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B.A. Opasina and K.B. David-West
Federal Livestock Department, Lagos, Nigeria


Small ruminants, sheep and goats, are increasingly becoming a major source of animal protein in Nigeria, contributing over 30 percent to total meat consumption in the country. The output of sheep and goat meat was estimated as 100 000 tonnes in 1965 and 163 000 tonnes in 1980 (McClintock, 1983).

Estimates from the Federal Livestock Department in 1983 showed that there are 11 million cattle, 22 million goats, 8 million sheep, 900 000 pigs, and 150 million poultry (both local and exotic) in the country. Livestock production represents approximately 10 percent of agricultural activity and less than 5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

In Nigeria, sheep and goats play a significant socio-economic role in the life of the people: they are slaughtered during ceremonies and festivals, and serve as a source of ready cash to small farmers. The skin of the Red Sokoto goat is well known for its superior quality and the high premium it commands in the world market.


The main production systems are traditional, although they differ from place to place due to socio-economic reasons.

Humid zone

In the humid zone with approximately 6.6 million goats and 1.8 million sheep, the main production systems are free-roaming, tethering and confinement. In the southwest, sheep and goats are kept by a large number of rural households as free-roaming village flocks, with little additional inputs. Mating is uncontrolled. Sometimes animals, particularly sheep, are tethered to avoid the destruction of crops during the growing season. Ownership pattern is 2–4 animals per individual.

In the southeast, the traditional free-roaming condition is being modified by high human population density and increasing pressure on agricultural land. Confinement and tethering are important in this area to avoid damage to crops. Animals are fed household scraps, tree foliage (commonly palm fronds) and by-products of food processing (Francis, 1987). Ownership pattern is 3–4 animals per household.


In the sub-humid/semi-arid zone, sheep are grazed with cattle by the nomadic Fulani throughout the year moving from north to south of the country in synchronization with rainfall pattern and pasture availability. In the system practised by the Hausas, sheep and goats are confined in compounds during the cropping season, feeding them through cut-and-carry. Tethering of animals is also important. However, in the dry season animals are allowed to scavenge on farm stubbles after crop harvesting. Crop residues such as groundnut haulms, husks, grain offals and cotton seed are also fed to sheep and goats. Herding of goats by children and elderly people is becoming important in the zone, especially in the cropping season.



The humid zone has varying levels of tsetse challenge and therefore, small ruminant production is limited to those breeds that can tolerate tsetse transmitted trypanosomiasis. The zone therefore supports trypanotolerant West African dwarf breeds of sheep and goats. In the savannah and the semi-arid zone, the large sized, long-legged breeds thrive well. These are the Red Sokoto and Sahel goats, and the Yankasa, Uda and Balami sheep. The Kano brown and Borno white goats are believed to be strains of Red Sokoto (Adu and Ngere, 1979).

Reproductive performance

Reproductive performance of 1.5 lambs/ewe/year, and 2.2 kids/doe/year has been recorded among the West African dwarf sheep and goats respectively in two village groups of southwest Nigeria (Mack, 1983). Survival indices of the kids and lambs up to 90 days are 0.76 and 0.84 respectively (Table 1). Overall mortalities were 23.7 percent for goats, and 21 percent for sheep, with offtake rates of 28 and 38 percent respectively. In the southeast, where animals are confined, the reproductive performance among the goats is 2 kids/doe/year with a survival index of 0.78 pre-weaning.

Table 1: Production traits of West African Dwarf sheep and goats in southwest Nigeria

Litter size 1.49 1.23
Birthweight (g) 1.58 2.12
Pre-weaning liveweight (0–90 days) gain (g/day)35.574.0
Reproductive performance (kid/doe/year and lamb/ewe/year)  2.2  1.5
Survival index (up to 90 days)  0.76  0.84
Overall Mortality (%)23.721.0
Offtake rate (%)2838.0

Source: Mack, 1983

Little information is available concerning the reproductive traits of sheep and goats kept under traditional systems in the subhumid zone. Bayer (1984) reported fertility rates of 120 percent and 100 percent among the flocks of sheep and goats respectively kept by settled Fulani in southern Kaduna State. Mortalities were 25 and 22 percent in sheep and goats respectively. At Shika in Zaria, Adu, Buvanendran and Lakpini (1979) reported lambing percentages of 128.9 in Uda, and 112.6 in Yankasa sheep, with overall mortalities of 14 and 6.3 percent respectively. In Katsina sheep farm, a lambing rate of 110 percent was observed among the Balami sheep (David-West, 1985). Among the Red Sokoto goats, Adu, Buvanendran and Lakpini (1979) observed 140 kiddings from 96 does at Shika research station.


