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A SYSTEM BASED ON TETHERED ANIMALS ON MARGINAL LANDS
Gerald A. Proverbs
Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute
Haired sheep are the most common ruminant in Barbados, num-
bering approximately 35,000 of which the Barbados Black
Belly is by far the predominant type. Most of the sheep are
tethered on marginal lands during the daylight hours and
confined to the backyard after dark. This is necessary if
the producer is to prevent praedial larceny and/or dog
attacks, both of which are very common on the island.
The information on small sheep farmers has been based on
data collected from 17 of these producers. The average
flock size is six animals. The flock tends to be made up of
three ewes and a ram; one ewe under a year of age, one with
lambs, and one in lamb. Their production system and prac-
tices are typical of the approximately 6,000 local sheep
THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
Barbados receives between 1600 and 3600 mm rainfall annu-
ally. The lowest rainfall (1600 mm) occurs in the parish of
St. Lucy in the north and in the parishes of St. Philip and
Christ Church in the south. In between these, rainfall
tends to average between 2400 to 3600 mm. The rainfall pat-
tern is bimodel in distribution. The major dry season runs
from December to April, while the rainy season from April to
December is broken by a shorter dry period in September and
October. Barbados is an island some 430 sq km in area situ-
ated 130N 580W in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The
highest point is some 325 meters above sea level. Seasonal
temperatures vary from a minimum of 220C in the cool months
of January, February, and March to a maximum of 320C in
October, the hottest month.
The soils of Barbados have been classified as alkaline (pH
6.8 to 7.6) calcareous, black clays of varying depth. In
the low rainfall areas soil depths are between 10 and 15 cm,
while in the high rainfall areas soil depths approach 120
cm. As is common with most mineral type soils, those of
Barbados are not overly fertile, and respond well to nitro-
gen and potassium fertilizers. It is agreed by local soil
agronomists that there is no measurable response to ferti-
THE PRODUCER AND AGRICULTURE
Sugarcane has dominated agriculture in Barbados for the past
300 years, with the best land (some 40,000 acres) devoted to
its cultivation today. Sugar lands are not confined to the
high rainfall areas alone. St. Lucy, Christ Church, and
St. Philip parishes are very important cane bearing areas,
even though productivity is considerably below the rest of
the arable land in Barbados. At present there are some 200
sugar plantations averaging about 90 arable hectares each.
Since St. Lucy, Christ Church, and St. Philip are the lar-
gest, the proportion of marginal land in these three par-
ishes tends to be greater than in the other parishes. Con-
sequently it is not surprising to find that about 50% of the
sheep population is found in these three parishes. The poor
quality grasses found on these marginal common lands have
been the source of forage and fodder (cut and carry) for the
small livestock producer for generations. In many instances
the small sheep producer tethers his animals on one pasture
and visits another to cut additional forage for feeding dur-
ing the night.
Many, if not all, of the small sheep producers are actively
employed either by one of the large sugar plantations or in
the tourist or industrial sectors. In a recent unpublished
survey it was found that over 40% of the small sheep pro-
ducers are over 60 years of age. In many instances these
people own no land and are renting the site their house sits
on. The average household for the over-60-year-olds con-
sists of three people, while five is the average for the
Sheep are kept mainly for meat for the household; however,
in times of cash shortage they will be sold to another sheep
producer or to one of the many butchers who travel around
the island purchasing livestock for slaughter.
ANIMAL PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
Sheep are not necessarily the most important component on
smallholdings. Nearly every class of livestock can be found
on all of them. However, because of their hardiness and
their adaptability to foraging under the most adverse condi-
tions, sheep provide a sizable proportion of the annual meat
consumption in the household.
Table 1 shows the mature live weights of Barbados Black
Belly Sheep. These are low in comparison with European
breeds, but higher than those of sheep in Africa and Asia.
Ewes weigh between 32 and 50 kg while rams weigh between 45
and 55 kg. Parturition intervals have been documented at
8.43 months (Patterson 1973). Patterson (1978) reported that
average litter size for Barbados Black Belly sheep was
2.13. This corresponds closely with what has been deter-
mined for the small farm. Unfortunately what is not known
is the incidence of lamb mortality. It is known that the
larger the litter size, the higher the mortality rate.
