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Sheep Farming in India

By DR. Venkatramana Hegde, Hosagadde. Director, Shramajeevi Television Pvt. Ltd. Bengaluru

Introduction

Animal husbandry is the part of agriculture. Cattle are necessary for milk, manure, ploughing, transportation etc. Likewise, pig-goat-sheep and poultry birds are being reared for meat and egg. These subsidiary activities are getting commercial shape and importance. And thus are becoming main activity generating rural income. Professional approach is seen in selection of breeds, feeding and management. Farmers in the clutch of uncertain rainfall, labor scarcity and fluctuating prices are moving towards goat, sheep and poultry. Even the dairy farmers are diverting to sheep and goat farming.

History of sheep and goat is as old as human civilization. Goat is the first domesticated animal even before to cow. These small ruminants need less space, food and water compared to dairy animals. Management is easy. It can survive in drought even the crops fail. Sheep and goat eat and digest almost everything. They can survive for 7 days without food and for 3 days without water. It has adjusted to most of the climatic conditions. Dairy animals are feeling the heat of global warming in recent years. But these small ruminants grow better. Sheep and goat farming is a good option for landless rural population. These are called as poor mans ATM since it can be sold and en-cashed at any time. In our society beef is not acceptable for Hindus and pork for Muslims. But sheep and goat are the favorite food of all. Hence the marketability is more. Milk, meat, wool, leather and manure are the products of these small ruminants.

Sheep and goat farming is seen in all states of our country. There are about 40 registered sheep breeds and 20 goat breeds in India. According to the animal census of 2003, we have 65 million sheep and 125 million goats in our country. Karnataka has got 7.5 million sheep and 4.5 million goats. These small ruminants are seen in all dry regions. Keeping sheep herd in agriculture land for one night for manure is an age old practice. Few farmers rear them for weed control in areca nut and coconut gardens without inter crops. Grazing sheep before ploughing and after the harvest of crops will generate some income along with weed control. Weaving blankets out of sheep wool is the traditional home industry. But the quality and quantity of wool from our indigenous sheep breeds is very poor. Cost of the wool matches with the cost of sheering. Hence meat is the only viable commercial product from sheep in India. Ban on cow slaughtering in few states has increased the demand for sheep and goat meat. In organic farming sheep excreta or the pellets are preferred. All these have increased the commercial importance of sheep and goat farming in recent years.

Comparison between sheep and goat

Population of goat is more in India. But Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have more number of sheep than goat. The demand and price for mutton is also high in those states. Goat meat is more fibrous and hard. But the sheep meat or mutton is smooth. Goat likes browsing on the bushes, whereas the sheep grazes on weeds and grasses on the ground. Normally sheep do not browse the leaves at height. Sheep need less food than goat. Goat has some naughty behavior. But the sheep is obedient and fearing nature. Health management is difficult in goats. It needs more medicines since it wastes the same while drenching. Possibility of reaction of medicines is also more in goats. But these problems are less in sheep. Mortality of kids is more in goats while the health management of sheep is easy and less expensive. Ecto-parasite problem is more in goats due to absence of wool cover, while it is less in sheep. One lamb per lambing is the main drawback of sheep. Hence it will not multiply so fast like goat. In heavy rainfall area goat farming is possible with stall fed system. But the sheep cannot survive in forest and coastal areas with high humidity. Milk yield is more in goats. But the milk production is not sufficient in sheep even for lamb sometimes.

Traditional sheep rearing

We find only traditional sheep farming in our country till today. Landless people graze their sheep in community grazing lands. Sheep herds moving from region to region are also common. But the availability of grazing land is decreasing very fast. Getting labor for sheep grazing is difficult. Community grazing lands have disappeared by encroachment. Sheep get enough fodder only during rainy season. They spend more energy on wandering in search of food. Hence the growth is slow and is up to 2 kilograms per month maximum. Most of the farmers do not provide feed and fodder at home. Hence these grazing sheep gains up to 25 to 30-kilogram maximum in 1 to 2 years. Traditional farmers keep only the local breeds which can not grow more. Streams and rivers dry up by December. Hence these sheep do not get clean water to drink. Polluted water brings diseases and parasites. Eggs in the fecal matter hatch and enter the body of grazing sheep. Due to natural crossing while grazing in herd, planned breeding is not possible. Of course the initial investment and the management expenses are very less in traditional sheep farming. However, this open grazing system is not at all advisable for commercial sheep farming for high quality meat production. Stall feeding is the only solution. Hence we have discussed stall fed system as an alternative for traditional sheep farming in this article.

