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!