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Vivian M. Timon*

* Animal Production and Health Division, FAO, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, Rome, Italy


Small ruminant production is a very significant component of livestock production throughout the world and more especially in the developing countries. Sheep and goats have adaptive capacities to survive and produce in difficult environments be they arid, high altitude or extremely cold. Generally small ruminants are efficient converters of forage feeds whether they are farmed in temperate, arid or semi-tropical conditions. Perhaps their greatest advantage relative to large ruminants is their low cost, small size, their suitability to small holdings and in many of the developing countries, their triple purpose use for meat, milk and fibre. Noticeable in the world trends in livestock numbers over the past twenty years is the steady increase in sheep and goat numbers; sheep numbers are in excess of one billion head and goat numbers globally are now approaching half a billion head. Increasing numbers, encouraging in some respects, is not enough. The fundamental change must be increased efficiency of production be that biological efficiency, structural/organizational efficiency or more effective use of basic feed resources. These are the three areas which FAO decided to address when organizing an Expert Consultation on Small Ruminant Production in Sofia, July 8/12, 1985. The papers published in this proceedings represent the technical contributions and discussions at the meeting. Separate to these discussions the consultation addressed some of the broader issues of importance to the advancement of small ruminant production, particularly in the developing countries, and at the end of the meeting agreed a set of recommendations. These are set down under five broad headings.

