New measures are being taken to revive the population of the native Barbadian Blackbelly sheep, which has been slowly declining over the past five years.

This was stated by officials from the Ministry of Agriculture at a recent press conference to discuss the Blackbelly Sheep revitalisation programme, which is to be conducted by the Ministry in association with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA) and the Universidad Autonoma in Chapingo, Mexico.

The programme involves training local sheep farmers in techniques such as semen collection, artificial insemination and embryo transfer, as well as proper record keeping. Sheep production expert from the Universidad Autonoma, Dr. Raymundo Rangel-Santos, said that these techniques are not difficult and are very inexpensive.

???The most expensive part is to attain the ram. When you have a good ram, it can serve several thousand ewes. Semen is exported in a straw and each straw could sell for a few hundred dollars on the global market. One ram could produce several thousand straws per year,??? he disclosed.

Livestock Development Officer from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Dr. Cedric Lazurus, hailed the programme as an excellent idea.

???The Barbadian Blackbelly sheep is a very sought after breed on the world market because of its resilience to heat and other conditions. But it is difficult to get access to them and Barbados does not have enough sheep to facilitate the global demand.

“Therefore, this programme is necessary, not only to earn foreign exchange, but to reverse the decline of the sheep population,??? he stated.

Other options of earning foreign exchange which were discussed included exporting both frozen and fresh embryos and semen, and sheep skin for leather.

Senior Agricultural Assistant with the Greenland Livestock Research Station, John Vaughn, pointed out that this was the first time that these techniques would be introduced in Barbados on this scale, and they were extremely important to preserving the Blackbelly sheep.

With approximately 13,000 heads of sheep in the island today, he noted that ???Barbados is in an active hurricane zone???. Therefore, Mr. Vaughn said the threat that this dwindling population could be further damaged by a storm was a factor.

He continued: ???With these new techniques being introduced, we now have the option to store frozen sheep semen and embryos overseas, so that our sheep would not be wiped out by a hurricane or any other natural disaster.???

The revitalisation programme is the result of a three-week training course on sheep production at the Universidad Autonoma in Mexico, where Barbadians Greg Welch and Jamekal Andwele met with experts in the field, Dr. Raymundo Rangel-Santos and Dr. Jose Garcia-Muniz.

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