MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
The Farming Systems Research Group at Michigan State University is drawn from
the departments of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural Engineering, Animal
Science, Crop and Soil Science, Food Science and Human Nutrition, Sociology,
Veterinary Medicine, and supported by the International Agriculture Institute of
M.S.U. and the U.S. Agency for International Development through a matching
strengthening grant under the Title XII program.
Farming Systems Research Group
Michigan State University
The Farming Systems Research Group at Michigan State University, supported
by Title XII Strengthening Grant Funds from the U.S. Agency for International
Development, and administered by the Institute of International Agriculture,
has included Dr. Jay Artis, Department of Sociology; Dr. Robert J. Deans,
Department of Animal Science; Dr. Merle Esmay (and Dr. Robert Wilkinson),
Department of Agricultural Engineering; Dr. Eric Crawford, Department of
Agricultural Economics; Dr. Russell Freed, Department of Crop and Soil
Sciences (also representing Horticulture); Dr. Al Pearson, Department of
Food Science and Human Nutrition; Dr. Tjaart Schillhorn van Veen, Department
of Veterinary Medicine; with Dr. George Axinn, International Studies
and Programs and Agricultural Economics, Chair, and Ms. Beverly Fleisher,
graduate research assistant.
FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH AS IT RELATES
TO THE ANIMAL SCIENCES
by Robert J. Deans
Working Paper No. 5
THE MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY FARMING SYSTEMS RESEARCH GROUP
WORKING PAPER SERIES
Farming Systems Research and Agricul-
Farming Systems Position Paper
Livestock Systems and Animal Health
Issues in Farming Systems Research --
an Agronomist's Perspective
Farming Systems Research As It Relates
To The Animal Sciences
Farming Systems Research Position Paper
The Farming Systems Research Approach in
the Agricultural Engineering Field
Issues in Farming Systems Research --
a Multidisciplinary Behavioral Science
Farming Systems Research and
An M.S.U. Approach to Farming Systems
The M.S.U. Farming Systems Research
A Working Bibliography on Farming
Systems Research August, 1981
Social Impact, Economic Change, and
Development -- with illustrations
Tjaart Schillhorn van Veen
Robert J. Deans
Merle L. Esmay
George H. Axinn
Robert H. Wilkinson
Beverly Fleisher and
George H. Axinn
George H. Axinn and
Nancy W. Axinn
Farming Systems Research As It Relates
To the Animal Sciences
Robert J. Deans
Department of Animal Science, M.S.U.
This paper is written using the five subject topic guidelines as set by
a group involved in reviewing Farming Systems Research.
1. What is Farming Systems Research (FSR)?
An accurate description of the relatively new acronym, FSR, is necessary
if we are to define its scope of activity and appropriateness for the agricul-
This paper treats "Farming Systems Research" as an approach to developing
more appropriate knowledge of the field, or of the farm sector, than occurred
with previous research. It treats the farm as a system and utilizes a multi-
disciplinary approach to setting research needs. By focusing on the agricultural
system as understood by the farmer, FSR would reverse the source and flow of
idea generation and change traditional approaches towards forming innovations
for the farm system.
"Research", in the FSR sense, might most appropriately refer to the study
of areas in which there are information gaps and unexplored linkages between the
disciplines, rather than the study of an approach to studying farming systems.
Furthermore, farming systems research should be distinguished from "extension" and
diffusion of the generated research results into the broader agricultural sector.
Gaps exist in our knowledge of the field sector. These gaps exist in the
information base available in the conventional disciplines as well as in an
understanding of the linkages or interrelationships between discipline-based
knowledge sets about farming systems. We must research the linkages between
plant, animal, soil and human components of farming systems if we are to create
a workable interdisciplinary framework.
It seems doubtful that FSR will result in the creation of a new field of
expertise or "labeled" academic discipline, or that any existing discipline will
dominate. The specific characteristics of the sector or site itself will determine
which discipline should carry a heavier role in guiding any research activity.
We can expect that as scientists work in FSR they will develop a sense, feel
or ability to do farming systems research as well as becoming more knowledgeable
about the other disciplines involved.
The scope of farming systems research must encompass the broad range of
types and sizes of farming systems which exist. In addition to developing
expertise in "small" farm units, FSR must be capable of responding to the
challenge of larger, more organizationally complex systems. This is necessitated
by the fact that farms are components of a larger agricultural sector and that
there is interaction of varying degrees between farms of different sizes and
types. Interaction between large farms and much smaller subsistence-type units
also take place in the market and through a joint labor pool. Of even more
importance may be the avoidance of polarization which can occur when attention
is directed toward just one component of the rural sector. The extension agent
usually has to communicate more broadly.
A more specific analysis of FSR as it relates to the animal sciences
raises the point of how to most accurately and effectively organize it. The
following approach is suggested as being relevant to the animal sciences if
they are to be effective in FSR.
Animal production systems can be grouped into three broad types:
A. The small farm system where the animal is a scavenger and is there
because it can utilize the local plant residue and homestead wastes.
