Problems Facing the Sheep Industry in the Semi-arid Zone
Category: Business

Problems Facing the Sheep Industry in the Semi-arid Zone

(Mohamed E. Mufarrih) The sheep industry in the semi-arid areas of the Sudan has been hampered by water shortage, complicated grazing problems and a prevalence of disease and parasites. In recent years these areas have experienced successive periods of drought and considerable areas of grazing land have been partially decertified and migratory herds of camels and sheep have penetrated into the savannah belt for dry season grazing. In the centre of the semi-arid belt in the eastern and central regions and Southern Kordofan, expanding crop farming has encroached upon a large area of grazing land resulting in the expulsion of thousands of livestock.
The most critical period for range sheep in the semiarid zone of the Sudan is from February to the end of June, when the ambient temperature becomes hot and dry and range grazing is scanty and depleted of nutrients and vitamins.
Migratory sheep flocks spend the dry season near watering yards called "damar". During winter months, when the ambient temperature is mild and the range contains some green fodder, herders can extend the watering intervals from ten to 15 days. After winter, grazing and climatic conditions become harsh and the watering interval is reduced to between three and five days.
In the central and eastern regions, where vast are-as of traditional grazing land have been converted into crop farms, many nomadic families have adapted themselves to a residential or semi-residential existence. Their sheep spend the dry season within or around the cropping areas and sustain themselves on crop residues. Encroachment on farms and damage to crops have caused a series of clashes between farmers and herdsman and security forces have frequently been called in to drive livestock away from the vicinity of farms. Once harvesting is completed, nomadic and residential livestock are allowed to graze crop residues, thus alleviating the feed situation. However, these residues are only able to sustain this large amount of livestock for about three to five weeks. The animals are then forced out so that the land can be prepared for the next cultivation. Most nomadic and semi-nomadic herds move to remote ranges and are sustained on the remnants and stubble of dry vegetation until the rains arrive.
Husbandry methods
The vast-majority of Sudan Desert sheep exist under migratory range conditions while a few small flocks exist under a semi-residential system. The pattern of management adopted in the whole region is essentially the same. Good sheep health and extraordinary lamb crops add to the pride and prestige of devoted sheep owners. These dedicated sheepmen are aware of the importance of management to promote productivity and they strictly observe correct herding and breeding, and protection from adverse climatic conditions, disease, thieves, predatory animals and birds.
The usual size of a flock in traditional Desert sheep rangelands is 250-500 ewes. It has been realized, however, that larger flocks create herding difficulties and lessen the lambing rate. Herding is usually undertaker) by young men from the owner's family or hired herders on a 12-month basis. The latter (who are supplied with necessary food and clothing) are charged with the care of about 10-12 weaner lambs per year, according to the size of the flock and any additional responsibilities they might be given.
The time of grazing varies between seasons. In dry seasons most of the grazing is done at night. The herders are aware of the benefit of night grazing in lessening water requirement and avoiding the stress of solar heat. They firmly believe in a local saying which states that "the ewe is like a rabbit. When it grazes at night and lies in the shade during the day, it will produce twins and triple lambs." It has been widely recognized that exposure to high ambient temperatures reduces fertility of rams.
In the rainy season the availability of drinking-water and succulent grazing enables sheep to ingest their daily requirement in a few hours. Because of the mild temperature and frequent cloud, the sheep will continue to graze and lie down in the open air until late in the afternoon. Rainy season grazing is restricted to the period from 09.00 hours to about 16.00 hours when the plants are without dew. Diseases such as foot-rot and nematode infestation are known to result from grazing at night or early morning while the grasses are cold and damp.
Sudan Desert sheep, like other range sheep, do not tolerate prolonged confinement. Frequent shiftings of the camp and night bedding ground are always practiced for the animals' well-being. The herder carries a few articles on his donkey, such as a bag of grain flour, a water-skin, cooking and eating utensils and a netting bag. He keeps one or more dogs to protect the sheep from predatory animals at night.
Salt is supplied in sufficient amounts for free-choice nibbling once or twice a week in winter and during the rainy season. During the hot and dry season salting is reduced to a minimum to avoid increased water requirement. Sometimes salt is dissolved in drinking-water so that each individual animal takes in an adequate amount while drinking.
Breeding policy
Sudan Desert sheep tend to breed at certain periods of the year in such a way that lambs are dropped when range fodder is at its best. A few ewes may miss the traditional breeding season and breed in the rainy season to lamb in winter. Some-ewes occasionally divert from these two seasons and breed in late September or October. If allowed to remain in the flock they would lamb during the period of feed and water shortage which lasts from February to May. The off-season ewes are usually identified in early pregnancy and sold for slaughter. To avoid these occurrences, mating is obstructed with the use of a device called a "kinan". This is a double-looped string fixed around the neck of the scrotum and the neck of the ram's sheath to prevent-the penis from emerging. The kinan is released in about mid-December when traditional breeding commences, which lasts for 30 to 45 days.
The flabby base of the ewe's tail hampers immediate mating unless an assistant quickly intervenes by holding the ewe and shifting the tail with his other hand while the ram stands by to mount. In most cases one mount effects successful mating and conception. On the same day that the ewes show heat, they are distributed among the available rams to avoid exhaustion and a decline in fertility of the rams. Two or more additional assistants are assigned to the flock so that the breeding season reaches a successful conclusion. Kinans are refixed on rams immediately after the conclusion of the breeding season. In the southern part of the semi-desert belt where winter grazing can sustain suckling ewes and lambs, kinans are removed from June to August to cover the few ewes that missed the main breeding season.
About 80 percent of ewes drop lambs in June and July except in the central, eastern and Khartoum regions where the lambing season begins a bit later. There are many twinners, triplers and first lambing ewes, and the lambing period, like the breeding season, is followed with great dedication. The sheep are usually grazed close to the camp whenever grazing conditions permit. An additional assistant is assigned to help in delivery, if needed, and to collect dams and lambs dropped at grazing and to bring them to the camp. All young lambs are retained in the camp and guarded and first lambers are kept with their lambs for two or three days to avoid lamb refusal. Orphan lambs and those refused by dams are nursed on ewes which have lost lambs or nanny goats maintained with the sheep for such a purpose.
Eventually the older lambs are herded to nibble on vegetation around the camp. In the late afternoon the flock is turned from grazing and the lambs are allowed to join the dams and stay with them until next morning. At the age of one month the lambs are usually allowed to run continuously with the dams until they are weaned at three months. Some sheep breeders, especially in semi-residential and residential systems, take some of the daytime milk from ewes with single lambs for marketing as fresh milk, or for butter or sour milk-making.
At weaning age the lambs are sorted out for breeding or market stock. Under the semi-residential and residential systems, where the holdings are comparatively small, sheep are marketed at weaning age as entire male lambs. Under the migratory system the males for market are castrated and retained to the age of one to three years to reach the condition and size required by sheep exporters.