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Some constraints to small ruminant production among small-scale farmers in Laikipia West

M.M. Mucuthi1 and K. Munei2

1 Laikipia Research Programme
Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Marketing
Nanyuki, Kenya
2 Department of Agricultural Economics
University of Nairobi, Kenya

Materials and methods
Results and discussion


A sample of 65 small-scale farms was selected from two of the subdivided ranches in the arid and semi-arid lands of west Laikipia. The objective of the study was to determine among other things, some of the constraints to small ruminant production in the study area. The study reveals that the major constraints to small ruminant production were diseases (mainly pneumonia and helminthiasis) and shortage of water for livestock. Insufficient grazing was not seen by the respondents as a constraint although observations showed that the area was overgrazed, especially the unoccupied farms.


It is estimated that 82% of the population in Kenya lives in the rural areas. In Laikipia this estimate is even higher, at 91% (GOK 1991). Most of the people are small-scale farmers living on former European ranches many of which have been subdivided into small-scale farms. The farm sizes range from one to 10 hectares which makes small-scale farming in the district significant. However, many of the ranches from which these farms are carved were used for extensive livestock production and are thus not suitable for rain-fed agriculture.

Small-scale farmers in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) face many challenges in generating household incomes. One way of helping them increase this income is through promotion of small ruminant production. It has been reported that in this area, small ruminant production provides close to one-third of the small-scale farmers' net farm incomes (Mucuthi et al 1992). However, there are constraints that hinder maximising returns or minimising costs in their production. Therefore, the objective of the study was to identify some of these constraints to small ruminant production in the study area.

Materials and methods

In 1990 there were 28 former European ranches and five government settlement schemes in Laikipia West that were in various stages of settlement and/or subdivision. Subdivision was completed in eight of the ranches and maps were available. Two of these ranches were selected for this study. Each ranch was subdivided into four equal subclusters and the farthest two subclusters to each other, i.e. one subcluster from each ranch was chosen as the starting point. The farms or sampling units were not sampled randomly within the subclusters but systematically from a randomly selected corner of the subcluster.

Using this method, 65 respondents who were defined as small-scale farmers were interviewed. They represented 9% of the potential respondents in each ranch. Herd size (50 small ruminants and 10 cattle) instead of land size was used to classify small-scale farms, though recognising that land size is the standard measure of farm classification. Herd size was used because Kohler (1987a) found that in West Laikipia, small-scale farmers owned no more than 50 small ruminants and 8 head of cattle. No prior appointments were made for interview visits, but efforts were made to interview the husband or the wife, or in default, the de facto head of the farm. Otherwise, the enumerator moved to the next farm. Each respondent interviewed was asked general questions relating to small ruminant production and specific questions on constraints to small ruminant production.

Results and discussion

The respondents identified mortality through disease, shortage of water for livestock, stock theft, difficulty in getting herders and lack of enough grazing as the main constraints to small ruminant production. Mortality through disease (53%) and lack of enough water for livestock (21 %), were the most significant constraints to small ruminant production. Other studies also indicate that diseases are among the most significant constraints to small ruminant production in this area (GOK 1990; Herren 1990).

The mortality rates recorded from this study were 12% and 27% for mature and young small ruminants, respectively. These rates are lower than those reported in other studies done in the same area (Kohler 1987a; Kohler 1987b; Herren 1990). The lower rates noted in this study may be associated with the fact that the data were based on events recalled by the respondents, rather than recorded information.

Since the respondents gave accounts of deaths that may have occurred in the previous 12 months, it was possible for them not to recall some of the death events, especially if there were many or very few deaths and early in the year. It is also worth noting that the proportion of respondents that reported no deaths was quite high for both mature (24%) and young (50%) stock. It is also common knowledge that sick animals are, in some cases, slaughtered before they die and the meat consumed or sold and thus not reported as a death event.

Of the known causes of mortality (Table 1), the pneumonia complex including contagious caprine pleuropneumonia (CCPP) was the main cause of small ruminant mortality, especially among mature stock. Helminths and diarrhoea were other important causes of mortality, with young stock being the most susceptible to them. Earlier studies in the area made similar observations (Herren 1990). Kimaru (1993) noted that helminths can be predisposing factors to deaths from pneumonia. It is possible, therefore, that the high death rates resulting from pneumonia may have been partly caused by helminth infection, particularly in the young stock.

Table 1. Main causes of mortality in small ruminants as reported by respondents.


Mature stock

Young stock

Frequency (%)

Frequency (%)

Pneumonia complex




















Unspecified causes










Input cost analysis of available data shows that the respondents spent over half of their total input costs for small ruminant production on anthelmintics (Table 2). This is not commensurate with the level of mortality attributed to helminths (Table 1). The reasons for the observed disparity may be attributed to the following observation. Only 37% of the respondents who used anthelmintics administer them in accordance with the manufacturers' recommendations. Of the others, 30% under-dosed, thus making the drugs ineffective and 33% over-dosed, thus incurring unnecessary expenses.

Table 2. The mean cost of inputs used in small ruminant production.

Type of input

Input costs per head (KS)



Total inputs (%)



0 - 38.00


Treatment drugs


0 - 40.00




0 - 6.50


All Inputs


0 - 64.90


KS = Kenya shillings.

In an environment such as the ASAL the identification of water shortage as a second major constraint to livestock production was not unexpected. The area has no permanent rivers, except for a small spring in Mukuru, which itself does not provide enough water to meet the demands for both livestock and humans. In addition, the dams are not centrally located nor were they enough to cater for the whole area. On the average the livestock travelled a distance of 7 and 10 kilometres to water at Salama and Mukuru, respectively.