B. The pastoralist system where the old-world-type range lands constitute
the substrate and where the animal's existence is the major support of the
human population. Land, ecology, seasonality, and animal group input/output
functions are so different that those found in the small farm setting that
they constitute a completely different technical, economic and socio-political system.
C. The specialized group-type animal production systems, such as dairy
schemes, ranches, or swine production systems, in which mono-cropping is the
supportive nutritional base.
In the subsequent discussion of this paper, reference will be made to each
of these grouping systems.
2. FSR Its Relation to Problem Solving in the Animal Sciences.
It is quite apparent that the creation of a thing called farming systems
research, as applied to Group A (small farm) systems, would involve the animal
sciences where they have feared, or not cared, to tread.
FSR can provide the stimulus needed to research low level animal performance
parameters, of which we know little. There is a great need for investigation of
the maintenance nutrient requirements of the indigenous animal and its relative
response to nutrition and management inputs.
We need to know the "partitioning" efficiency of the indigenous or small-
farm animals as it determines the requirements for the reproducing animal in
comparison to the progeny, or output.
As we move into smaller farming systems in animal production we move away
from mono-cropping to a much wider array of plant sources which animals must
utilize as their nutritional base. Because we know little about the plant sources
found in many eco-systems, there is a need to examine and establish the feeding
and toxic values of these more unusual feedstuffs. Obviously most of the research
on feeding animals has centered upon the value of more conventional mono-crops.
The Group C larger scale specialized farming systems with animals have
different problems and bring a need for somewhat different information, in the
systems sense. The use of agricultural chemicals becomes more involved, bringing
about the need for technical guidance on the animal and human health hazard
Animal performance is markedly affected by the environment. Agricultural
engineering input on effective large group housing design becomes much more
critical in the more specialized production system. This has been demonstrated by
a livestock feeds project in Belize where agricultural engineering collaboration
on environmental measurement and unit design has resulted in improved housing
design for poultry units.
Research in design and function of small scale animal slaughter, storage and
processing systems becomes an important component for systems of moderate scale
animal output. The food science/livestock marketing expertise then becomes an
important component of the regional or area development concern for conservation
and distribution of the flow of animals from farm gate level into the consuming
sector in a wholesome manner. The development of the excessively large scale,
highly automated animal processing plants in the Sub-Sahelian sector of West Africa.
bears out the need to develop processing networks of appropriate design which
are in balance with the system they are to serve.
The Group B pastoralist systems require study of seasonality effects, water,
turnover-rate characteristics of animals, and species substitution to provide
animals that can exist on browse and low water requirements. The need for informa-
tion on reproductive cycling as it relates to low levels of nutrient supply or
extremes in feed availability is important in such Group B systems.
It seems, in summary, that Farming Systems Research can stimulate work to
be directed in the animal sciences toward more appropriate, previously under-
3. The State of FSR in the Animal Sciences.
Information on the characteristics of small farmer animal systems has been
and continues to be gathered and analyzed in the Caribbean sector by Osuji
(1979). This is being complemented by similar programs with cropping systems.
The goal is the creation of various models which can then guide programs of more
Malyniez (1972) has characterized the small farmer system in New Guinea
which utilizes the indigenous pig, and describes the various constraints the
farmer has in utilizing local feedstuffs. This work points to the need for
research on the requirements and responses of indigenous animals to higher feeding
and management inputs.
Shillingford (1971) researched the cash limitation patterns existing in the
small farms of Dominica and represented cash outlay patterns as an endpoint in
research programs for small farmers who would use local copra meal as a feeding
source for pigs. This has resulted in an extensive island-wide swine development
project involving local farmer "committees".
Squire (1964) reviewed a series of development schemes in Surinam, Jamaica
and Trinidad in which small model farms were established utilizing the dairy
animal as a primary earning source. The economics of grassland production, its
utilization by the dairy animal under varying human skill conditions, and the
role of the farmer, his attitudes, and financial position were contrasted.
Odend'hal (1972) has published information on Indian cattle including
demographic data, feed input, energy output factors, and energy values of dung
in rural West Bengal. This work focuses on "low energy" human cultures, and,
while lacking in completeness of animal output information, does provide
estimates of caloric flows for animal power and animal dung yield which is important
information for understanding the rural system in that region.
A more conceptual analysis of the role of livestock in programs of small
farmers in Asia and the Far East has been written by Dhital of FAO. This stresses
the importance that the integration of animals with the crop production sector
has in raising the income level and broadening the production base. "Compart-
mentalizing activities in livestock and crops cannot help increase productivity"
and, according to this work, the various components of the production system must
by integrated into farm production units. Dhital refers to studies in Karnal,
India where crop-livestock integration at the small farm level is being studied.
The need for (A) appropriate research on developing breeding animals suitable for
local farm ruminants, (B) "barefoot," veterinarians, (C) developing feeding
programs which utilize unusual feedstuffs, (D) researching management systems
which fit a local systems capability to sustain and (E) consideration of the
motivational system are all described. This does suggest certain lines of approach.
