"Tropical breeds for tropical regions, arid breeds for arid regions, temperate breeds for temperate regions, and polar breeds for polar regions"
A RATHER LONG INTRODUCTION TO ALWI GOAT FARM
Alwi Goat Farm is an independent small scale breeder farm, thoroughly focused on breeding from the start, without any shareholders or investors. Starting very small, it grows organically through breeding efforts, without venturing into trading, importing or contract farming. Breeding is much more challenging than trading or importing, requiring considerably higher skill and patience. Relying on sales from kids, milk and waste, Alwi Goat Farm is hopeful to increase the herd size in the future. Importantly, Alwi Goat Farm believes breeding meat goats in the challenging high level parasitism in tropical weather of Malaysia can be profitable if breeders incorporate local blood into their breeding program.
I have been breeding goats since the year 2005, with a focus on raising healthy, fit and happy meat goats. I have been using crosses of local breeds as the base stock as I feel they has the genetic makeup and characteristic necessary to achieve all my breeding objectives.
My primary objective is raising/breeding/rearing meat goats through low tech, low input husbandry. This means ease of rearing with less cost, time, and thus financially viable, raising the chance of a successful breeding operation. To fulfill the primary objective, I have adopted several measures namely:
1. Husbandry record keeping2. Unending quest for knowledge
3. Discipline and focus
4. The use of natural free ranging method
5. Selective deworming
6. Fertility as primary trait which means high kidding rate
7. Disease and parasite resistance as secondary trait
8. Zero bottles feeding of kids and zero use of milk replacer
9. Zero supplementation of nursing dams
10. Responsible use of antibiotics
PLEASE NOTE THAT HIGH KIDDING AND SURVIVAL RATE ARE ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL TO SUCCESSFULLY BREED MEAT GOATS, MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN FAST WEIGHT GAIN RATE. THE MISPLACED FOCUS ON FAST WEIGHT GAIN RATE AS PRIMARY TRAIT HAS LED TO THE DETRIMENT AND DEMISE OF MANY MEAT GOAT BREEDERS! SO MANY INNOCENT NEW BREEDERS ARE FALSELY LED TO BELIEVE THAT HUGE SIZED, FANCY LOOKING, EXPENSIVE GOATS AS THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR THEIR BREEDING PROGRAM. BUT JUST LIKE A HIGH PERFORMANCE CAR (FERRARI, LAMBO, BENTLEY) REQUIRE HIGH MAINTENANCE, A HIGH PERFORMANCE BREED ALWAYS REQUIRE HIGH INPUT HUSBANDRY (TIME, LABOR AND COST).
1. The first measure is the use of husbandry record keeping. All births and deaths, sexes, medication are recorded so that I can measure the performance of my herd, year after year. I found it as a very, very useful management tool. A lot of learning takes place when I go through my records. It is to my great astonishment when I found out that many goat breeders do not keep records, whether small scale or supposedly better managed large scale commercial farms. So many breeders are just guessing, or quoting foreign knowledge, or downright bragging!
2. Second measure is the thirst for knowledge. Since I start my operation, I am always hungry for information. Every pieces of information, however tiny are of interest to me. I trawled the internet, looking for papers and researches by western, African, and Asian scientist. I seek other people and breeders, no matter how small their farm is, in order to learn and exchange. All these knowledge seeking efforts have greatly paid off. One thing I found out is, the more I know, the less I know. I must say however, that I am troubled by the lack of curiosity shown by new goat breeders. They think after breeding goats for 6 months, or a year, or even 3 years, they are the best. They think they know so much that they stopped seeking knowledge and dismissed other people's view.
3. Third measure is the need for discipline in raising goats, herding them every day, from the moment they stepped out of their barn and stay with them until they return to their barn. Many breeders, who have the great advantage of vast acreage and using free browsing method, surprisingly are indiscipline when herding their goats! They herd initially, and then leave their goats without supervision, hoping all will be fine. This serious indiscipline costs dearly for the herd's productivity (wild dogs, accidents, thievery, we can imagine the rest). I remember the time when I was greatly weakened by leptospirosis for two weeks, and I did not have any worker or anyone to help me, I had to pull myself up, nauseous and trembling, and continued to herd full time. In another time, I was having tooth pain, which as every one of us know, was unbearable. Still I continued herding full time. I realized that I must have the discipline; otherwise the prospect of failure looms large.