There is another intermediate system of sheep farming. Farmers with sufficient grazing land, graze the sheep in the daytime. Provide nutritious feed and fodder at home in addition. This system is popular in sparsely populated developed countries. They have grazing lands exclusively for sheep. Only one person with few trained dogs maintains thousands of sheep. Even they use helicopters to chase the sheep. This system is called semi-intensive in which the feeding cost is less. Hence the net profit is more. Many farmers in our country also practice this system. Sheep grazing multiple species of plants get balanced nutrition.

Stall fed sheep farming

Here onwards we will learn the scientific and systematic stall fed sheep rearing system. First let us see the suitable climate. Sheep needs dry climate. It has no problem with low temperature in winter. But the relative humidity in the rainy season should not be high. Hence low rainfall area is good for sheep. Hilly forest area and the coastal regions are not suitable. Even in medium rainfall area the problem of worms and diseases is more. Sheep suffer with cold, cough, HS and CCPP problems in marshy places. Apart from suitable climate sufficient land and water to grow green fodder is necessary. If one can get 3 crops of fodder in a year one acre is enough for 40 to 45 sheep. Fodder crop in 2 acres can feed 40 sheep and their lambs which can generate up to 2 to 2 lakh INR per year.

Housing for sheep

Now let us study the housing for sheep. Goat likes to stay at height above the ground. But the sheep is happy on the ground itself. Shed is necessary to shelter the sheep during rain and in night hours. Go for low cost or systematic high cost shed depending upon the investment capacity. Cross ventilation and light penetration is most important in the sheep shed. Open paddock next to the shed is necessary. Keeping the sheep here at least for few hours daily is a must. In few farms feed and fodder are given in the paddock itself. Sheep are kept inside the shed only during night hours. Each adult sheep needs 10 square feet area. Shed and the paddock together are covered by wire mesh fence of sufficient height. Trees around the farm keep the atmosphere cool. Pregnant ewes, lambs and rams are kept in separate groups based on sex, age and body weight. This is necessary to provide feed-fodder and medicine in required quantity and time. Bamboo or wire mesh partitions are made for this purpose. Mud floor is better. It absorbs the urine minimizing ammonia smell. This is important for good health of the sheep. Burnt mud bricks may be used for flooring for easy maintenance. But cement floor is not advisable. Sheep regularly lying on cement floor gets bed sores.

Distributing the feed and fodder in the big herd is a difficult task. Feeders are useful for the purpose. It may be of wood or metal sheet. One feeder for 15 to 20 sheep is necessary to avoid competition. Water troughs of GI sheet are kept for drinking water. Plastic coated metal troughs are still better. Clean the feeders and water troughs once in a day. Motored and manual chaff cutters are the other necessary equipment.

Sheep breeds in India

Now let us discuss the sheep breeds. Locally we find many breeds and cross breeds. Karnataka has 4 registered breeds. They are Deccani, Ballari, Hassan and Bannuru. Likewise, each state has its own breed. Sheep of local breed in the traditional grazing system gains 25 to 30-kilogram maximum in 2 years. It can not perform better even in stall feeding. All these are meat and wool breeds. But the yield of wool is hardly 500 to 750 grams per sheep per year. It fetches 15 to 20 rupees per kilogram. We do not have separate wool breed like other countries. Hence this wool is not a commercial product for our farmers. Karnataka has a very popular sheep breed called Bannuru. Mutton of this sheep is world famous for its flavor. Growth and the body weight are also good. But none of these indigenous breeds are viable under stall feeding in pure breed form. But use them for cross breeding with exotic breeds like Rambouillet, Dorper etc.

 

 

 

Rambouillet sheep

Rambouillet sheep was introduced to India from USA. This is the best breed for stall fed system. Population of this breed is very limited in India. Hence it is being used for cross breeding with indigenous breeds. Just born lamb weighs 3 to 4 kilograms under good management. It eats all type of fodders and gains 4 to 6 kilograms per months. It grows up to 50 to 60 kilograms in 10 to 12 months. Rambouillet ram can reach up to 100 to 120 kilograms. It is better to purchase Rambouillet pure breed rams and Rambouillet cross breed ewes to start new farms. Cross breed lambs grow faster than pure breed ones. Pure breeds are maintained separately for breeding purpose. Disease resistance of both indigenous and exotic breeds is the same. All major diseases and parasites affect both the categories.

