Every goat is a vote

You must have noticed that I now pay attention to farming, which is most important to the island, and the world. File this column under Food Security!

This time it’s about animal husbandry.

I saw Santa Rosa is giving a course/workshop on commercial sheep and goat farming. I called their in-house expert for details.

The course, by Edward Berben, an agricultural engineer who has been living on the ABC islands for decades, offers two sessions a week, in April, covering theoretical and practical aspects of animal husbandry in the tropics.

Let’s start from the start: What is the difference between sheep and goats?

I already told you once. The differences are many, in character and behavior, but outwardly the best tell-tale sign is the tail, an upright antenna for the goat, a floppy, south bent appendix for sheep.

Sheep are herd animals and feed with their heads bowed down. Goats are sassier and like to feed reaching high up into bushes and trees, standing on their hind legs.

Our tropical husbandry specialist Edward Berben is a fountain of knowledge.

He explains: By tradition farmers here have been raising goats and sheep together. They open the coral in the morning, let the animals wander, to forage, then call them back home with a snack in the evening, and coral them at night to protect from thieves and dogs.

Thieves and dogs have always threatened the farmers. And farmer need more protection against nasty thieving practices that often just kill the animal, and vicious dogs – in recent years the local dog breed changed with the introduction of Filas and Pitbulls, roaming freely and killing for sport. It’s the animal’s instinct, and it costs lives.

This traditional way of raising animals is the cheapest, but the farmer never makes any money, his animals stay small, adapted to little food, and hardly yield any meat when slaughtered, though the herd knows how to find its way, and mother goats raise and protect their kids, expertly.

That method doesn’t give the farmer control over breeding because males and females are kept together.

This is so yesterday.

Santa Rosa is now trying to change the way goats and sheep are raised. Under Berben’s guidance the station imports pedigree animals, bigger with better milk and meat potential, and farmers can now improve their herds, considerably.

But to be a professional farmer, raising lambs and kids for premium chops and stews means to be dedicated, pay attention, and control every step of the process.

No more opening the coral in the morning, and providing a snack and water in the evening.

Now, you have to keep the animals in, and the size of your farm dictates how many you may keep, and farms in Aruba are small. You must keep the males and females separate, in two different corals, and only allow quality bucks/rams to service females — and if a sheep turns her nose up on a buck, you must have eyes in your head to see she doesn’t like him, and bring in another stud, making sure all females get pregnant. You must buy superior food for the gestation period and for nursing females, and you must pay attention so they don’t get fat, and produce oversize kids/lambs resulting in complicated deliveries. You must keep the females, neuter the males, and manage their weight so that at slaughter they present you with 20-22kg of deliciousness.

What I describe requires money, a substantial investment, in imported hay and supplements. Those who have money can add a supplement to the feed that encourages twin births. Imagine, two lambs instead of just one, per mom.

At Santa Rosa, they are now conducting experiences with animal feed. They are trying to grow grass, that the animals would like, which cuts on the cost of imported feed, but require water.

Will GOA sell water to the farmers, at an affordable rate?

I found a number of articles on the UN website about smart water utilization for smart and precision farming, urban farming and food security innovation, to allow optimal use of small scale farming and provide food security. It is a hot subject.

And we have to think about the carbon footprint of growing feed and raising herds.

Everything is so complicated!

Berben says it’s all in the feed, if you feed your animals well, you end up with a quality herd. Most importantly,  you must have an eye, an innate, sixth sense, which many Arubans genetically share with their ancestors, to assess the herd situation. That innate eye, must be nurtures and developed, Berben adds, to make a successful farmer.

Berben also reports young cunucero have a lot of knowledge, brought down from generation, and some herds looks very good, but it’s a backbreaking job to look after animals, and develop a commercial operation, for milk or meat. It is of great value for the country.

FYI. It’s true what they say, one diligent chubato can service 50 nannies!


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April 08, 2023
Rona Coster