds, snakes and rats can also cause much damage. In one area of Nicaragua it was found that during one year 8 percent of the adult chickens had died - 1 percent caused by disease and 7 percent by predators. The farmer may know some local treatments but the effectiveness of those treatments is often not very high, particularly in the case of infectious disease. Given such conditions it is not surprising, perhaps, that people sometimes do not seem to mind if chickens die. Musole, a Zambian extension agent, once gave the opinion that it was not a problem that chickens died from Newcastle disease. He said, "they always die fat", implying a feast meal, thus taking an attitude that makes the best of things in life that one does not like. In other words, the mindset of farmers is also important in determining the output and health of a flock

Night pens for chickens that scavenge during the daytime need to meet only one condition to prevent predators like rats, snakes and thieves from coming in - they need to be cheap (Photo 39). In many countries chickens are not provided with a night pen. They sleep in a tree and farmers sometimes use a metal guard around the tree to prevent predators from climbing. They can also use a small shed on poles, near the homestead. Dogs that sleep nearby can protect the birds. Unfortunately, extensionists tend to regard the construction of a good pen as the first action in poultry husbandry (Photo 40). This can be wrong and expensive, particularly when no balanced feeds are provided.

Successful improvements in the keeping of scavenging chickens on mixed farms are based on the following approaches:


The largest concentrations of goats are found in Africa and on the Indian subcontinent but every continent has its own species and subspecies. Some are more suitable for meat, others for milk production, but goats in mixed systems are multipurpose animals. They produce meat, milk, offspring, skin and hair; they serve as a savings account and they provide readily available money when needed (Photos 41, 42 and 43). Goat meat is highly appreciated in countries where pig and/or cattle meat is taboo. In large parts of India the goat is the major meat supplier. In Mediterranean countries goats are kept for milk, which is consumed fresh and as yoghurt or cheese. The fat content tends to be higher than in cattle milk and the same is true for the milk protein content.

Goats are often accused of causing soil degradation and erosion. However, in reality the feeding behaviour of goats is not necessarily damaging; it is more likely that they are left to graze after the land has already been deforested for cropping and timber or left vulnerable after overgrazing by cattle. Goats browse and prefer woody species and they normally find sufficient feed in 4-5 hours' grazing time, including walking time - contrary to cattle, which need double this time to satisfy their feeding needs. After droughts when cattle have died the restoration of herds starts with the small ruminants, because their reproductive cycle is short and their numbers can increase rapidly. The goats are then sold to re-obtain cattle from elsewhere. This is how agropastoralists in the Sahel restored their herds after the droughts in the 1970s and 1980s. The small size and relatively low individual values bring goats within the capacity of low-income farmers: "the goat is the poor man's cow". In many areas women and young adults also own goats, whereas cattle are almost exclusively owned by men. To avoid damage to crops and to still take advantage of their benefits, goats may have to be kept in a zero-grazing system, often on slatted floors. The dung and the urine fall on the ground and in the process are mixed with poor quality feed leftovers used for compost while the goat is kept under hygienic conditions.


Scavenging chickens on grass in a homestead (Peru)


Chickens on a compound - a typical case of cheap chicken production on free feed (Botswana)


A chicken pen on grass - one way to protect the chicks from predators at night on an organic farm in the Netherlands


A night house for poultry (Kenya)


A well-ventilated night house for poultry (Indonesia)


BOX 11


Many women in Nicaragua prefer eggs above hatched chicks. For that reason they tie a broody hen with a rope for a few days until broodiness has gone. The hen will soon start laying again. This results in a production of about 100 eggs per local hen per year, of which only ten are used for hatching. The other eggs are used for consumption or sold for cash. Even a one-dollar weekly income from the sale of eggs is substantial in the mixed farming system of Nicaragua where such an amount represents almost a daily wage. It is particularly beneficial because of the low level, cheap inputs that are needed. The chickens eat low quality leftover feeds from the harvest and balance their feed intake from scavenging.

BOX 12


There have been significant changes over the past two decades in the farming system in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas. The shift towards nuclear families is associated with fragmentation of landholdings. With more effective community protection of common property resources the land-based feed resources for livestock are becoming more difficult to obtain. Farmers in the area have reduced the number of large ruminants while increasing feed resources (privately planted trees, shrubs and ground grass) to sustain small ruminants. The practice of planting fodder on private land has increased in recent years because of decreased access to public land. Goats are easily managed because they feed on a wide range of fodder, grass and shrub species that are planted around the homestead. Because of their size, their feed requirements are also nominal compared to those of large ruminants such as buffaloes, while goats have an advantage in that they are small and can be tended by children.

(Based on: Tulachan and Neupane, 1999.)


Goats in a zero-grazing system with straw bedding to capture nitrogen and to provide comfort on an organic farm in Belgium


Goats browsing on the side of a dust road (South Africa)


Goats eating from a simple, cheap feeder (an old tyre) (Nicaragua)


BOX 13


As elsewhere, the presence of domestic animals is limited by disease though poultry, sheep, goats and, to a lesser extent, pigs are kept. The goats are of the West African dwarf type and trypanosomiasis resistant. They are kept as a kind of savings account and sold to solve problems in the family, such as sickness, to buy maize (the staple food) or to finance religious ceremonies. The keeping of small ruminants is an activity that is preferred by elderly people who can no longer work the fields but who use the animals to generate income for buying food. In some villages the goats are tethered during the cropping season to avoid crop damage. During this period the animals do not receive sufficient feed. Ongoing alley cropping trials with field-owning farmers could ease the fodder problems, by feeding tree leaves as fodder after a first pruning is used to fertilize the crop field.

An advantage of tethering the goats is that mortality rates are lower when compared with the completely free roaming system. The tethered animals are in closer contact with the livestock keepers and problems are noticed sooner than with free roaming animals. Health care is not well developed; although vaccination against small ruminant pest is possible through the extension service, the coverage is minimal. This has been blamed on the vaccination procedure of the extension service. A more active role of the villagers has improved the coverage, while traditional medicine has been used to cure diarrhoea with variable results.

(Based on Gbego, 1992; Gbego and Van den Broek, 1992.)


Many animal species are found on mixed farms, each of them occupying their own niche where they play a role in the functioning of the farm. They provide transport, draught, meat, milk and hides and act as a savings account to provide readily available cash when the need arises. There is an overlap in the functions and characteristics of some of the animal species, but they are all important for the running of the farm. Depending on local conditions, different types of animals are found. Not all species are found on the same farm. Llamas are found in the highlands of Latin America, buffaloes in Asia. Wealthy farmers tend to own large livestock and resource-poor families tend to keep poultry and small ruminants. Within the farm, men often own the large livestock such as cattle and camels, and the women and young adults own small ruminants or poultry.

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