Ewes constitute approximately 67% of the flock, and of
these, some 60% are of breeding age. Ewes are usually bred
between 15 and 18 months of age, at an average weight of 25
kg (Table 2). Ram lambs are either sold or butchered and
eaten within a year of birth. The older ewes over 4 years
also provide the household with cash or meat.
Most of the older ewes are disposed of because of low fecun-
dity or diseased udders. The incidence of mastitis is high
normally and especially so during the rainy season.
Over 70% of the small sheep producers rely heavily on con-
centrate feeds to meet the dry matter (DM) intake deficiency
of their sheep. The quantity of concentrate fed depends on
the grazing pressure on. the common land, the season of the
year, and the availability of fodder for cut-and-carry feed-
The sheep are usually tied out early in the morning and
driven home after the farmer returns from work. The animals
are usually fed and watered before and after tethering on
the pasture. It is not uncommon for ewes to lamb down while
tethered on the common. In many ways this might be better
since the lambs are away from the relative unsanitary sheep
pen in the producer's backyard.
Similarly, many of the small farmers do not own their own
ram and are known to conveniently tether their cycling ewes
close to a neighbor's ram on the common.
Both internal and external parasites are problems. The
gastro-intestinal nematodes (GIN) and the protozoan Eimeria
are the major internal parasites that hinder optimum growth
Worm burden and pregnancy toxemia appear to be the major
cause of death in lambs and ewes, respectively (King 1932).
It is felt by others that poor nutritional status is the
major cause of mortality in sheep of all ages and both
Adequate nutrition is probably the major limiting factor for
expansion of sheep production in Barbados. As outlined
earlier, many of the farmers rely on prepared concentrates
to make up the nutrient deficiencies enforced on the sheep
by the tethering system.
In addition, lamb mortality is very high in the first weeks
after birth because the ewes fail to produce adequate quan-
tities of milk to meet the demands of twin or triplet lit-
ters. Furthermore, it is very evident that because of poor
TABLE 1. LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION COEFFICIENTS
Parturition Interval (months)
Lambs Per Parturition
Lamb Weight at Birth (kg)
Lamb Weight at Weaning
TABLE 2. BARBADOS SHEEP POPULATION BY AGE AND SEX
1-6 6-12 1-2 2-4 Over 4 Sex
months months years years years %
No. of Males 18 6 6 4 1 33
No. of Females 16 10 18 22 4 67
% of Group 33% 15% 23% 24% 5%
milk production the young lambs are forced to browse at a
tender age. In fact, Frazer (1931) estimated that the lambs
he observed were weaned between 14 to 21 days after birth.
Worm burden with GIN and infection with Eimeria take their
toll in both adult and young. However, mortality is greater
in the young group. Anthelmintics and coccidiostats are not
extensively used on a routine basis. There are two reasons
for this--the relatively high cost of anthelmintics and the
unavailability of drugs in the rural areas.
If there were specialized feedlots to finish weaned lambs,
then there would be an opportunity for the small farmer to
expand his ewe flock or improve his present flock's nutri-
tion and health state.. As it stands today, the average
small farmer makes about $10 net profit for every lamb sold
for butchering at 35 kg live weight. Consequently there is
very little incentive to increase his lamb production.
The lack of an established line of credit tends to restrict
the development of a more intensive sheep production system
for the small farmer. This is understandable because there
is no strategy or policy on the part of government to
develop a local sheep industry assisted through either a
levy on imported lamb and mutton or low interest-bearing
loans and outright establishment grants.
There are many areas in which research should be conducted.
Listed below are some areas where research should be
focused, if lamb and mutton production is to increase:
- Evaluation of how flushing the ewe affects litter
- Measurement of milk production in well-fed ewes.
Measurement of the growth rate of lambs from wellfed
Evaluation of the incidence of pregnancy toxemia in
Barbados Black Belly ewes.
Production of compounded feeds from locally produced
Conservation system for locally produced forage for
carry over from wet season to the dry.
S Establishment and utilization of protein-energy banks
on the small farmers' land.
Fraser, I. 19.1, Personal Communication.
King, T. H. 1982. Personal Communication.
Patterson, H. C. 1978. The Importance of Black Belly
Sheep in Regional Agriculture. Second Regional Ist
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