The production potential of the Nigerian sheep and goats would appear to be high; they experience high mortality from disease, often aggravated by undernutrition and poor management. A special problem is Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) (Akerejola, Schillhorn, van Veen and Njoku, 1979); Opasina (1985). Other disease constraints are pneumonias, parasitic gastroenteritis, trypanosomiasis and ectoparasitic infestation caused by sarcoptic mange as shown in Tables 2 and 3.

In heavily cropped areas, nutrition has been shown to be a major constraint during the rainy season when animals have to be restricted to avoid damage to crops. Undernutrition is also a limiting factor to small ruminant production in the dry season.

Disease control interventions in sheep and goats in the village production systems of the southwest have shown that nutrition could be a constraint when mortality is reduced, and the animal number is subsequently increased.


Livestock policy

The policy of the Nigerian Government is to improve the nutritional status of its people through the domestic provision of high quality protein rich livestock products, to provide locally all necessary raw material inputs for the livestock industry, to provide rural employment through an expanded livestock programme, and to improve and stabilize rural income emanating from livestock production and processing.

The breeding policy for sheep and goats is to select and improve the local breeds.

Integration of sheep and goats into the farming system

The main production systems as highlighted earlier in this paper are those of low inputs: no investment on land, no special feed or housing. The integration of sheep and goats into the existing systems is a sound approach, when one considers the low incomes of the small farmers.

Table 2: Disease attack rates among monitored goats in the forest (Badeku) and derived savannah (Eruwa), October 1978 - March 1980

Peste des petits ruminants (PPR)6122.97519.6
Ectoparasitic infestation (ticks, fleas, lice)207.382.1
Ectoparasitic infestation (Sarcoptic mange)8932.421756.8
Average number of goats275 382 

Source: Opasina (1985)

Table 3: Prevalence by month of disease in sampled goat population of Fasola Villages (%)

Keratocon junctivitis-0.60.6-0.50.6------
Total animals sampled192176177181195154158157155124148171

Source: Opasina (1985)

Accordingly, the Nigerian National Livestock Project Department (NLPD) launched a pilot development for small-scale sheep and goat producers in southwest Nigeria in 1983. The programme which includes a veterinary package (PPR and mange control) and establishment of browse trees in the farmers' farmlands, is based on 6 years of farming systems research by ILCA's Humid Zone Programme on how to integrate animal production into the alley cropping system developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

The veterinary interventions would lead to reduced mortality, increased animal numbers and a constraint on the existing feed source. In the alley farming concept, fast growing protein rich leguminous trees, Leucaena leucocephala and Gliricidia sepium are intercropped in the form of alleys with food crops. Leaves from the trees provide feed for sheep and goats (through cut and carry) and are also used to maintain soil fertility (through mulching) for permanent cropping. In the southwest, more than 200 farmers are at present participating in the scheme.

In the southeast, where sheep and goats are confined for most parts of the year, due to population pressure on land, the intensive field garden concept is being evaluated. More than 50 farmers are participating in this scheme up to date.

National programme on small ruminant disease control

The policy of the Federal Government is to alleviate animal health problems within the country through disease control strategies.

PPR control

Recent studies by the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) indicate that vaccination against Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) would result in over 50 percent reduction in small ruminant mortality in the village production systems. The Government has recognized the vital roles which these animals are playing in the life of its people, and accordingly, the Federal Livestock Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Development in collaboration with the Agriculture Ministries of some states in the humid zone, has embarked on a pilot PPR vaccination campaign. More than 50 000 sheep and goats were vaccinated in two states over a period of two weeks. The vaccination programme is a continuing process, and it is anticipated that more than half a million animals would be covered within this year.

In the next rinderpest campaign coming up in October 1987, another PPR control programme will be launched in two states of the sub-humid zone. It is anticipated that over 1 million animals would be convered in the process.

Sheep and Goat Multiplication Centre

FLD sheep and goat centres. The Federal Livestock Department in 1978 started sheep and goat meat production in 3 sites: one for goats and 2 for sheep. The sheep projects are located at Tuma (940 hectares) and Ladanawa (800 hectares) at Katsina in Kaduna State, while the goat project is at Zugu (14.5 in Sokoto State.

The objectives of the programme are:

  1. To preserve pure breeds of Sokoto goats and Balami sheep.

  2. To identify suitable management for sheep and goat production through optimum pasture utilization, supplementary feeding as necessary, controlled mating programmes, genetic selection within the breeds and adoption of a sound animal health programme.

Considerable progress has been made since the inception of the projects, and at present there are some 1 500 sheep at Katsina and 600 goats at Zugu. The major constraints especially in the Katsina project (drought) are inconsistent availability of water, and difficulty in establishment and maintenance of pastures. Few mature male and female goats have been made available to local farmers with subsidies in order to improve their local stock.