Beside discipline, unwavering focus is also needed. There are many distractions, either visible or subtle, that continually surfaces to steer us away from the objectives. For example, I remember during the first few years of the farm. My farm is situated far from civilization, far from people, without electricity, without piped water. I lived on the farm, next to the goat barn. I had to use gasoline lamps (pelita) for light and manually fetched water from the well. I did not have the money to buy generator for electricity or water pump for making the task of transporting water easier. I am a city kid, born and raised in the city, pampered by the luxury of switches, water taps, televisions, computers, and washing machines. I used to be surrounded by many neighbors and very used to noises and lights. But here in the farm, it is so quiet in the day and deathly quiet in the dark that I was invaded by fear. I was lonely. I spend the day with my goats and the night alone. The stresses of transition, amplified by the loneliness, threaten to destroy my focus.
4. Fourth measure is the utilization of free ranging method. I let all my goats browse freely. They are free to choose whatever shrubs, bushes and weeds they want to. Goats do not like grasses, unlike sheep. Goats that are able to browse are much happier and healthier. Browsing requires a lot of walking, encouraging the goats to be fitter . Healthy, fit and happy goats are very important for the productivity of the herds. Since my goats are able to forage/browsing, I have been able to keep feed cost low, which in turn affect the farm survivability.
5. Fifth measure is the practice of selective deworming. A lot of expert breeders know the importance of controlling internal parasites in their goats. Common practice is mass deworming of all goats every 3 months. But I have chosen to stop this practice. I do not want to be dependent on dewormer as I keep hearing reports of resistance build up, domestically and internationally. For the year 2010 onwards, I have stopped mass deworming of my goats. Instead, I only deworm if one shows sign of worm overload. Interestingly, my goats do seem fine and healthy, even after a more than a year without mass deworming. Selective deworming not only brings cost down, but also does not affect productivity. Please note that I use crosses of local breeds which have some resistance and resilience to local parasites.
6. Sixth measure is the focus on primary trait, which is fertility rate. For the year 2010, my kidding rate is 2.33 or in percentage term 233%. That means for every 100 dams (female goats which give birth), I got 230 kids for that year. This high kidding rate is not easy to achieve, in fact impossible to achieve if we use temperate breeds, arid breeds OR big size goats. (My buck is 60kg and females' average mature weight is 30-35kg). A fact that so many people miss is this - temperate or arid breeds are seasonal breeders. (Some quarters twist this fact, so novice breeders, please be aware). They mate according to season, in contrast to tropical breeds, which breeds all year round. A true kacang breed (100% kacang or fullblood) under good management can achieve a kidding rate of 2.95(295%)! But when kacang is crossed to big sized jamnapari (no longer 100% kacang blood), the kidding rate falls to between 1.6 and 1.9 (160% to 190% - which is still acceptable, by the way). From published western researches, the usual kidding rate for temperate or arid breeds under good management is 1.8(180%). Of course, if the breeds stay in their respective weather zone!
I believe that the use of local tropical bloods in the meat goat breeding program, mostly as crosses, can bestow upon breeders two massively important, critical advantages – higher kidding rate and higher survival rate. Novice breeders usually do not realize this fact, preferring to opt for size instead (a trap so many falls to). But for expert breeders, particularly those who solely survived by breeding (not trading,importing, contract farming), will want this characteristic as primary consideration. Weight gain rate will be of secondary or tertiary consideration.
*Another advantage of breeding small or medium sized goats is the lack of "large calf syndrome" which makes it a lot easier for dams to give birth, reducing mortality to mother or kids significantly. As at 21/4/2011 I have received 562 births (all thanks to the Lord) and none are birth assisted.
7. Seventh measure is the strive for disease and parasite resistance trait in my breeding program. Under tropical weather, which is hot and humid, grasses and forages/plants grow quicker. But they also have much higher concentration of worm and parasites, specifically tapeworm and liver fluke. I learned from experience that these 2 worms are major threat for tropical goats. But local breeds do have some form of resistance and immunity. The price we pay for this immunity is smaller size for local breeds, although they compensate in the form of prolificacy in breeding. For arid and temperate weather, plants there have much less concentration of worms and parasites. Haemonchus contortus, a type of roundworms is a major threat there. Temperate weather goats (saanen, nubians, toggenburg, etc) and arid weather goats (boer, kalahari, savannah, etc), are really genetically not used to tapeworms and flukes. They are overwhelmed by tropical parasites when they are moved/imported into here. This is one of the reasons they have trouble adapting here, beside heat stress.