Sheep breeding

Ewes attain maturity by 12 to 14 months and the rams by 10 to 12 months. Artificial insemination is not popular in India due to low success rate. Hence keep one ram for 20 to 25 ewes. Rams and ewes are kept in separate groups. Send the selected ram in to the herd of ewes ready for mating. April May and July August are the regular breeding seasons in traditional sheep farms. But in case of stall feeding with nutritious food there is no season as such. It is not a problem also. Ewe comes in to oestrus after 2 months of lambing. We can expect 3 lambing in 2 years under good management. Normally ewe delivers only one lamb per lambing. 2 lambs are very rare. But Garole sheep from West Bengal gives 2 lambs in each lambing.

Ewe selected for breeding for the first time should be in 2 teeth stage. That is at 1-month age. The minimum body weight must be at least 20 to 22 kilograms. Do not use under- weight ewes. Select 100 ewes for breeding in the beginning. Retain 60 to 70 % of them for further breeding based on the desired characteristics after first lambing. Cull out the remaining ones. The ram selected for breeding should have 30 to 35 kilograms of body weight by 2 teeth stage. Growth of both the testicles must be uniform. Ram should be healthy, active and standing like a horse on straight and strong legs. Avoid rams and ewes with any sexual disease. In our country ewes are retained for breeding for 5 to 6 years. They are culled out early in developed countries. Ewes produce weak lambs and suffer with debility at old age.

Inbreeding is the major problem of sheep farming. Due to this local breeds in traditional farming are suffering with stunted growth and many other health problems. Hence put tags to each ram and maintain its ancestry records. Change the ram in each breeding season. If the farm has more than one group of breeding ewes, ram may be shifted to another group in the next season. Here we can retain the ram for one more season. Later on buy or exchange the new ram from a distant farm without blood relation with ewes. Avoiding inbreeding is most important for the success of sheep farming.

Lambing and lamb care

Gestation period is 145 to 150 days in sheep. Separate the ewes from the herd one week before lambing and keep observation. Clean the nose and mouth of newly born lamb to facilitate easy breathing. Cut off the umbilical chord at 2-inch length with a clean knife and apply tincture iodine. Or put cotton swab dipped in iodine and tie with cloth. Infection to the umbilical chord will cause Arthritis. Collect the placenta and through it away. Keep the mother and lamb on a dry floor. If the shed is infected with E. coli pathogen, drench Ampicillin antibiotic in water to newly born lamb. Feed the pregnant and delivered ewes with more amounts of concentrates and mineral mixture.

Newly born lamb should suck the colostrums within half an hour. It is most important for the development of disease resistance. Keep the lamb with its mother for 15 days. Later on separate the lamb and allow it to feed the milk thrice a day. Unless the lamb keeps away from its mother it will not learn eating grass and fodder. Wean the lamb after 3 months. Only the rams develop horns. Normally it is retained. In some breeds like Bannuru even the rams do not have horns. Hence there is no question of de-horning in sheep. Put marking tags to the lambs to facilitate maintaining records. This is compulsory for insurance.

Feeding sheep

Sheep do not prefer dry fodder grass. But it likes dry herbage of dicot plants like black gram, cowpea, horse gram, dolichos and lucerne etc. Sheep may be fed with improved varieties of fodder grasses. But the water content of these green fodders more and dry matter is less. Hence the sheep needs more quantity of concentrated feed to gain body weight. This increases the cost of production. Instead of these grasses, grow yellow maize and make silage. Sheep like silage and gain body weight. Silage is fed twice a day- once in the morning and again in the evening. Each adult sheep needs 2 to 2 kilograms of silage per day. It is better if the sheep is fed with half kilogram of protein rich lucerne by noon apart from silage twice a day. Then concentrated feed is not essential. In systematic farms 10 grams of mineral mixture and 5 grams of urea dissolved in water per sheep are spread on the silage in the morning. With this growth and the health of the sheep will be excellent. Concentrated feed is only for weak, pregnant and lambed ewes. If the silage and lucerne are not fed regular dose of concentrate is inevitable. Saving on the concentrated feed makes lot of difference in the cost of production.