A system of recording of sheep and goats has started in collaboration with the Small Ruminant Group of the International Livestock Centre for Africa, with a view to determining their reproductive indices.

State sheep and goat centres. Sheep and goat multiplication centres have also been set up by some states of the Federation, with a main objective of providing breeding animals to local farmers. Such projects are located at Pampegua in Kaduna State, Kaltungo in Bauchi State, Marguba in Borno State, Rano in Kano State and Fasola in Oyo State.

Fattening of sheep and goats. The National Livestock Project Department is making loans available to a number of smallholders of sheep and goats for a fattening scheme.

Research and training

ILCA Humid Zone Programme. The International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) based in Ibadan, through an interdisciplinary team of scientists, has been researching into ways of integrating sheep and goats into the existing farming systems in southern Nigeria. Apart from the on-farm studies, the centre has focused on basic collaborative research with the national institutes to improve small ruminant production. The programme also organizes seminars, and trains research and extension staff in techniques for the establishment and management of alley farms.

National Universities. Various universities in the humid zone have embarked on small ruminant research and training. Notable among these is the Department of Animal Science of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife, which is researching on management of West African dwarf goats, in collaboration with the National Agricultural University of Wageningen, the Netherlands, and the International Livestock Centre for Africa.

Research Institutes. Among the institutes engaged in small ruminant research and training in Nigeria are the National Animal Production Research Institute (NAPRI) at Shika, and the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI) at Vom.

NAPRI. NAPRI researches into ways of improving reproductive performance of the indigenous breeds of sheep and goats, through breeding, nutritional studies, management, animal health programme and socio-economic studies. The institute has an out station at Ubiaja, Bendel State to improve productivity of small ruminants in the humid zone. The initial emphasis at the station is to breed, select and supply improved males to interested farmers. NAPRI has also adopted a farming system research approach to small ruminant development in the sub-humid zone, and the institute organizes training and workshops from time to time. It works in collaboration with the Department of Animal Science and Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Service of Ahmadu Bello University and the Leather Institute of Nigeria, in areas of small ruminant development.

NVRI. NVRI researches into sheep and goat diseases, and develops appropriate diagnostic techniques. Of the most significant is PPR. The institute is engaged in providing diagnostic and investigatory services as well as producing vaccine for disease control. NVRI has been organizing training and workshops relating to small ruminant diseases for extension officers.


Although a number of people have been suggesting a more intensive production approach to small ruminant development in Nigeria, the initial capital investment and management constraints associated with such a venture may make the programme unattractive. In the interim, improvement of the existing systems should be the main focus, until technology is ready for intensive production systems. The importance of small ruminants in the life of the people cannot be overemphasized. The Government is quite aware of this development, and as a result, priority is being accorded to sheep and goat production development in the Fifth National Development Plan.


Adu, I.F., Buvanendran, V. and Lakpini, C.A.M. (1979). The reproductive performance of Red Sokoto goats in Nigeria. J. Agric. Sci. (Camb). 93: 563–566.

Adu, I.F. and Ngere, L.O. (1979). The indigenous sheep in Nigeria. World Review of Animal Production 15(3): 51–62.

Akerejola, O.O., Schillhorn van Veen, T.W. and Njoku, C.O. (1979). Ovine and caprine diseases in Nigeria: A review of economic losses. Bull. Anim. Health Prod. Afr. 27: 65–70.

Bayer, W. (1984). Traditional small ruminant production in the sub-humid zone of Nigeria. Paper presented at the Second ILCA/NAPRI symposium on Livestock Systems Research in Nigeria's sub-humid zone, at Kaduna, Nigeria, 29 October - 2 November 1984.

David-West, K.B. (1985). The role of government in small ruminant production. Paper presented at the National Conference of Small Ruminant Production at NAPRI, Zaria, Nigeria, 6–11 October 1985.

Francis, P.A. (1987). Livestock and farming systems in southeast Nigeria. Paper presented at the International Workshop on Goat Production in the Humid Tropics at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. 20–23 July 1987.

Mack, S.D. (1983). Evaluation of the productivities of West African dwarf sheep and goats in southwest Nigeria. Humid Zone Programme, Document No. 7.

McClintock, J. (1983). What causes supply levels from African Livestock Sectors to change? ILCA's LPU working paper no. 2.

Opasina, B.A. (1985). Disease prevalence among village goats in southwest Nigeria. Paper presented at the National Conference on Small Ruminant Production at NAPRI, Zaria, Nigeria, 6–11 October 1985.

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