Furthermore, the dams were not well managed as livestock were watered at the same points that humans drew water for drinking. Due to this interference by livestock, which also caused erosion around the dams, the dams silted. Therefore, to alleviate the water shortage problem, it is necessary to improve dam management, de-silt the existing dams, and construct new ones.

Insufficient grazing was not seen by the respondents as a major constraint to small ruminant production. It was only rated third in significance. However, stocking rate calculated using field data for respondents with less than 50 head of small ruminants and less than 10 head of cattle gave a different picture.

The sampled respondents had a total of 1496 tropical livestock units (TLUs) comprising 835 TLUs of cattle and 661 TLUs of small ruminants. The area available for grazing was calculated as 4217 ha including 2175 ha in the unsettled land, and 2042 ha settled but uncultivated land (Table 3). This gives a stocking rate of 2.8 ha per TLU, which was less than the recommended stocking rate range of 3-5 ha per TLU for this area (Jaetzold and Schmidt 1982). When the stocking rate was calculated using only the grazing land available in the settled land, the results were even more dramatic with the stocking rate dropping to 1.4 ha per TLU.

Table 3. Estimates of grazing land available, its carrying capacity and its use in the study area.

Type of land and use


(1) Total land available


(2) Settled area, 61% of (1)


(3) Grazing in settled, land 60% of (2)


(4) Grazing in unoccupied land, 39% of (1)


(5) Total grazing land (3)±(4)


(6) Stocking rate:

· all available grazing (5)/total TLU


· in settled farms only (3)/total TLU


(7) Recommended carrying capacity


Insufficient grazing was apparent when the grass cover in the occupied and unoccupied farms was compared. Grass cover was determined by the amount of bare soil observed. We estimated less than 10%, 10-30% and 30-50% bare soil for good, medium, and bad grass cover, respectively. Using this estimate, it was found that 59% of the occupied farms had good grass cover, and only 11% had poor grass cover. The unoccupied farms had medium soil cover or worse. The observation indicates that, there will soon be very little grass available in the unoccupied farms. Therefore, sufficient grazing for these farmers was only an illusion. An alternative source of feed to supplement grazing is necessary.

It was observed that only 27% of the respondents gave any form of supplementary feed to small ruminants because there was still grazing available in the unoccupied farms. However, there is need to improve the amount of feed available. This can be done by either of three possible ways, namely, improving the productivity of the available grazing, destocking, or upgrading with better small ruminant breeds like Dorper crosses. This latter may encourage reduction in stock numbers.

Since lack of enough grazing, at least for small ruminants, was not seen as a significant constraint to production, it will be difficult to convince the respondents to plant large areas of land with fodder for small ruminants, especially where the fodder will compete with food crop production and for labour. Nonetheless, a start should be to encourage farmers to use crop residues and improve the storage quality of available crop residues, for instance maize stover, through preservation. Planting fodder trees like leucaena and sesbania along the fences and on terraces will also increase the amount of feed available.


1. The main constraints to small ruminant production are pneumonia, CCPP, and helminths. Hence, animal diseases are a limiting factor for small ruminant production.

2. Small-scale farmers are not conversant with the administration of anthelmintic drugs. This caused increased costs of inputs and is likely to precipitate helminths resistance to the drugs.

3. Though small-scale farmers do not consider insufficient grazing a significant constraint, there is evidence of overgrazing in the study area especially in the unoccupied farms. Additionally, grazing will be a major constraint when the unoccupied plots are occupied.


1. Farmers should be trained to follow guidelines for the use of the anthelmitics or other drugs; the recommended use of the various anthelmintic drugs for different zones, as is the case with acaricides, should be studied. This zoning will help the small-scale farmers to remember drug dosage rates and it will also reduce the likelihood of the development of resistance to these drugs by helminths.

2. The number of dams need to be increased and dam management improved.

3. Action should be taken to correct the problem of overgrazing.

4. To expand the feed base for their livestock, farmers must be encouraged to feed crop residues to the livestock. They should also be trained to preserve these residues for strategic interventions during drought or long dry spells.


GOK (Government of Kenya). 1990. Kenya Government, Rumuruti Division Annual Reports. Divisional Veterinary Office, Rumuruti, Laikipia District, Kenya.

GOK (Government of Kenya). 1991. Kenya Government, Economic Survey 1991. Ministry of Planning and National Development, Nairobi, Kenya.

Herren U.J. 1990. Socioeconomic Stratification and Small Stock Production in Mukogodo Division Kenya. Research in Economic Anthropology 12:111-148.

Jaetzold R. and Schmidt H. 1982. Farm Management Handbook of Kenya. Volume Il/B. Ministry of Agriculture and German Agricultural Team, Nairobi, Kenya.

Kohler T. 1987a. West Laikipia: Report on Small Scale Farming and How it Could be Assisted in Development. Laikipia Reports 8. University of Bern, Switzerland, and Laikipia Research Programme, Nanyuki, Kenya.

Kohler T. 1987b. Land Use in Transition: Aspects and Problems of Small Scale Farming in a New
Environment: The Example of Laikipia District. Geographical Bernensia Volume A 5. University of Bern, Switzerland.

Mucuthi M.M., Munei K. and Sharma K. 1992. The Contribution of Small Ruminant Production to
Household Incomes for Small Scale Farmers in Laikipia West (an ASAL) Laikipia MT. Kenya Papers D-6. University of Bern, Switzerland/University of Nairobi, Kenya and Laikipia Research Programme, Nanyuki, Kenya.

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