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KALRO Experts Develop ‘Smart’ Sheep Rearing Technology

The Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organization (KALRO) has introduced a cross breed Sheep that matures early with higher productivity ratings that is expected to turn around the livestock sector.

The Dorper sheep which was developed in South Africa and well adopted in Kenyan environment was a high breed of the Dorset Horn and local black head Persian sheep and was proven to produce more meat rather than fat during the case study on the ration technology.

The new technology is expected to be a game changer in the sector that has for years seen pastoralists rear traditional breeds for ages without notable improvement in their well-being as the ravages of climate change takes a toll on their livelihoods.

The new concepts however offers hope for farmers after studies indicated that it had shorten the rearing period from two years to seven months  and proved that the fattening of sheep under feedlot systems will not only save time and space but will also post better returns.

Speaking during a Dorper sheep trade fair and a field day on the validation and adoption of the new technology by end users at Nturumeti Sub location in Narok County, KALRO Director General Dr. Eliud Kireger said the feedlot technology will see the sheep acquire weight and mature early.

Dr. Margaret Syomiti , AgriFi Kenya CAPP Principal Investigator explaining the feeding programme for the Dorper sheep.

“The rearing period from birth to marketing of Dorper sheep will now be shortened from 3years old to 6.5 months only and this will automatically increase the rate of returns and farm enterprise profitable and sustainable”, he added

The DG noted that farmers with large stock were grappling with challenges of feeding the local sheep for close to three years before maturity to attain around 45 kilograms of their weight incurring huge losses.

“The feedlot finishing rations given to the Dorper sheep are able to attain market weights above 40kgs within two and half months post weaning at four months of age beyond which there is no economic incentive for continuing keeping the animal”, he said

He acknowledged that most technologies were developed and available for use but reaching the targeted farmers has always been a challenge despite the fact that the sector was more promising than ever with reports indicating that the consumption of livestock products was growing in developing countries hence the urgency to scale up production.

“The secret is the high quality of these forage-legume based finisher rations which are well formulated to meet the nutrient requirements of the young growing animals and enhanced management systems”, he added

Kenya is currently a net importer of meat and related products and the situation is projected to get worse as income and urbanization grows. Under the existing production systems the slaughter weight of sheep in the country is low.

Dr. Kireger decried that for the youth in agriculture were not interested in long term investment of waiting for 3 years for their sheep to mature but had an option of buying stock from the market and fatten the sheep within 3 months and make sales within the a short time.

He added that they can also be able to develop and sell farmers rations by learning from the technology which constitutes the formulation of the rations of high quality forage –legume based to manage their flocks for early marketing and not just embrace one part of the chain of production.

“There is high demand particularly from the youth for market oriented production systems for meat products that reduces the age of slaughter which increases the market weight of marketed animals “, Dr. Kireger said

Dr. George Keya, the National coordinator of the AgriFi Kenya Climate Smart Agricultural Productivity Project (CS-APP) funded by the European Union and the Government of Kenya said the development of the sheep ration technology was critical in developing finishing ration that can finish small ruminants of sheep and goat in a short period of time so that they can reach the market weight within the shortest possible time.

He noted that the development of the rations at the KALRO Bachuma centre has so far shown encouraging results with farmers able to sell their Dorper sheep within 7 months from the time of birth at a market weight of between 45 and 55kgs.

Dr. Keya confirmed that a lot of children especially from the pastoralists communities are now going to school and land is also becoming marginal thus requiring use of new technologies systems to utilize small land and use a shortened period to market which was found to be cost effective and encouraged commercialization of the production system.

“ Through this technology we have seen that for it to be profitable, one needs a minimum of around 40 sheep  and we can estimate that within three months if you have between 40 or even 100 Dorper sheep  you can make Ksh 1 million “, he asserted.

Dr. Margaret Syomiti , the Principal Investigator of the project said the  Dorper sheep are usually fed 1.5 kgs of the feeds every day for three months for them to hit the 45 kg weight recommended

“Farmers were initially releasing their cows to graze from 6 a.m. in the  morning to 6 p.m in the evening taking almost 10 hours to feed their animals, but  under the new system, the nutrient concentrations in the feeds give the animals the critical components to develop faster unlike when those found in pastures which had deficiency gaps”, she said

Dr. Syomiti explained that the high nutrition given to the early maturing Dorper sheep which has a fast growth rate, has been tested scientifically and with various treatments of crude protein and energy levels in comparison to the farmers traditional methods, they have been able to see for themselves with data analyzed showing traditional ones weighing around 32 kgs while the ones fed on rations weighing 55 kgs.

“The benefits of using Rations is  that it shortens the rearing period , increases rates of returns of investment for the farmer and is also a good opportunity for the unemployed youths”, she said.

The feed grass rations ready for feeding animals. Pictures by Wangari Ndirangu

Dr. Syomoti called on more partnerships to further upscale the technology which she said can be commercialized.

Jackson Naikuni, the livestock farmer from Nturumeti village while embracing the new technology said that pastoralists now have a reason for keeping Dorper sheep that will see them save space and resources required under convention systems.

“I stopped taking my sheep out to grazing fields since April after realizing  difference and the returns because am able to sell three times in a year unlike before when I used to toil for around three years in order to fetch better price”, he said .

Naikuni said with the profitable grass based feeds which they can now grow within their farms, the security of the animals from attacks from wild animals was settled and now the family enjoys better returns within three months with less risks and efforts.

He called upon other pastoralists to embrace the KALRO technology and also change the breeds to the Dorper sheep which could survive in dry climates adding “We need to change our breed from the red maasai sheep we have had overtime and which has not been bringing good income and embrace the Dorper sheep breed whose market is ready”.

AgriFi Kenya Climate Smart Agricultural Technologies productivity project is a 5 year government of Kenya project co-funded through a grant from the European Union and is being implemented by KALRO with partners.

Sheep rearing contributes to food production, rural employment and GDP by converting roughage into meat, wool and skin. The project embarked on developing the technology and the validation trial was implemented between May and July 2023 in Narok County.

The theme for the Trade fair was “Enhancing rural livelihoods in ASALs through finishing ration to tap fast growth in Dorper Sheep for early markets”.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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