Prospects to improve the productivity of sheep fattening in Ethiopia: Status, challenges and opportunities
Sheep fattening that targets sales during festive seasons has been a common and long-standing practice by Ethiopian farmers. However, it has not received much research, extension and policy attention. Identifying and documenting prevailing sheep fattening practices, type of sheep fatteners involved, prospects for improving the productivity of sheep fattening and the challenges and opportunities associated with sheep fattening is a vital step towards designing appropriate intervention schemes to exploit the potential of the sector. This report provides an overview of the sheep fattening scenarios in Ethiopia. It presents an overview of the characteristics of the prevailing sheep fattening activities. It describes the challenges and opportunities likely to slow or enhance productivity in sheep fattening activities in Ethiopia and the prospects of improving sustained productivity. It is based on a survey that consulted sheep fatteners, researchers from various national and regional research institutes and livestock experts from different offices of the Bureau of Agriculture in different parts of the country. The scope of the survey did not encompass detailed data collection. Sheep fattening across the surveyed areas was recognized as a profitable venture. However, the average number of annual fattening cycles is limited to 2, mainly targeting religious holidays. Sheep fattening of rams can commence as early as 3 months of age but most respondents across the country fatten yearling rams. The length of sheep fattening is commonly 3-12 months. Sheep fattening is constrained by feed scarcity, market access, poor husbandry practices, disease prevalence and labour shortage. The sheep fatteners encountered in the survey have diverse production objectives and vary enormously in the type and use of production inputs such as feed, labour, and housing. Fatteners also vary in feeding systems, source of sheep for fattening, breed choice, number of annual fattening cycles, and number of sheep fattened per cycle. There is minimal progression towards commercial based sheep fattening associated with clear production objectives and financial capacity and little tendency towards more control on the overall management as well as control on the choice of sheep types and breeds to be used for fattening. Based on the data acquired during this survey and the observable variations among fatteners, sheep fattening activities in Ethiopia can be broadly grouped as i) smallholder rural farmers sheep fattening systems, ii) peri-urban and urban small scale sheep fattening systems, iii) cooperative sheep fattening systems and iv) large scale sheep fattening systems. These four broadly categorized sheep fattening systems need further characterization with detailed and well planned research.