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Vincentian shares successes, challenges of raising small ruminants

Published in Demerara Waves, 7 Oct 2013

October 7, 2013

A Vincentian veterinarian who head the country's Sheep and Goat Society has shared with her regional colleagues some of successes and challenges of producing small ruminants in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

We are quite proactive and quite active," Dr. Colleen Phillips told a Caribbean Week of Agriculture workshop on imperative for the small ruminant industry in the Caribbean on Sunday.

She said that over the last three years, her group has had a lot of activities regarding housing and waste management in the small ruminants sector.

She said that 31 small farmers meet once a month and discuss new topics relating to the rearing of sheep and goat.

"And I will tell you the farmers are hungry for information about how to go about producing a proper small ruminant animal," she said.

Phillips said that her group has a breeding programme, which includes a farmer who has 121 heads of sheep and goat.

On average, farmers have about 75 animals, she said.

However, for breeding stock, farmers are encouraged to stick to 15 breeding ewes because of land space, she said, noting the mountainous nature of SVG.

Phillips said that because of the problems with predial larceny and stray dogs, farmers try to keep their flock close to home.

She said that one member of her group lost 38 animals in one night in a dog attack, and 43 of another farmer's 45 animals were stolen in one night.

"It's really, really critical," Phillips said.

"And while the farmers are very able and enthusiastic, they often become very discouraged when they are attacked that way and it is really a constant battle to try to motivate and re-energise after such a loss," she further said.

She said that predial larceny and dog attacks are particularly devastating to the sector because the small ruminants are often the farmers' only source of income.

"They do nothing but that," Phillips said.

She said that the group has piloted a feeding lot programme that includes two farmers, one of whom raised a 7-month-old ram that weighed 100 pounds.

"On average, that is the sort of weight we were

getting with just feed - legumes and grass," she said, adding, "We know that is the way we can perform and we are now trying to get that programme spread across the entire farming community with regard to sheep and goat."

She said a cluster programme has also been introduced and groups of farmers within communities are trained with a view to improving capacity building.

Phillips said, that at the minimum, farmers are trained in proper animal husbandry as it relates to small ruminants.

She further said that 84 persons meet every week and learn how to produce sheep and goat, with emphasis on proper nutrition, proper animal husbandry, and proper breeding.

"And it is really an exciting time and farmers are asking if we can prolong the programme. So it's exciting and things are happening," she said.