With the rising cost of animal feed presenting challenges to local farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture is exploring a number of alternative and cheaper sources of livestock nutrition.
This is according to Acting Deputy Chief Agricultural Officer, Charleston Lucas, who said a new feeding programme, which utilised local by-products, was being developed for animals under the Ministry’s livestock programme.
Agricultural officials have pointed out that the cost of feed was one of the greatest expenses in animal rearing; constituting as high as 70 per cent of the cost of production due to the rise in prices of grains and soya beans.
"Some years ago, we worked with sugar cane, bagasse, molasses, urea, poultry litter and legumes to formulate rations for the various classes of livestock. Gradually, interest in by-product feeding waned and most farmers depended solely on the commercial rations, but in light of today’s difficult economic conditions, this is very expensive and, to some extent, it has constrained the expansion of the sector. So, we are targeting nutrition as one of the critical areas to reduce the cost of production right across the sector," Mr. Lucas said.
Speaking during a recent interview, he disclosed that the Ministry was also exploring the use of a new type of grass which could aid in reducing feeding expenses.
"We have introduced a new species of grass – mulatto, which is currently being used in Trinidad and Jamaica. It has potentially a high protein content, 12 to 17 per cent, and we are now experimenting and trying to grow it on a large enough acreage where the relevant data, in terms of adaptability, growth rate, cutting intervals and nutrient, content can be collected. This year, we would hope to expand the acreage and also collect the relevant technical data," Mr. Lucas explained.
According to him, the livestock section has continued to perform well, particularly the Black Belly Sheep Programme at the Greenland Livestock Research Station. Some 250 animals are presently part of the breeding programme at the station.
In terms of sheep production, he said agricultural officials were focusing on selections within the Black Belly breed as opposed to cross breeding, that is, utilising exotic breeds to cross with local animals.
"We believe there is enough variation within the breed and the advantages we have with the Black Belly Sheep, we do not want to lose [those characteristics] by cross breeding with imported animals," he noted.
With regard to dairy and poultry, Mr. Lucas said production had been quite good with 5.81 million kilogrammes of milk being generated and some 10 million birds being reared yearly. Similarly, he said table egg production had remained at a satisfactory level for most of 2011.
He added that there was still room for expansion in pig rearing, with an estimated 2.65 million kilogrammes being produced locally per year.
"We still have another 1.153 million kilogrammes being imported, although mainly for the processing hams and those kinds of specialty products. So, there is some room there for expansion, but the pig industry has come a long way. Most persons are satisfied with the quality of the pork and most of our local animals are able to reach market within six to seven months," Mr. Lucas said.