"Tropical breeds for tropical region, arid breeds for arid region, temperate breeds for temperate region, and polar breeds for polar regions"

Friday, January 28, 2011

My Buck and The Future

Ordinary looking, ordinary size and ordinary weight (63kg), but incredibly fit and athletic. His name is Berger. His age is 3 years 4 months. He has not been dewormed for the past 24 months, has not been given any medication or vaccination, has not been given any performance enhancing drug or hormones, has not been given vitamins or minerals injection . He has to mate with 80 females (I know you are surprised by the ratio, but I have valid reasons). A heroic task indeed. He follow a spartan lifestyle, never bottle fed when he was a kid, and grew on full pasture based diet. He grew by 200 gram per day from birth to 3 months of age, when his mother, unfortunately died from snake bite. His mother is only 38 kg and was not given any form of supplementation except salt lick. His mother only diet is browse, no extra forage are cut and carried to her, and no concentrate given.

Berger is now the primary sire. He gains his strength and fitness from the sun his skin is exposed to, the fresh air that fills his lung, and the very long walk he has to undertake everyday when browsing. Since he performs his siring duty very well, I reward him with 900g of soybean meal based concentrate every morning. I do not give him jamu, makjun or telur ayam kampung though (some breeders do!)

Berger has high parasite and disease resistance trait, high fertility trait, gains weight well, and very low cost.


Of course, there is always room for improvement. I have been looking for a secondary buck, preferably with some tropical dairy blood, in the same weight range as Berger. I lean toward crosses of dairy breeds as my next step in upgrading.

Why crosses and not fullbloods? To keep it simple, low cost, fuss free and in line with my primary objective, that is raising goats through low input husbandry. Fullbloods are very big, impressive in size and progenies will grow very fast. It's a fact. But that is where the trouble lies. Bigger, late maturing goats will have much slower rate of reproduction and require high input husbandry. There is no need for heavier bucks as I do not want to lose my kidding and survival rate.

But if I can get my hand on one type of fullbloods, it will be the african dwarf. Again, some of you might nod in disbelief - thinking that I am going backward. Well, african dwarf is a tropical dairy breed, having traits that make them highly adaptable and very productive here. Do not let their small size fools us. Some good African dwarfs can produce more than 2 litres of high quality milk everyday consistently, equal or better than those temperate dairy breeds that we bring into here. African dwarfs are also easier to maintain and more marketable than those big size goats.

Shouldn't meat goat breeders choose boer as the boer is known as superior meat breed in the world? Well, boer is superior meat breed in their respective arid (hot and dry) regions, like south Africa and Australia. Boer is not superior in tropical or temperate regions; their genetic potential is depressed in this kind of weather. I have experience trying to breed fullblood boer myself a few years back. I use fullblood boers from fifth and sixth generation of local breeding program, but I am massively disappointed with their performance. Obviously they are having very hard times trying to adapt here. But I think crosses of boer with local breeds can work and should be considered.

Tropical dairy breed like African dwarfs, jamnaparis and Nubians ( Nubians have some tropical blood) have some distinct difference compared to temperate dairy breeds like saanen, toggenburg, etc. The composition and level of saturated fats in their milk is not the same as milk from temperate breeds. I believe that the composition and higher level of saturated fats in the milk play a major role in the survivability of kids born in the tropics. I lean toward local crosses of dairy breeds to gain more of this feature in my breeders, so I will have faster growing kids without sacrificing reproduction rate. Survival rate will be better too, I believe.

How about kacang as the buck? Is it good enough?

For too long, we have neglected our own indigenous breed. For too long, the genetic potential of kacang lies dormant and unrealized. For too long, we are led to believe that foreign breeds are superior to our kacang. For too long, there is not enough research and observation on our kacang. For too long, kacang is viewed as backyard breed, suitable only for orang kampong and have little commercial value.

Ignorance makes us blind. That is why we are in the doldrums. Our livestock industry is getting nowhere. We failed to see the vast potential of our own local resources.

I believe in local genetics as the future. I believe in the great potential of kacang breed. I believe, if we take action now, we can elevate kacang to a premier breed in the not too distant future. Our kacang will be the key to our self sufficiency, the key to unshackle ourselves from the heavy chain of imports, and the key to unlock a bright new future for the industry. Unbelievable? Too far sighted? Ridiculous? Here is how. We need to work together - the government, the scientists, and the breeders. I could not do this alone. We need to band together, with absolute focus and patience. This is the most difficult path, littered with distractions and very challenging. But the most challenging path also has the most bountiful reward.

