Performances of highland sheep under community-based breeding program in Atsbi Wenberta District, Tigray, Ethiopia
This study was conducted in three PAs namely Habes, Golgolnealea and Gebrekidan of Atsbi Wenberta district of Tigray Region, Ethiopia, aimed at evaluating productive and reproductive performances of Highland sheep under on-going community-based breeding program (CBBP). The study also assessed existing sheep production system, major challenges and opportunities, farmers’ perception about the breeding program, its importance and the perceived impacts of the program, opportunities and challenges faced in running the program. Both quantitative and qualitative data were generated from primary and secondary sources. For the survey work a total of 195 household were randomly selected and interviewed using pre-tested, structured questionnaire. For the performance study, a total of 892 births, 817 weaning, 751 six months, and 564 yearling weight records and for reproductive performance evaluation a total of 464 age at first lambing, 381 lambing interval and 461 liter size records were used for the analysis. Additional data was collected during the study period (monitoring data) from randomly selected flocks in CBBP and non-CBBP households Growth performances, reflected in both birth and weaning weights, of Highland sheep under CBBP showed an improvement. Birth weight of progeny of selected rams was found significantly heavier than base flocks (2.39± 0.14kg vs. 2.02±0.21 kg; p<0.01). Similarly, three month weight had shown highly significant variation between the two groups (8.98 ± 0.24 kg vs. 8.51± 0.38; p<0.01). However, this difference became insignificant at six month and yearly weight (p>0.05). This variation might indicate body weight improvements were accumulated due to effects of selection of rams in two rounds. In the current study, type of management, parity, sex of lambs, birth type, birth season and year were found significant sources of variation for both birth and three month weights. However, six month and yearling weights were affected by sex of lambs and birth season only (p<0.05). The overall mean reproductive performance in terms age at first lambing, lambing interval and liter size were 494±37.31days, 266.7±11.07days and1.12 ±0.15, respectively. Type of management was not found a significant source of variation (p>0.05). However, type of birth, parity and season of birth had significantly influenced AFL, LI and LS .Findings of the study indicated that the breed can produce three lambings in two years. Extensive production was the typical feature of the production system in the study PAs. Reported major feed resources were natural pasture (100%), crop residues (80%), crop after-math (38%), hay (15%), and Attela (5.6%). In study PAs, two types of housing were reported. ‘Gebela’ or“Afgebella” is mostly used during rainy season while “Dembe” is used to confine sheep during dry season. Breeding was reported predominantly uncontrolled mainly in non-CBBP participant households and to some extent in CBBP- participants. Births were distributed throughout the year and peak lambing season occurred in December-January. Mutton taste of Highland sheep, Abergelle abattoir, high consumers demand, proximity to Mekelle, and gender participation were among the reported sheep production opportunities in the study PAs with index values of 0.30, 0.26, 0.19, 0.16 and 0.09 respectively. On the other hand, feed shortage, health constraints, high sheep mortality, inadequate extension support and poor marketing linkages were identified as major challenges. Regarding perceived impacts of the CBBP intervention, improvements in mutton consumption or slaughtering frequency (56%), market participation (46%), change in body size of new born (58%) and better breeding practices (79%) were mentioned as improvements due to the intervention. About 64% CBBP participants and 65% nonparticipants thought they could not sustain the program without external support. Reported major challenges faced in the CBBP were gap in follow up & support, financial limitations, breeding related constraints, wrong perception of farmers and limited representation of female headed households and land less youth. Based on this finding, implementers can take corrective measures against shortcomings and strengthen positive outcomes of the CBBP intervention for benefits of the communities at large.