Systems analysis and reviews of pastorialist-type schemes have involved
ranching association or group concepts with Fulani, (Gooch: 1979) and Masai,
(Deans et al.: 1969). In each case actual group or association formation had
occurred and the pastoralist system was considered to include animal, plant,
land and socio-economic factors. The Masai project is an example of the inclusion
of a social scientist in a team of technically oriented specialists.
A number of analyses of the pastoralist in social-ecological contests
exist (Barry et al.: 1977, and Brandstrom et al.: 1979). Simulation models
(Manetsch et al.: 1971) have been developed which point to needs for information
critical to more complete understanding of this pastoralist system. Such factors
as livestock death rate and points of reproduction failure or animals on low
planes of nutrition have evolved as requiring research.
4. Basic Principles, Concepts, Generalizations in the Animal Sciences
"Systems" is now a buzz word in the animal sciences, but for the most part
it has involved the tracking of energy flows and cost linkages. The involvement
of the animal sciences in systems research with the very small farm has not
frequently occurred, probably because the animal is often viewed by the animal
scientist as a "fifth wheel" in these types of agricultural units. The animal
in these type of systems scavenges and is maintained on residues from various
small plot croppings or on household wastes. Even though the animal plays a
very important role in these types of farms, what animal scientist wants to be
identified with a thing like that?
As our awareness grows of the role of the animal as a competitor for humans
in the food chain, and as the cost factor of fossil fuel requirements for various
types of animal systems becomes more critical, animal scientists, and in fact the
animal production and marketing sector itself, is becoming concerned about looking
to alternative, low energy ways to manage and maintain animals. The animal produc-
tion sector is broadening its concept of "What it always wanted to know about
animals and their production systems but was afraid to ask."
Another factor which is changing the scope of thought and research in the
animal industries is the concept of considering the animal as a means of utilizing
wastes, both as a means of alleviating a disposal problem and in increasing food
production. The feeding of sewage, wood pulp waste, waste paper (the ultimate
in rewards for a document like this), and the recycling of animal manures all are
forcing the animal scientist to be aware of the technical linkages which must
be formed with other disciplines in such research/development schemes. This is
definitely moving the animal scientists into a more creative posture or attitude
towards more unconventional roles for animals, both on farm and off.
As funds nowflow into various institutions for "development" purposes, we
now see writings about such relevant subjects as: (A) genetic capabilities of
the indigenous animal, (B) requirements of energy and other input/output flows
for animal power, (C) the goat as a utilizer of browse plants for meat and milk,
(D) the capybara as a protein source, etc.
It seems unfortunate in one sense that these weren't seen earlier in their
own right as being important by the animal scientist. The fact that such a
broadening of interest now exists will stimulate the interest in farming systems
research in the animal sciences.
In "C" type animal production schemes, farming systems research is being
catalyzed by farm activity inventory systems such as Tel Farm and Tel Plan.
However, the involvement of the animal production specialist is usually limited
to providing inputs in the animal production component itself. The structure of
such farm management schemes favors a farming systems research approach, but it
will likely continue to be a multidisciplinary approach with little forming of
real systems study by the disciplines---at least the way it is now structured
In group "B", pastoralist systems, the human element subsists largely on the
animal. Thus the animal plays a central role in this system. It is in this type
of system that farming systems research really means something to the animal
scientist, as the environmental, human, and animal components are all so
It is in Group "A" type animal schemes that farming research is least
developed, and in which it may be most challenging to work. The single animal
existing on a wide base of nutrient sources functioning as a scavenger or bank
presents a technical challenge. This has attracted interest in finding ways to
measure all the inputs involved to change its rate of growth or reproduction.
Doing this requires setting up groups under controlled conditions, which create
atypical small farm situations.
Evaluation endpoints may have a strong influence on farming systems research
programs in the animal sciences. If we target endpoints which involve a rather
wide array of components, such as human food protein production per $1000 cash
outlay, we involve the family system itself. There are many other examples
of the effect evaluation endpoints have on stimulating the FSR approach.
5. Needs for Other Disciplines for Analysis and Program Formulating.
What is needed in a very broad sense is an ability to communicate on lines
of mutually agreed upon importance. The specific need may be a function of the
particular system involved but it may not always be a need for information about
animals which the animal specialist alone can perceive.
An experience on a team of technically oriented people to which a social
scientist was added, illustrated how cross-fertilization of ideas in the identi-
fication of needs could occur. The orientation of this social scientist in working
with pastoralists provided a challenge to the technical expert to prioritize his
technical recommendations and to be willing to see recommendations which did not
mandate a complete variable control.
In this case the awareness of the target group itself, (the Masai), of a
broad array of technologies was evident, even though they were couched in different
terms or means of expression. Concepts of water-turnover-rate became critical
in any basic discussion of this system, and both the pastoralist and technical
people knew it. It became necessary for each member of this team to point out
areas of concern to the other and, in fact, to challenge the technical recommenda-
tion of that particular expert.
It is obvious that the animal production discipline needs access to the social
scientist for knowledge of methods of describing and evaluating human systems,
to the economist for methods and measures of financial and economic flows, and
to other technologies in which soil/plant nutrient relationships are involved.
Above all will be the experience with farming and the ability to relate to
the farmer or rancher himself.
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