We can go both ways for the development of kacang – as a meat goat and as a dairy goat. We should run both selection program concurrently.

First, the establishment of a Central Buck Performance Test. I personally prefer the term Central Buck Punishment Test (CBPT). This is a zone, perhaps not exceeding 100 acres, where high potential buckling (male kids) from several participating breeders are sent for punishment and evaluation. Punishment here means harsh living, the Spartan way. The zone will consist of a shade and some salt lick. Vegetation will not be open pasture, but under palm oil tree, mimicking the real life situation of many breeders. High parasite concentration area will be preferable. The male kids (from 5 or 6 months old) are allowed to roam and browse freely in the zone. No concentrate or extra forage will be given. They must be able to fatten themselves on available browse. No dewormers and medication are given. They must learn to build resistance and resilience to disease and parasite quickly. They will live like this for a year or two, learning to look after themselves. The harsher the zone, the better. Stars and champions are made in harsh and difficult environment, not in easy, pampered environment. Surviving males will be further critically evaluated. We will apply a very intensive selection process in order to find outstanding and exceptional bucks.

I think the ideal number of breeder does for this program will be between 1000 – 2000 heads. This number is necessary since I think we should go for population genetics, not for familial or pedigree. At least 10 expert breeders is needed, this will take years. If one breeder pulls out, there is still others who will continue.

Second, every successful kacang bucks that come out of CBPT will have their gnome sequenced, recorded, and identified for disease, heritable or not. Not only we will apply rigorous visual inspection, but we will also go for rigorous gene inspection. Gnome reader machine is getting cheaper, and I think the government can afford it. The government should allocate more resources to research the exciting world of genomics (genetic codes of organism) and epigenetic (how environment influences genes). These two sciences are going to revolutionize agriculture, opening up the way for advance genetic engineering. The establishment of a gene bank to document and safeguard our biodiversity is critical for our future. The bank can store semen and embryos from superior bucks and does coming out from the CBPT program for use in artificial insemination and embryo transfer, to accelerate the development. Our gene bank should give priority to local genetic resources and their development, not foreign genetics.

Third, participating breeders will implement expected progeny differences (EPDs) in their kacang breeding program to aid in the intensive selection process. EPDs provide estimate of the genetic value of an animal as a parent, for same breed. I believe EPDs is a very valuable management tool for any breeders. Any breeders in Malaysia doing this? Please let me know, I would like to learn.

The most important step is to educate breeders to start keeping husbandry records. Education takes time and effort but it is the most strategic investment we could ever make. Perhaps the Department of Veterinary Services should focus more on this aspect. They are the one with the most up to date list of breeders in their area.

In conclusion, the future of our livestock industry is dependent on identifying kacang or kedah-kelantan with superior genetics and upgrading them wisely. I strongly believe that if we apply the above steps, we will be able to identify superior genetics, improve and distribute it efficiently. We will elevate our local indigenous breeds to new heights, heralding a new future for the industry. This is the practical, logical way for the government to improve the industry, meet the targets, and finally exceeding it. We must take action now!

*By the way, things that makes sense usually do not get noticed and ignored. But some one must do it. Local genetics + local breeders + local scientists + local resources = the brightest future!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Heat Stress - The Often Neglected Factor

In my honest opinion, many cattle and goat breeders in Malaysia do not know the concept of heat stress or severely underestimate the threat of heat stress.
The fact is heat is a major constraint on animal productivity in the tropical belt and arid areas (Silanikove,1992). Growth, milk production and reproduction are impaired under heat stress as a result of drastic changes in biological functions caused by the stress (Habeeb,1992; Silanikove,1992).


Let's begin with the research by Dowling done in 1955, before our Merdeka year. Dowling studied the difference between temperate cattle (British Shorthorn or bos taurus) and tropical zebu cattle (Indian brahman or bos indicus). He focused on thermoregulation, or how animals regulate their body temperature and what happened when animals are put in different condition.

Heat is produced by the body, it is a fact. Feed is turned to energy by a complex chemical combustion process, almost similar to car engine, but much more complex. This combustion process releases heat. Excess heat must be dissipated or removed, otherwise heat stress begins and the organs start failing. Whereas car engine uses radiator to dissipate heat and prevent engine overheating, animals have sweat glands under the skin to remove excess heat from their bodies.

