2007 AGRICULTURE STORY OF THE YEAR, AGRICULTURE FEATURE STORY
"Meet the new kids in town"
By Fermin M. Diaz
Livestock and Meat (LaMB) Magazine
Cagayan Valley has embarked on a genetic improvement project on sheep and goats, producing better stocks that offer higher income opportunities for raisers. Fermin Diaz reports.
Cagayan Valley is known as one of the Philippines’ top corn producers, supplying the feed grain needs of the country’s thriving poultry and livestock industries. But unknown to many, this region up north is also working on a small ruminants breed improvement project which could someday make it the country’s chief source of high quality stock of goat and sheep.
The P10 million initiative begun in 1998 by a nine-member team from the Department of Agriculture Regional Field Unit 2 based in Gamu, Isabela. It aimed to develop a pool of genetically superior and adaptable breed of small ruminants for eventual dispersal to livestock raisers with limited capital. In 2004, the Bureau of Agricultural Research came in as an institutional partner, infusing P1 million to help keep the project going.
“Breeds of small ruminants available in the region, particularly goat and sheep, have inferior qualities compared to the existing breeds in the world market,” observed project team leader Gumersindo Lasam. “We felt the need to improve them through the application of various breed improvement strategies, so that’s how the project all started.”
Long process taken
The development process was long and tedious, taking years before desired results were achieved. It started with the shipment of St. Croix and Katahdin sheep purebreds and Boer goat purebreds from Australia to Cagayan Valley in 1998 and 2002, respectively, through a government-to-government deal.
This was followed by the evaluation of the productive and reproductive performance of the introduced breeds under the prevailing conditions of Region 2 to determine which among them have superior qualities that make them form part of a pool of elite stocks for a particular breed.
Part of this evaluation process was a careful selection of the buck intended to head a particular breed. This is important considering that the degree of improvement or deterioration of the buck’s progeny depends greatly upon him. Understandably, the one being chosen is the tallest and heaviest animal in the herd, has the ‘macho’ look , and is active and energetic. He is always ready to breed a doe in heat, and can arouse the sexual desire of an otherwise passive doe, thus increasing the percentage of females that are successfully bred each season.
In the same manner, the doe that would form part of the elite stock is selected with care and intelligence. First of all, her size and physical attributes are satisfactory. A good constitution is shown by the depth of her chest and bulkiness of the barrel. Her legs should be straight and strong while her udder should be large and wide with good size and well-placed teats. A good breeding doe should be motherly and solicitous for the well being of her kids. A doe with coarse head may be indifferent to her young and may actually be mean towards them.
Lasam , who is also the DA regional director for Cagayan, explained that to gain entry into the elite herd, qualified stocks should have at least records of multiple births and have demonstrated regularity of breeding. “Members of the elite herd are subjected to further screening for purification, taking into consideration the weights and sizes of their offspring,” he pointed out.
The next move was identifying the outstanding characters in each breed and upgrading the existing breeder base of small ruminants through breeder loan packages for farmers. At this point, project proponents have started to develop, evaluate and identify superior crosses and breeds for mass production and distribution to farmers and qualified raisers. Alongside all these, they established multiplier farms for purebred stocks for use in the production of superior crosses.
Good initial results
After eight years of research and development, the project has done remarkable accomplishments, even if some of its desired goals have yet to be attained. From the union of 64 Boer goats imported from Australia, some 36 island born stocks had been produced to form the F1 population..
Project team members said that although not one of these offspring carried good characters like higher kidding percentage and occurrence of multiple births, some 51 of the 64 base Boer population had qualified to constitute the elite herd of Boer goats for Region 2.
Since 2004, the project has also produced 80 Boer bucks which were distributed in Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Batanes, Ifugao, and eight other areas. These males, in turn, had produced 806 upgraded goats (50 % Boer and 50% native) mostly owned by farmers, which proved to be heavier as they reached weaning and mature age, and which had longer bodies at maturity than their purely native counterparts.
Not all of them grew to maturity, though. Of the 806 upgraded goats, 236 had died for various reasons, mostly attributed to pneumonia. Mortalities among offspring have occurred at the pre-weaning stage. From the total of 80 bucks distributed, 25 had died of various causes, mostly diarrhea and paralysis.
The project has also established six multiplier farms for Boer breed in Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya that led to the production of 67 purebred Boer offspring and two multiplier farms for sheep which yielded 36 purebred offspring..
Likewise, it was able to distribute 51 Katahdin and St. Croix rams throughout the region, mostly in Isabela, resulting in the production of 821 upgraded sheep. Sadly, 120 of the offspring died mostly as a result of diarrhea, while 14 of the elite 51 rams succumbed to diarrhea and paralysis. In spite of the setback, efforts to increase the sheep population continues, project proponents said.
Strong demand for Boers
Since the animals were put on sale starting November 2005, buyers have been so eager in acquiring half-bred Boers, said team member Geronima Ludan. The ‘new kids in town’ were being sold at P5,000 per head only if they reach ten months. But since only a few of them reach marketable age at any given time, buyers were even willing to part their P5,000 for much younger kids. “Boers are such a big hit that farmers as far as Tarlac get them through outright cash, others through loan of at least five goats,” she exclaimed.
Ludan said a purebred Boer buck usually goes for P20,000 and the ewe for P15,000. But because these imported parent stocks are so in demand, DA officials have opted to auction them to the highest bidder to generate bigger revenues.
To raise public awareness and stimulate investment in the production of genetically superior small ruminants, the DA regional office has recently organized the first Cagayan Valley Goat and Sheep Exposition, held in Ilagan, Isabela, last May 9 and 10.
With the experiences and initial results obtained from the project, team members are now bent on continuing their evaluation of the Boer breed to purify the established elite herd. They have also begun developing sheep crosses out of the established elite herd and embarked on closely monitoring the bucks and rams they had distributed.
The move is to ascertain their production and reduce, if not eliminate, mortalities. Animal health problems, notably diarrhea and pneumonia, have been bringing heavy toll on the goats, causing death to up to 30 percent of the population.
To address this concern, the team has bared plans to organize an active monitoring group composed of technical personnel who will at the same time provide technical assistance and render extension service as they carry out monitoring.
Among others, the team would also conduct a study to determine the causes of paralysis among purebred stocks as basis for formulating health and feeding program and to minimize these incidences among breeder stocks in the station and among those distributed to raisers.
“This project has still a long way to go to fully realize its goals,” said Lasam. “But we’re determined to succeed and make a difference.”
Editor’s Note: The preceding article appeared on pages 8 to 10 in the fourth issue of Livestock and Meat (LaMB) Magazine. It was submitted as entry to the first Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards in 2007 and won the top prize for being adjudged the Agriculture Story of the Year.