1.1In view of the very significant contribution of small ruminants to the economy and livelihood of peoples in almost every country around the world, and particularly in the developing countries, the Consultation strongly recommends that much greater priority and much larger investment should be made by national and international institutions in R & D and the promotion of small ruminant production.
1.2FAO and the other international or national organizations should coordinate their activities to ensure a net-work of relevant zone-specific small ruminant research centres throughout the developing countries, linked closely with research centres in the developed countries.
1.3Because of their similarities, complementarities and parallels, R & D activities in sheep and goats should where possible be planned and implemented in combined programmes and at the same centres.
2.1The Consultation recommends that there is need for much more effective coordination and closer linkages between institutions involved in small ruminant production throughout the world and in particular involving research and development centres in the developing world.
2.2 It recommends that FAO should strengthen its role in effecting closer linkages and more effective coordination.
2.3 To achieve this coordination and better exchange of information between countries and institutions engaged in the development of small ruminant production, FAO should:
 (i)Establish an Expert Group on Small Ruminant Research and Development, representative of the major regions of the world (developed and developing countries), to plan and effect closer linkages and more effective coordination of research and development activities in small ruminant production.
 (ii)Participate in and support on-going exchange of information activities being carried out by other institutions.
 (iii)Expand its net-work programme to encompass all small ruminant activities in the different regions around the world.
 (iv)Expand its Expert Consultation programme to facilitate in-depth discussion of topic-specific and zone-specific problems in small ruminant production.
 Past experience (relating to both successes and failures) throughout much of the world has shown that R & D strategy must be systems research oriented and include three elements:
 (i)A survey of resources (plant and animal), to include farmers perceptions of problems, aimed at identifying local comparative advantages and major constraints.
 (ii)Component research on experimental stations designed to overcome these constraints and to assist in achieving national production goals.
 (iii)Pilot scale and/or on-farm research to validate experimental station results before wide-scale extension is implemented.
 The Consultation considered the likely success of development in small ruminant production and recommends that an adequately planned infrastructure and support services must form an integral part of all development programmes in small ruminant production. Specifically it recommends that:
4.1 Adequate and effective training and extension programmes be an integral part of all development plans and programmes for small ruminant production.
4.2 Sale, transport and marketing arrangements be adequate to the needs of the development programme.
4.3 Disease diagnosis and animal health support services be planned as an integral part of the development programme.
4.4Transport, communications and the necessary support services (eg. electricity) be adequately planned in the development programme.
4.5 Credit programmes be developed implementing and using new technologies.
4.6 Low-capital intensive technologies be emphasized in small ruminant development programmes.
4.7 Producer and marketing cooperatives be established to optimize resource (animal/plant) development and utilization.
5.1Very serious consideration should be given to the choice of species (and/or mixture of species) and the choice of breed in the very first stages of planning the development of small ruminant production.
5.2Adaptation of breed to local environment should be a key element in breed choice and breed development strategies. This means paying particular attention to indigenous breeds.
5.3 All development projects should have a basic genetic selection framework to ensure continuous and cumulative progress towards specified objectives.
5.4Considerable review and evaluation of relevant experiences should precede the introduction of exotic breeds into any new untried environment.
5.5 The evaluation of exotic breeds and their crossbreeding on native stock should be carried out on experimental stations and validated on a selected number of farms before they are introduced to the general farm scene.
5.6 Records and recording procedures should be standardized; this standardization should be based on the breed descriptors and characterization being developed by FAO in its animal genetic resources/data banks programme.
5.7 Failures as well as successes in the introduction of exotic breeds and their crosses into different environments should be recorded and published.
5.8 Particular attention should be given to the newly developing activities in the breeding of goats for meat, fibre (mohair) and milk production.
 The Consultation considered that many of the developments in the technologies of reproduction in small ruminants are not and will not be relevant to small ruminant production in the developing countries until levels of nutrition and management are substantially increased and market prices dictate more cost effective results.
6.1 The Consultation recommends that greater emphasis should be placed on simplifying reproduction technologies for small ruminants with particular reference to the levels of production, nutrition and the social/educational problems of the developing countries.
6.2 The Consultation recommends that further research on AI in sheep and goats with particular reference to the use of frozen semen should be carried out to enable greater exploitation of this powerful tool of genetic change.
6.3 It also recommends that further research on the technology of ova transfer be supported to increase the effectiveness of these techniques in introducing new genetic potential into breeds in the developing countries.
 This area of small ruminant production requires priority attention at both research and development levels.
7.1 The nutritional requirements of sheep and goat breeds in the developing countries should be established on a solid scientific basis and these must be established for different management systems such as cut and carry feeding, tethering and free range grazing.
7.2 More complete information is required on feed inventories and nutritive value of all feeds (forages, trees, crop residues and non-conventional feeds) suitable for small ruminants.
7.3 The conservation of feed resources, to alleviate seasonality in growth and feed deficits, must be researched and relevant technologies developed.
7.4 The nutrition and role of early weaned lambs/kids, as a means of reducing grazing pressure on the rangelands, need serious study.
7.5 The treatment and improvement/supplementation of straw, crop residues and other fibrous feeds for small ruminants needs further research and development.
7.6 Grazing behaviour, preference/choice of sheep, goats and larger ruminants should be studied as a basis of optimizing the utilization of local feed resources.
 The major feed resource in most of the developing countries is rangeland. To date there has been very little progress in achieving more effective use of these areas. Development strategies should: (i) examine traditional range management practices and (ii) critically evaluate flock (herd) age structures in reference to production efficiency and feed demand. Specific recommendations from the discussion include:
8.1 More in-depth study of traditional methods of range management (eg. Hema system) and their adaptation to present conditions.
8.2 Centres should be established for the collection, breeding, multiplication and distribution of improved rangeland and forage crop seeds.
8.3 Greater emphasis be given to methods of maximizing the use of water (eg. water harvesting) and the use of brackish water.
8.4 The role and complementarity (benefits) of mixed grazing (sheep, goats, large ruminants) should be very fully researched as a means of gaining optimum use of all vegetation of use to animals.
8.5 The role of top feeds (browse) should be studied in greater depth.
8.6 The integration of forage crops (grasses & legumes) with food crops (inter row cultivation) should be further exploited in village farming systems.
8.7 In the humid tropics high priority should be given to the development of integrated tree cropping and small ruminant production systems.
 Experience to date has clearly shown that innovation is more easily achieved when introduced technologies are incorporated into existing systems of farming.
9.1 The Consultation strongly recommended the “complete system” approach in which the new technology is already fully validated on a selected number of farms.
9.2 It is also recommended that the concept of development progress, as perceived by the farmer is fully understood before new or innovative practices are introduced.
9.3 The components or new technologies must fit together to effect real and realizable reward.
 In any particular environment there are always large differences between the best and worst producers; these differences are usually independent of breed, feed resources or the major identifiable sources of variation. These differences can be exploited without major physical, animal or financial input.
10.1It is recommended that the sources of those differences (stockmanship?) be fully investigated, as a means of effecting increased productivity without any major change in resources.
10.2It is also recommended that much greater attention is paid to flock (herd) demography as a means of effecting greater production efficiency and minimizing feed demand in any particular production system.
10.3The exploitation of contrasts and the complementary roles of different areas within a region (integrated development) should be studied to increase the overall production from the region.
 Flock/herd health and effective disease control practices and services are an essential part of development of small ruminant production.
11.1The Consultation recommends that much greater attention be focused on the epidemiology of the major diseases affecting small ruminants, particularly in Africa and in other developing regions.

The background to and discussions leading to these recommendations are presented more fully in the Report of the Expert Consultation on Small Ruminant Production, July 8/12, 1985, published by FAO.

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