Heat is also produced in the environment, mainly by solar radiation (the sun). Environmental heat does affect the mechanism of thermoregulation by the body. The body can absorb and lose heat from the surrounding environment through radiation, convection, conduction, evaporation of water and expired air. Humidity affect how fast or how slow the body releases heat into the environment. Low humidity means it is easier for the body to release excess heat. High humidity means it is harder for the body to release excess heat, unless there is some form of adaptation. In arid weather, relative humidity stands between 20% - 40%, in temperate weather, relative humidity stands between 40% - 60, and in tropical weather, relative humidity stands between 60% - 80%.

For example arid region where it is hot and dry is like South Africa, central and southern Australia, and the desert countries of Arabia.

Temperate region where it is not too hot, not too cold: characterized by four seasons (its comfortable, that's why it's temperate) is like countries around the Mediterranean, European, New Zealand, Japan and Canada etc.

Tropical region where it is hot and humid is like Southeast Asia, northern Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and West Africa

Usually, heat by body metabolism account for 30-40% of total heat load.

Warm blooded mammals will always try to maintain steady body temperature at 360 Celsius. (Heat balance or homeothermy)

Now back to Dowling. He took sample of skin from the Shorthorn and the Brahman. He wanted to know the number of hair follicles and sweat glands and see if there is any difference between them. Our skin has lots and lots of hair and pores. We just could not see with the naked eyes. Dowling used microscope. The root of the hair is called a follicle. Next to each follicle is a pore and each pore has one sweat gland. Has I make myself clear? Ok, after some studying, Dowling found out that the skin of Brahman has higher density of hair follicles and sweat glands (1698/cm2) compared to Shorthorn (1064/cm2). Dowling also found out that sweat gland of the Brahman is much closer to the skin compared to the Shorthorn.

It means the Brahman is able to release much more excess heat and release it faster compared to the Shorthorn. How? Through elevated sweating rate. More sweat glands mean more sweats and more sweats means the faster the time for the body to cool down. This characteristic is very important for mammals that live in the tropics. It is our form of adaptation to the climate. Slower rate of heat loss will cause overheating in our bodies, endangering our bodily functions.

The Shorthorn on the other hand does not have the need for faster heat loss rate since it live in cooler climate. In fact, for temperate breeds, slower rate of heat loss is much more useful function, in order to preserve body heat during very cold nights and during winter. Slower rate of heat loss prevents temperate breeds from experiencing cold stress.

When temperate or arid breeds move into tropical climate, they experience heat stress, due to slower heat loss and when tropical breeds move into temperate or arid climate, they experience cold stress. Humidity is the determining factor here.

What are the effects of heat stress?

When the body is experiencing heat stress, the pituitary gland in the brain instructs the thyroid gland to produce/secrete less of hormones called thyroxin (T4) and triodothyronine (T3)(Habeeb, 1992). The concentrations of T4 and T3 in blood plasma were found to decline under heat stress conditions by up to 25% (Magdub 1982, Beede and Collier, 1986). Lower level of these hormones lead to decreasing metabolic rate, feed intake, growth and milk production.

Ever enter a sauna room? How does it feel? Stuffy, right? A sauna room is hot and very humid. After a few minutes, we feel uncomfortable. We sweat a lot, our breathing feel shallow, and we want to make a quick exit. ( I do not think sauna is appropriate for male anyway, since the heat kills off the sperms and suspend production of sperms, but for female maybe it is fine). A temperate or arid breed which enter our tropical zone feel exactly like entering the sauna. They could not stand the high humidity. Their body starts overheating and experiencing heat stress. That explains why boer, feral, toggenburg, saanen etc loses body condition, appetite and sexual urge when imported to our tropical country. In acute cases of heat stress, deaths can be expected. Just like what happened to so many breeders here when they receive their shipment of boers and ferals.

One more thing I would like to highlight. There is a relationship between temperature and breeding efficiency of ruminants. High environmental temperature which exceed comfortable level for ruminants, drastically reduce conception rate and increase embryonic loss (Cavestany 1985, Holmes 1986, Biggers 1987, Dollah 1990, Adballa 1993). Heat stress also affects ovum and sperm in the reproductive tract and alters the hormonal balance of the dam (Ingraham 1979, Ocfemia 1993, Stott 1972, Thatcher 1974).

Breeds of ruminants indigenous(local) to tropical and subtropical environment generally perform better than their counterpart from more temperate zones in terms of survival, reproduction and expression of their genetic potential for growth and milk yield (Finch 1984). These characteristic relate to their capacity to maintain their appetite under heat stress (Silanikove 1992) and also to the way their bodies maintain heat balance efficiently, reducing heat stress greatly.

The conclusion I can make is our tropical breeds has been designed beautifully to cope with our weather and the challenges it brings. We need to pay more attention to our own indigenous genetic resources, research more and protect them. There is so much potential in tropical breeds that have not been discovered. I am very sad when I see many in the industry glorify foreign breeds and ignore or give little value to our own local breeds. I see so much confusion in our small livestock industry that the future looks cloudy. Many breeders are threatened by misguided policies, stemming from lack of knowledge and ignorance. I hope some one with a clear head and a noble heart will arise, spearhead the industry and replace ignorance and falsehood with truth and facts.

The Paradox

Tropical ruminants are usually associated with small size (cattle, goats, elephants, rhinos, etc) whereas temperate and arid ruminants are bigger in size. But herein lies the paradox, our gaur or seladang is the biggest, heaviest and most powerful wild cattle in the world. Our seladang is even bigger than the extinct aurochs. Auroch is the ancestor to all modern cows (Bos Taurus) in Europe and Americas. While seladang is the ancestor to Asian or tropical cattle, the zebu (bos indicus). Before trying to explain the paradox, we will see some characters of seladang or gaur.
The gaur prefers browsing to grazing, like a goat.

The gaur browses at early morning and late evening, resting under shade in the noon. Early morning and late evening are the favorite time of parasites and worms to go out, looking for host.

The gaur love marshes, swamp and ponds, like a buffalo. This type of area has the most amounts of parasites, worms and mosquitoes.

The gaur prefers browsing under shade, reducing the effect of heat stress
Incredible! Our gaur lives right in the middle of super high level concentration of worms, parasites and mosquitoes yet our gaur managed to be the heaviest and most powerful of wild cattle. Our gaur is bigger than the bison from the great plains of America and our gaur is bigger than the yak and wildebeest from the great savannah of Africa.

"From the darkest and hardest of places, the star will be born."
"Great personalities are born during the dark hours of civilization and humanity"
"Opportunities arise during crisis"

Let these quotes sink into our mind first.

Obviously our gaur has developed incredible resistance and resilience to parasites and diseases of the tropics. This level of resistance has allow the gaur to grow massively and endowed with great strength. I can validate this through my own experience with my goats. I started with 4 local cross does, their weight around 20 – 25kg. Small size and in very poor condition (as always happen with new breeder). Over time, with the right dewormer and deworming techniques, coupled with good nutrition, their progenies grow bigger in size and heavier in weights.

IMPORTANT: I do not recommend relying heavily on dewormer as resistance will build up. If we use mass deworming every 3 months, it's considered relying heavily. The best way to control parasite is through genetic improvement by a process we call intensive selection. The alternative will be genetic engineering.

If meat goat breeders in the tropics make disease and parasite resistance trait as the focus in improving their herds, they will be pleasantly surprised by the result. Survival rate will go up and cost of medicine goes down. Herd productivity improves tremendously. The goats will be robust, healthy and reproduce nicely. Good for breeders who needs profitability; good for the government who is struggling to provide food to its citizen; good for the consumer who want healthy meat in their diet; good for the environment since local produces reduce carbon footprints. These are achievable only if we, the breeders choose local breeds as the base herd. Just like our gaur, the unsung local hero.

It is also very important to remember that excessive focus on any trait be it parasite resistance, reproduction rate, or fast weight gain is counter productive. Why?

Recall the shrinking sheep mystery that I have posted. The study found out that smaller sheep reproduce faster while bigger sheep reproduce slower. Now the gaur is parasite and disease resistant, and has very fast weight gain rate but very slow reproduction rate. The gaur population grows so slowly that it stands on the brink of extinction.

Can you see something here?

For any given trait we want to pursue, some traits must be compensated. Just like a F1 racecar which is super fast but not comfortable, a Rolls Royce is comfortable but not super fast.


When God creates species including goats,cattle,dogs and cats He also gives mankind some points. He told us to use our intelligence and create whatever breeds that we want or fancy but with a limit of points. For example, lets say God gives 100 points for each species. We create a milk breed which give us great amount of milk but very little meat. (80 points for milk and 20 points for meat). Or we create a meat breed which gives us lots of meat but very little milk (80 points for meat and 20 points for milk).

