Tilahun Seyoum is by all standards a grown up responsible husband, father and community leader. He also belongs to the school of thought that believes, to learning there is no end. Thus, after many years of keeping goats, cattle and sheep, he has in the last few months, learnt one new thing. He has learnt that the yellow tag now hanging from the ear of his goat means that the goat will sell for a higher price compared to that of his friend in the neighbouring village. That yellow tag means the parents of the animals are known and performances of its future offspring can be predicted hence the higher value compared to untagged animals.
Tilahun lives in Luma Tatesa kebele, in Meta Robi, Oromia region of Ethiopia where the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) is undertaking a community based goat breeding initiative/program whose main goal is to exploit existing genetic diversity in goats to improve goat productivity in Ethiopia. The Swedish funded ‘Harnessing genetic diversity for improved goat productivity’ project is part of a program on livestock improvement through genetic diversity studies that spans Ethiopia and Cameroon. It is led by Biosciences eastern and central Africa hub.
This community has practiced mixed crop and livestock farming for centuries, growing barley, wheat, pulses and brown teff. The institute sought to help them improve the productivity of their livestock. Since July 2013, Temesgen Jembere (Graduate Fellow), Grum Gebreyesus (Research Assistant), focal person, Demeke Tadese and two enumerators – Ketema Tesfaye and Abush Girma have faithfully mediated between ILRI, the local Ethiopian government administration and the community to establish the community breeding group and outline its objectives.
When the villagers were convinced that the group of researchers visiting their village at intervals had interesting ideas to offer, fifty (50) of them came together and formed a cooperative society. They selected a committee led by Tilahun. Each member then paid 25 Ethiopian birr (1US dollars ≈19.44 Ethiopian Birr) as registration fees and a further 100 Ethiopian birr for a share in the business. Each member then brought their goats for selection to form the next generation of goat parents in Tatesa and neighbouring villages. The cooperative society has been registered and by-laws established, thus all 50 members are expected to be faithful to the agreement.
From previous discussions, final breeding goal traits are yet to be published. Researchers knew the community was looking for bigger size goats and ability to have more than one kid per pregnancy
From previous discussions, final breeding goal traits are yet to be published. Researchers knew the community was looking for bigger size goats and ability to have more than one kid per pregnancy because goats are primarily used here for income generation. The researchers first identified the mothers – known as does. Then at six months of age, they checked the new born kids from those does for two traits – body size and twinning ability.
The next step was to identify the bucks(known as sires). The pedigree, whose birth history the farmers could narrate well, were brought to the common pool and record based as well as indigenous knowledge based selection was made. Farmers were advised to castrate the unselected bucks so they do not interfere with the breeding program. The community has a culture of exchanging breeding bucks but they sold the best using them for breeding only accidentally because they were still in the flock undergoing fattening before sale.
The farmers were then grouped according to the number of does they had, and the bucks were assigned accordingly. Scientifically, one buck can service more than 30 female goats but under the farmers condition fifteen (15) females were targeted per sire. A total of twenty five (25) sires are used as a revolving fund by the community. They service the does and when they get old, they are sold and new ones bought. Some farmers were provided with recording facilities to keep records of their own flock while the two enumerators keep records of the entire village flock.
Arrangements were made at the start to have the animal health worker at the nearby Minare town, provide services to the member farmers at a cost covered from the project funds. The veterinarian at the post was provided with the necessary drugs and a list of member farmers from whom he was to receive no payment. Unpublished data indicated that the major goat diseases in the area are Contagious Capra Pleuro Pneumonia (CCPP) and external parasites.
Tilahun now says: ‘I now know I ignored the health of my herd and I sold the best bucks (male goats). I have learnt to observe differences in their performance that may indicate illness so I can take them for treatment. I also retain the best bucks for breeding’.
Goats the poor man’s cow
Tadelle Dessie, a scientist in animal genetics and breeding and the project leader based at ILRI’s Addis Ababa campus, says ‘goats are the poor mans’ cow. He is working with five students, two studying for MSc and three studying for PhDs, to achieve the objectives of the larger project. Each of the five students is pursuing one objective. The MSc students are working on production system and phenotypic characterization of the different goat breeds across the five project sites.
The three PhD students’ are conducting research that is interlinked; one student, taking into consideration information generated from MSc students, is working on breeding goat definitions using choice experiments and ranking experiments; and developing a selection index. Using the resultant data from the first PhD student’s research, the second PhD student is conducting flock productivity studies, simulation studies, and implementing the community based breeding plans in the host study communities. In parallel the third PhD student will undertake molecular characterization of the fourteen goat breeds present in Ethiopia using different molecular techniques. His study will help confirm the large variability in production and productivity within and between the goat breeds which has been observed in the phenotypic and farming system characterization studies.
Temesgen, is enrolled for a PhD at Haramaya University in Ethiopia. His research thesis which informs this study is ‘Participatory planning and implementation of community based improvement of indigenous goat breeds in Ethiopia’. Tatesa is one of five (5) sites that the research is addressing where he is conducting flock productivity studies, simulation studies, and implementing the community based breeding programs in the host study communities.
‘ I hope that by the time the project is over, this community will be earning money from their improved sires and selling to other villages’ says Temesgen.
In this particular community, goats are used for meat and leather and it is imperative that the community is able to manage its own improvement program because they know the value of their goats.
Other related stories: