traditional Black Head Ogaden sheep management practices

Girma Adugna Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Addis Ababa University P O Box 34, Debre Zeit, Ethiopia.

An attempt was made to study the traditional Black Head Ogaden sheep management practices by the nomadic and semi-nomadic people in the Ogaden plateau of south-eastern Ethiopia. The methods employed were a predesigned questionnaire, observations and sampling of relevant elements. The management aspect was found to be rather specialised in that breeding is controlled to achieve both selection and synchronisation of lambing season with rainy season (which starts around the month of April). Lamb crop is once per year and most of the ewes (96%) give birth to a single lamb. Watering interval is 4-10 days based on water scarcity in a locality. Supplementary feeding and pasture conservation are not practiced. As management, nutrition and disease in the Black Ogaden sheep closely interact, an approach encompassing such elements to see into the problems of the pastoralists would be much rewarding. Résumé Cette étude explore les méthodes d’élevage traditionnel du mouton Somali à tête noire pratiquées par les populations nomades et semi-pomades du plateau de l’Ogaden dans l’est de l’Ethiopie. Elle repose sur un questionnaire, des observations effectuées sur le terrain et l’échantillonnage de paramètres pertinents. Les pratiques de gestion vent relativement précises: l’accouplement est contrôlé de manière à opérer une sélection et à synchroniser les naissances avec la saison des pluies commençant en avril. Les brebis n’ont agnelé qu’une fois par an et la majorité d’entre elles (96%) n’ont donné naissance qu’à un agneau à la fois. Les animaux ont été abreuvés tous les 4 à 10 fours en fonction des disponibilités en eau de la région considérée. Ni la complémentation alimentaire ni aucune technique de conservation des pâturages n’a été observée. Etant donné les interactions entre la gestion, l’alimentation et la santé, tous ces éléments devraient entrer en ligne de compte dans la recherche de solutions aux problèmes des éleveurs traditionnels du mouton Somali à tête noire. Introduction The Black Head Ogaden (BHO) sheep comprise most of the sheep population of the Ogaden region and they stand in number second to camels. This sheep breed/type forms the greater proportion of the small ruminant population in the region and contributes a great deal to the national economy as it has special merits in the Middle East and Arabian countries. It is, nevertheless, raised by the pastoralists under harsh environmental conditions, with seasonal under-nourishment or maluourishment, long watering intervals, long walks, heat stress and little or no protection against diseases.

 In this paper, the methods of feeding, watering, and housing and control of breeding to synchronies the lambing season with the rainy season are discussed. Flock structures, herding, castration, marking (identification) and miscellaneous operations are presented. Major diseases and ailments as known to the pastoralists and the inherent drawbacks of disease control measures generally practiced in the region as well as the veterinary extension and services to the region are examined. Materials and methods The sheep type The BHO sheep are fat-rumped, have a black head, white body and limbs and on the average weigh 30 35 kg at maturity (MOA, 1985).