Going for disease and parasite resistance trait will bring dividend in the form of higher survival rate, lower cost of medicine, less headache, less worry and less fear for us, the breeders. I myself have seen vast improvement to my farm survival rate and much lower cost of medicine. Currently my list of medicine is a dewormer, long acting antibiotic, herbal based cocci treatment, wound spray and sodium bicarbonate. Oh and a bottle of blood supplement, which is infrequently used. Also cats and dragonflies. Cats to control rats and rats borne diseases and dragonflies to control mosquitoes. I do not need a vast array of medicine to ensure survival of my herds.
8. The eighth measure is the policy of banning bottle feeding to the kids. All my goat kids are raised naturally, suckling from their mothers. None are bottle fed. Milk replacer is not used. Bottle feeding may look cute in pictures, but it is impractical, very time consuming, and very costly. Personally for me, this practice together with having to milk mastitis infected dams are the most spirit sapping and can lead to breakdown. Frustration level will be very high if the kids we bottle fed die( after all the efforts spent, who will not?) I remember one cold rainy night in the second year of operation, where I had to cull two dying kids in the middle of the night, outside the barn and raining. I spent a lot of energy, time and money bottle feeding them due to their dams being infected by mastitis. I woke up in the middle of the night and early dawn to feed them and I did this for months. They had grown large and without reasons understandable to me at that time, suddenly went epileptic and critical. I was forced to cull them. As I stare into their lifeless bodies and the blood soaked, wet ground, I became overwhelmed with grief. I knelt on the earth, sorrow filled every nerve of my body. I cried, just like the sky was crying unto me. I felt utterly hopeless and I was on the verge of quitting. I vowed to myself that I will never bottle feed the kids again. I vowed that somehow I will find a way to reduce my herd's mortality and increase their survival without resorting to such high input husbandry. Thus begin my intense research, observation and thought and in those processes, discovering some unconventional, some contrarian, some interesting knowledge.
9. The ninth measure is zero supplementation to the nursing dams, even if they have twins or triplets. In fact, all my breeder goats do not use any additional feed (grains, soy, or palm) for their entire life, except when they are sick. The herd relies on good old fashioned free browsing, coupled with discipline in herding. This approach produces one notable benefit: zero cases of chronic and acute mastitis. Being mastitis free helps me tremendously in achieving low input husbandry objective. Mastitis is huge problem affecting many farms, lowering productivity and profitability significantly. Any infected dam is a huge blow to the breeding operation, for they have to go through intensive, time consuming treatment or worse, considered for culling. Their kids have to be bottle fed. I have experienced this during the early years and I have no wish to go through that again.
*I do experience few cases of clinical mastitis intermittently (occasionally) but they easily cleared up with single or double dose of long acting antibiotic. I no longer use specific mastitis treatment kit.
10. The tenth measure is the responsible use of antibiotic. I use antibiotic when absolutely necessary. There is no need to give antibiotic when the goat is having a cold (selsema), minor cough (batuk), orf (puru), or short term lameness. Goats that are able to browse and have no overcrowding issue are very healthy, fit and happy. So they require much less medication. However for confined breeding operation where stress level is higher, expect cost of medicine to go up. Some breeders intentionally administer antibiotics to healthy goats in order to promote growth. This is not a right policy to adopt.
All the above measures are applied to achieve a low tech, low input, easier husbandry for increased chances of successful breeding. The biggest contributor for low input husbandry will be the incorporation of local, indigenous blood such as kacang into the breeding program. Just like boer breed have a world class feature – incredible weight gain rate, the kacang breed also have a world class feature – the most prolific, fertile breed of goats on planet Earth. But this world class feature of kacang never gets highlighted. And the big plus for kacang is it is a tropical breed, already adapted to our climate, thus require much lower input to perform. Yet we fail to realize this fact, we can't smell the roses right under our noses, and we can't see the obvious.
I feel like we are standing in front of a vault full of gold, but inserting the wrong key so many times.
It is time to open our eyes to the tremendous potential of our humble kacang, and start harnessing, developing, finetuning it for our own future. Only then, we will be able to unlock the vault that promises a brighter future for all of us. Tremendous task it is, but if the South Africans patiently took more than 30 years to develop the boer, why can't we?