See? We would never make a super breed that will be adaptable to all corners of the earth. We must incorporate balance, purpose and local environment consideration whenever we mankind attempt to design breeds. All creatures created by God are like that. We have created thousands of breeds; each has its own role and purpose. Variations in species are important for the continuing survival of that species. And goats are cast far and wide to almost every corner of the earth, much more distributed than cattle, making them more survivable if catastrophes happen.

A super breed is a disaster waiting to happen. Climate change is a fact. Natural disaster is a fact. Disease is a fact. Catastrophes are a fact. No single super breed can withstand all these. It is too risky for the survival of the species. That is why I do not support cloning even though I support genetic engineering. That is why we must protect and appreciate the local breeds. That is why we must protect our biodiversity so that we ourselves as human being can survive if catastrophes happen.

God indeed is an intelligent designer.

The Mystery of the Shrinking Sheep

I have an interesting case study to share with you. This case provides a very valuable insight into how climate affect all organism, in this case, sheep. Hirta Island is an uninhabited island in St Kilda archipelago in the province of Scotland. There is only wild sheep, called Soay sheep and the grass in Hirta, creating a perfect natural laboratory. The Soay sheep has lived on the island for thousand of years. Scientists, led by Tim Coulson of Imperial College London had been studying Soay sheep since 1985, collecting massive data and detailed information for more than two decades now. This study is still ingoing.
In the year 2007, question arose when it was found out that Soay sheep had been decreasing in size and body weight since 1990's. The wild sheep had lose an average 5% or 81 grams of body weight annually. That is very strange, since classic evolutionary theory predict wild sheep would grow bigger as stronger, larger and fitter animals survive into adulthood and reproduce (the concept of natural selection).It was a mystery, and promptly investigated. What was the cause?

Now, some of you might have concluded that the reason is inbreeding, for the fact that they live in isolation.


Read carefully, the reason the sheep of Hirta get smaller is too much grass!

This is fascinating and surprising. You see, in the 1990's, the usually harsh winter in Hirta Island change to mild. In 1980's, the harsh winter means there is no grass to graze. But 1990's mild winter, caused by warmer climate, allows grass to grow. Now there is grass all year round. This means, the weaker and smaller sheep can survive and reproduce. During 1980's, only the big, healthy and large sheep that had piled on the weight during summer can survive the harsh winters. Climate change in the 1990's brings milder winter so survival conditions are less challenging. Many individuals of weaker and smaller stature managed to survive, increasing their numbers in the population.

Apparently the mystery of the shrinking sheep of Hirta had been solved.

CONCLUSION: Goats that experience a period of scarce feed supply, like winter or droughts regularly, had to be larger in size. Their larger frame will allow a greater amount of fat to be stored in order to survive the lean period. That is why goats from temperate countries( European) where there is winter, or arid countries (South Africa, Australia, Arabs) where there is droughts, are bigger than our tropical goats, where there is feed all year round. For our goats, there is no need to be large framed. No need to store large amount of fat since lean period hardly exist.

This study also produced another important observation.

The Soay sheep rate of reproduction is affected by body size. When their body size is bigger, the scientists observed, they multiplies slower. But when body size is smaller, they multiply faster. Very interesting.

It is logical since bigger mammals grow slower in population numbers. For example, cows multiply slower than goats. Whales multiply even slower. But rabbits, smaller than goats, multiply faster. For rats, even faster.

Now dear readers, the conclusion we can make is the bigger the goats, the slower will be their rate of reproduction. We have to choose our priority in breeding goats, either go for bigger goats with slower reproduction rate or go for smaller goats with faster reproduction rate.

The third observation is also interesting.

Since Soay sheep in Hirta never have to deal with predators, we expect them to thrive and overpopulate the island. It does not happen. Another unseen predator, the gastro intestinal parasites took charge to control their population. Hmm.. the beauty of nature. The nature's way of preventing the ecosystem from being overran and destroyed.

Conclusion : We as breeders should never view parasites as enemy to be eliminated or killed to extinction. I realized that whenever we human begin practicing to kill any organism, it will breed resistance. If we can expel/repel or use diversion techniques or whatever method that do not involve killing, I believe we will not encounter resistance. Chemical ( modern dewormer, herbal, tannins ), physical ( copper oxide wire particle or COPW ), or genetic improvement ( natural, laboratory) are the usual paths to obtain effective parasite control. For me the best path is through genetic improvement, since it does not involve killing the worms