They are polled. In Ethiopia, the BHO are found in the lowland areas of Hararghe, Bale and Sidamo Administrative Regions (Gonzalez, 1981, unpublished). They are also indigenous to Somalia and Kenya where they are known as the Black Head Somalia (Osman, 1985). Data collection Information on the sheep management practices in the traditional sector of the region was collected through a predesigned questionnaire. Ninety-seven owners were interviewed from nine different localities in the region. Two different occasions, namely the beginning of the dry season (late October) and the last third of the short rainy season (mid-May), were chosen to conduct the interview as well as to watch the actual management practices. Results Feeding, watering and housing The feed resource for sheep is native pasture. Supplementary feeding and forage conservation are not practiced. Nevertheless, some soil types at some specific points are said to be provided to the sheep at 3-6-month intervals. These soil types known locally as “Arab)”, may contain some mineral elements. All animal species (cattle, camels, goats and sheep) graze in the same field. Grazing time is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. When the heat gets unbearable around noon, sheep collect under shades or simply congregate at a point and hide their heads under each other’s body. During feed scarcity, which is usually in the dry season (October to March), the pastoralists migrate with their flocks to other localities where forage is available. The distance covered during such migrations may be in the range of 50 to 200 km. The site selection is largely dictated by the availability of water in the area. Water scarcity is the basic problem for the pastoralists and the frequency of watering is determined by the distance from water points and the availability of water which is scarce during the dry season. Table 1 shows watering frequencies for different localities. Delay can be made for as long as 10 days in such areas as Aware where water scarcity is greatest. The distance covered to the watering points can be as long as 20-40 km (an equivalent of a 6-hour journey, single trip) during periods of severe water scarcity. The pastoralists enclose their sheep and goats together at night. But where the number of goats is large, a separate pen is built for them. From the beginning of April to the end of October males are kept in a separate pen for the purpose of breeding control. Table 1. watering frequencies for different localities. Place Elevation (m above sea level) Intervals between watering (days) Jijiga 1650 4 Lefe Isa 1650 4-5 Harshin 1470 7-5 Duria na 6-7 Aware na 10 Degahabur na 7 8 * not available. The enclosure can be built from wood or even stones. During the rainy season the enclosure may get muddy and another is built if the materials are available. Flock structure and herding Different age groups are identified by the pastoralists (Table 2). Likewise, sex group identification is practiced. A female sheep ready to breed or is pregnant for the first time is termed as “Sebyeno”, a breeding ewe is “Laha” and “Sumel (cka)” is a ram used for breeding purposes. Table 2. Age group identification and names. Age Name 0-4 months Mekel 5-12 months Berar 1 year Gujir 2 years Lebejir 3 years Sedhajir 4 years Afarjir A general overview of the flock structure is shown in Table 3. Males form only a smaller proportion of the flocks and they are castrated if intended to be sold later. One to four entire males per flock are used for breeding purposes. Only a few lambs were observed to be born between October and March, and these are termed as “Gera” (the bastards); they are “unwanted” because they were conceived during the separation of males from females due to faulty herding by shepherds. All age and sex groups are mixed and herded together after November. After the start of the lambing season (around the month of April) the sumel is herded separately in the field or it is tethered around homesteads. After a while, it is kept with the lambs, at least for sometime, till the next mating season (November to April) when it again joins the rest of the flock. On some occasions, the “sumel” may be sold or even slaughtered if the breeder cannot afford to keep it for some reason. Then he has to borrow a “sumel” from a friend till he raises one from his own flock. Table 3. Flock structure. Age (months) Late October Mid-May % flock % sex % flock % sex Males Over 24 1.3 6.84 1.1 5.37 12-24 4.4 23.16 3.0 14.63 6 – 12 11.0 57.89 4.4 21.46 Below 6 2.3 12.11 12.0 58.54 Total 19.0 100.00 20.5 100.00 Females Over 24 48.2 59.51 42.1 52.96 12 – 24 19.1 23.58 16.0 18.87 6- 12 12.0 14.81 7.4 9.31 Below 6 1.7 2.10 15.0 18.86 Total 81.0 100.00 79.50 100.00 Breeding control and lamb rearing Breeding is controlled to achieve both selection and synchronisation of lambing season with that of rainy season. Selection is largely biased towards the performance of male sheep. The common practice among the pastoralists is to select the fastest growing male for breeding. The number of “sumels” in a flock vary from one to four based on flock size, but usually two are kept in a flock. The “sumel” can be used for breeding at one year of age but preferably at two years or more. The lambing season starts around the month of April to mid-May after few weeks of the start of rains. Lamb crop is thus only once in a year (at least per ewe) with 96% of births attributed to singles. Most farmers claimed that they check the lambs for receiving the first milk (colostrum). They help weak lambs by putting their little fingers into the mouths of the lambs (in order to elicit the suckling reflex) and immediately providing the dam’s teat. During the next 30 days (after birth), the lambs are kept at home during the day either tied, if small in number, or kept in an enclosure, if large in number. At 30-40 days of age, the lambs would start to graze and are kept with the “sumels”. Weaning is at 4- 5 months of age usually before the mating season so as to allow the ewe sufficient time to regain its body condition for successful breeding. In some localities, however, weaning is not practiced especially where there is labour scarcity for separately herding the weaned lambs, now termed as “Beers”. Castration, marking (identification) and miscellaneous practices Castration is performed for two reasons, namely, breeding control and fattening but little importance is attached to the latter in some localities. The time for castration is usually at about 5-6 months of age. Attrition of the spermatic cord is achieved by beating it between two sticks specially designed for the procedure. Each owner marks his sheep to identity his flock because sheep of different owners may get mixed at watering points or during migrations. The marking is usually made on ears, but less frequently on other sites such as the face, the base of the ears, the upper region of the fore limbs and the perineal area (Figure 1). The marking is done using a fire-heated metal as early as 3 -4 months of age but it can also be done at the time of weaning (4-5 months of age). Alternatively, some cuts are made on the tips or sides of ears using a sharp knife. Members of a flock bear the same mark(s); combinations of markings may be made on a sheep. Apart form the markings, each member of a flock, particularly the breeding females are identified by names. Most of the pastoralists noted that each female has its own name no matter how large a flock size may be. Some of the names include: “Merkebo” the big, “Siyaha” moving rump while walking, “Odyer” low-voiced, “Afyer” small-mouthed and “Donyo” resemblance to a boat. Overgrown hoof is trimmed with simple and local materials. First the hoof is heated with fire at the site to be cut. Then the overgrown hoof is cut off using a sharp knife leaving a reasonable proportion to the proximal region of the hoof. Parturition difficulties are usually relieved by local “midwives” who are specially skilled in the field. Diseases and disease control The most commonly reported disease condition by the pastoralists is a condition locally known as “Shillin”. It refers to tick lameness, other tick damages and some non-specific conditions. People in the region tend to attribute most animal disease (particularly the “Shillin”) to ticks. Figure 1. Identification marks of sheep in Ogaden. Other disease conditions known to the breeders range from the more important parasitic-gastroenteritis (Aal or Gaedanoley) to off to which little importance is attached. Diseases reported of importance which were noted with several suitable descriptions are to be found in Table 4 along with their respective Somali names. Mortalities were reported to be greater among the lambs, particularly during the dry season. Table 4. Somali names for major ovine diseases. Tick lameness, other tick damages and some, non-specific ovine conditions Shillin Parasitic gastroenteritis . Aal Mange mite infestation Addo Dermatophilus infection of the body Dulqup Dermatiphilus infection of head, ears and feet Ericke Pneumonias Sambub Sheep pox Furok Anthrax Kood, Kut Nasal oestrids Duri Jackal (hyena) bite Dowa (Duruwa) Off Ericke Pasteurellosis. Gororsa Unknowns. Hube Apart from the disease conditions, predators were also reported to create problems especially around Aware and Druale where people blamed hyenas for heavy production losses. Pastoralists of Harshin and Duria localities reported jackals as major predator problems. The pastoralists are quite aware of the effects of the disease conditions. The concepts of animal diseases and treatment traditionally held by the breeders are often scientifically sound. Those in the vicinity of veterinary clinics seek official drug supply, while others, either due to lack of veterinary service or the high price of drugs resort to purchase of drug supplies through black markets. Lirophen (an acaricide), panacur and levamisol boli (anthelminthics) were observed in open markets in a number of places. There are rumours that some breeders have their own syringes and needles which they use to inject the sick animals with antibiotics. Indeed, one owner admitted that he used to inject his animals with penicillin. The veterinary section of the region vaccinates the sheep of the region against anthrax, pasteurellosis and sheep pox, but not on a regular basis. Discussion The pastoralists of the Ogaden region have evolved a management practice which enables them to sustain livestock production under the prevailing harsh environment and scarce natural resources. According to Wilson (1983), “Nomadism is a sophisticated management response to a resource base which is always seasonally and often totally deficient.” Similarly, Owen (1976) thinks that “Nomadism is one of the most interesting systems of farming that has ever evolved which is still widely practiced in some sheep breeding areas and dates back in history right to the threshold of domestication; yet,” he