Micro-livestock for livelihoods : A new outlook for NE States

Dr Abhishek Paul
One of the great challenges currently posing us is how to feed an estimated 9 billion people by the year 2050 world-wide, 40% more than presently inhabiting the planet, even more formidable is the challenge to achieve this without damaging the environment. India has currently a population of 1.33 billion which is expected to reach 1.65 billion by 2050 and by 2050 we are expected to surpass China in terms of number of people to feed. As human population increases, the space available for growing forage decreases and this phenomenon favours small animals. Many villages of the NE States already have little or no pasture land. Micro-livestock production should therefore be integrated into most rural development projects. Policy maker should note the potentials of micro-livestock and the benefits that can be derived from them.
Micro livestock is a term coined for species that are inherently small as well as breeds of cattle, sheep, goat. pigs that are less than about half the size of the most common breeds. These miniature animals are seldom considered in the broad picture of livestock development but they seem to have a promising future especially wherever land is scarce.
Micro-livestock roles in wellbeing of rural communities
The total livestock population is 535.78 million in the country showing an increase of 4.6% over Livestock Census 2012. As compared to previous census the percentage share of sheep and goat population has increased whereas the percentage share of cattle, buffalo and pig has marginally declined. Fulfilling the feed demand for this huge livestock from same resource base of land and water is going to be a huge challenge (AIANP, 2013).
Reduced spoilage
A family can eat the meat produced by most livestock in one meal or in one day to minimize the risk of spoilage. Micro-livestock is important in the areas of NE States, where home refrigeration facility is either unavailable or uneconomic.
Efficient use of space
The space required for handling and feeding micro-livestock is proportionately less than that required for large animal. Low space requirement make many micro-livestock (such as quail, indigenous breed of pigs) available to the landless rural inhabitants who have not room for a cow.
Cheaper facilities
Facilities and equipment required for housing of micro-livestock is simpler than those required for large animals. Small livestock are cheaper to buy and they give faster turnover on investment. But the fact remains that not everyone who wants meat or money has the resources to acquire, keep manage or utilize a large number of animals.
Ease of management
Farmers and villagers can manage small animals more easily than large which is an advantage in the many places where women and children are the main keepers of the livestock.
Micro-livestock in smallholder farming system
Under conditions of abundance, small size may be of no advantage in mammals, but if feed is limited, it is of great help. A small animal needs to cover small area to fulfil its daily requirements. Micro-livestock may grow fat in areas where forage is too sparse to support a larger animal. This is particularly vital when there are seasonal bottlenecks. For example food may be plentiful enough for most of the year to supply many large animals, however the dry season may greatly restrict that can be kept. The number of large animal that can be kept on a given parcel of land may be increased, sometimes even doubled, with smaller animals. Micro livestock can also be penned and fed cut and carry forage more easily than can larger animal and more of them can be maintained on the same amount of feed. This permits more continuous production and less financial hardship when an animal perishes.
Most of the breeds of cattle are too large to be considered micro-cattle, but there are some whose mature weight is less than 300 kg. They are often treasured because of their resilience and simple requirements. Many of them survive and produce under harsh conditions, grow rapidly, calve easily, show good mothering ability and yield lean meat. As the rural people depend more upon ash economics, micro-cattle could become vital means for improving personal, dietary and economic status.
Status and uses of micro-cattle
Micro-cattle are threatened with extinction because of replacement or crossbreeding with larger types. This is in some respect short-sighted because promoting just a few breeds contributes to narrowing of the genetic base and valuable traits may be lost when selection is done to conform to any preconceived standard including large size. Like conventional breeds, micro-cattle produce the same well-known products meat, milk, manure, hides and bone. Small cattle often produce only modest amounts of milk and meat per animal. However, given higher stocking rates, a herd of micro-cattle is often able to out yield larger, genetically improved animals on a per hectare basis, especially under stressful condition. When their ability to survive adversity and poor management is taken into account, they may often be far and away the most efficient cattle for traditional husbandry.
Micro-goats are noted for their high reproductive rates, rapid growth, early maturity, tasty meat as well as for their robust constitution. Too many people especially where pigs and poultry are not commonly met and milk from micro-goats are the primary animal proteins consumed during a lifetime. Perhaps the world’s best forages, goats eat practically anything made of cellulose and are not dependent on grass. Because of their unselective feeding behaviour they are capable of living where the feeds tree leaves, shrubs and weeds are too poor to support other types of livestock. Such micro-goats deserve wider recognition for they are often the poor person’s only source of milk, meat and cash income.
Micro-pigs are considered to be small breeds of pigs with a mature body weight of about 70kg or less. These micro-pigs are particularly common in NE parts of India. Smallness makes for nimble and self-sufficient pigs in contrast to large, lethargic breeds. Small breeds are easier to maintain and the sows are less likely to crush new born piglets, often a major cause of mortality in large breeds. Pigs are reared on kitchens, farms and food industries as well as other foods such as small roots or bitter fruits that are not consumed by humans or ruminants. For these reasons, micro-pigs could become useful household and village livestock in the NE States and they deserve greater attention than they now receive. Although their growth may not be as rapid as that of improved breeds raised under intensive commercial production, with modest care and minimum investment, backyard micro-pigs can provide sizable yields of meat and other products.
Quail are so precious that they can lay eggs when they are 5 weeks old. It is said that about 20 of them are sufficient to keep an average family in eggs year round. Adult quail can live and produce successfully if they are allowed 80 cm2 of floor space per bird. However, for reproduction about twice that is needed to allow for mating rituals. If properly mated, high fertility rate and good hatchability can be expected. To obtain fertile eggs, one male is needed for roughly six females. Moreover, the flavour of farm raised quail has also helped bring them into the main steam. And at a time when people are searching for food, specifically animal protein with low fat and cholesterol, quails fill the gap. Quail production can be started with little money. These easy care birds can be housed in small, single inexpensive cages.
Future of Micro-livestock
The question is not whether the large or small animal is best but rather how well each can meet a person’s varying requirements. In a given situation livestock can be too large or small but the fact remains that not everyone who wants meat or money has the resources to acquire keep manage or utilize a large animal. Micro-livestock increase the range of options for the millions of poor people for whom the choice may not even be between large and small livestock, but between micro-livestock and no livestock at all.
The challenge is how to increase the food supply, particularly food of animal origin, in light of increasing global demand from predominantly urban populations with increased purchasing capacity. Though, livestock population is increasing day by day but adequate feed would not be available at reasonable price to rear them under traditional animal husbandry. Therefore, improvements in micro-livestock production can meet the nutritional demand in the household and increase their livelihood security by increasing their social standing and financial autonomy.
The writer is with College of Vety. Science & A.H., Central Agricultural University, Selesih, Mizo-ram For further details contact: - Public Relations& Media Management Cell, CAU, Imphal. Email: [email protected]