continued, “the elements of this method of farming developed over centuries as a balanced ecological system, still make sound sense in terms of using land resource.” The main nutritional constraint in the semi-arid zone is that of bridging the gap between wet and dry seasons (Onim et al, 1985). The length of watering intervals, long walks to reach watering point and the forage scarcity during the dry season adversely affect the productivity of the BHO sheep. Better results may be achieved through improved management of the grazing land. The communal grazing land tenure prevents an individual from making any effort to use the land efficiently (Jahnke, 1982) but the trend of the nomads to form associations under “Livestock Breeding Association”, as being facilitated by the Range Land Development Unit of the region, can greatly enhance efforts made to introduce pasture conservation principles into the nomadic way of life. As the search for grazing land is closely related to water requirements, water developments can be attempted but caution is necessary in doing so. Any attempt to develop water supply has to be seen in the context of resource management as a whole. Flock structures are more heavily weighed to females which is the case in the flocks of Darfur in the Sudan and Afar in Ethiopia (Wilson, 1975). The control of the lambing season is also in response to the resource availability. This practice may, however, have some adverse effects on the pregnant ewes and the lambs which are born around the start of the rainy season. The ewe gestation period coincides with that of inadequate nutrition and under such conditions even quite low worm burdens can have a detrimental effect on the food conversion efficiency of the dam which in turn influences foetal growth and subsequently the neonate through poor milk production by dam. Furthermore, the free living stages of most helminths can develop to infective stages during the lambing season since the environmental conditions would favour the parasitic egg development during this period. Urquhart et al (1987) suggest that the epidemiology can be worsened by the increased numbers of susceptible lambs and dams, the latter being due to periparturient relaxation of immunity. Despite the mentioned drawbacks, the breeding practices of the pastoralists are reasonable and have their own merits. Frequent lambing puts more strain on the ewe and unless she is fed a superior diet she loses weight (Sahni and Tiwari, 1 974). A seasonal production of lambs results in high lamb mortality (Labban and Ghali, 1969) and poor growth rates (Ganesekale, 1975) for those lambs born in the unfavourable season of the year. The breeders of the Ogaden region are therefore practicing in line with this principle. The other element of their breeding practices worthy of notice is the selection of breeding animals. Selection of breeding male is done from generation to generation in the same flock. As flocks do not mix and even if they do so in the field, the males are not allowed to mount the females, inbreeding depression may be assumed to occur. On the other hand, the principle of selecting the fastest growing male lamb for breeding is worthy of encouragement. There is more scope for the improvement of growth traits than of reproductive traits because of higher heritability and phenotypic variations of growth traits within a breed (Gatenby, 1986). Better results could be achieved if breeders exchange their “Sumels”. Regarding disease control and veterinary services, it is doubtless that an optimum disease control scheme is needed in a given production system for maximum productivity. Moreover, as the innovations like the introduction of exotic sheep breeds or massive supplementary feeding are of a purely hypothetical nature for the Ogaden region, disease control would be a more practical approach to the watchful and suspicious pastoralists. The indiscriminate use of drugs available through black markets may impose drug failures due to underdosing or inappropriate treatments. Proper veterinary extensions and services should be adopted to alleviate such problems. Conclusions and recommendations The pastoralists of the Ogaden region are doing their best with regard to management in order to maximise the use of the resource base at their disposal. The real effect of watering frequencies on the production of the Black Head Ogaden sheep and the optimum range for the areas concerned need further investigation. The nutrient requirements, and the incidence, prevalence and seasonality of BHO sheep diseases are not yet fully documented. Unless the spectrum of the sheep diseases is established it would be difficult to undertake appropriate disease control schemes. Some points which should be given due emphasis include: · Judicious water development at certain points after careful consideration of the ecological implication · Exchange of “Sumels” among pastoralists · Adequate disease control measures through the intervention of the veterinary unit. Acknowledgements I would like to express my gratitude to Dr R T Wilson for his encouragement and the initiation of this piece of work as well as for the initial review of the paper.

I also thank Prof. S H B Lebbie for his final revision of the paper. Finally, my sincere thanks go to the Jijiga Rangelands Development Unit staff and workers who directly or indirectly contributed to the success of this work.


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