In most of the stall fed farms silage is the main food. 30 to 50 grams of concentrate per sheep per day is also given. This feed is prepared by mixing broken maize, cereal powder and ground nut cake. 5 to 10 grams of mineral mixture per sheep per day is also added with this feed. Urea is not used here. It is easy to give vitamins, feed additives and necessary medicines with this concentrate. Feed is soaked in water and fed. According to animal nutrition experts the composition of the feed should be like this- Broken cereal grains-30 to 40 %, Oil cakes- 20 to 30 %, Cereal bran- 30 to 40 %, Common salt- 1% and mineral mixture- 2%.

Silage making

Even though the silage is useful, is not yet popular among farmers in India. Yellow maize is grown for silage making. Just after milky grain stage, that is by 85 days crop is harvested with cobs. Generally sunken silage pits are in use. Generally stone slabs are used for flooring and wall to control rats. Put thick plastic sheets on all side of the silo pit. Even the cement or stone pit needs plastic layer. This retains moisture in the silage and prevents air and water entering inside. Silage making is the anaerobic fermentation of fodder. Silage gets spoiled if air enters inside.

Cut the fodder with the cob to quarter inch size. Let it fall directly in to the pit. If the dicot plants are mixed the nutritive value of the silage will be better. Dissolve 20 kilograms of Jaggary (molasses) in 150 liters of water in a barrel. Put 50 liters of water in another bowl and mix 250 grams of silage microorganism culture. Few private labs produce this silage culture mixture. This costs about INR 13,000 to 14,000 per kilogram and is sufficient for 100 tons of fodder. This is most important for good quality silage and also for easy digestion. Silage without culture may sometimes create diarrhea in sheep. Mix this culture solution in to the Jaggary water. Sprinkle this solution at the rate of 10 liters per ton of fodder. 1 kilogram of common salt per ton of fodder is also added.

Complete the filling of the silo pit on the same day. Do not continue for the 2nd day. Trample the fodder in the pit by clean-bare feet so that the air inside the heap comes out. Cover the pit with plastic sheet to make it airtight. Put stone or sand bags on it. Silo-pit with 20 tons of fodder needs 5 tons of weight. Prevent the rain and flood water entering the silage pit. Rat should not burrow inside. This allows air and insects inside spoiling the silage. This fodder turns in to silage after 15 days of filling and keeps good up to 2 years. Size of cutting, amount of trampling and the weight on the top decides the quality of the silage. This silage is good even for goats, cows and buffaloes.

One cubic feet space of the pit holds 12 to 15 kilograms of silage. A pit of 30 feet length, 6 feet width and 10 feet depth or 1800 cubic feet volume accommodates 25 to 30 tons of silage. It is difficult to take out the silage if the depth of the pit is more than 10 feet. Do not open the entire silo pit while using the silage. It is better to open 2 to 3 feet of the length of the pit and exhaust up to the bottom. Silage can be prepared even with rain fed fodder sorghum varieties like SSV-73, PVK-01, GD-65195 and GD-65174. These also yield 10 tons of fodder per acre. Harvest and cut the fodder along with its grains irrespective of the variety. This contains 10 to 15 % of grain by weight. Hence the sheep eating 2 kilograms of silage will get at least 200 grams of grain. One can escape from using concentrates if this kind of silage is fed. Silage culture used enables easy digestion and increases the availability of nutrients. Sheep will not grow satisfactorily if it is fed only with green fodder. Indigestion is not seen even if the sheep eats excess quantity of silage. Yellow maize yields 15 tons of biomass per acre. 40 to 50 tons of fodder is available from 3 crops in a year. Each adult sheep needs 1 ton of silage per year. So, one can raise 40 to 45 sheep with 1 acre of fodder. Do not forget to use organic manure and micro nutrients to the soil for this continuous crop. Crop rotation is still better. 60 to 65 % is the optimum moisture content in the fodder to get good quality silage. If the silage contains more moisture sheep suffers with the shortage of dry matter.

Yellow maize is excellent for silage production. But it will not come up well in high rainfall and low fertility areas. One can go for CO-4, AP-01, Guinea or any other improved fodder grass for silage making. Or it may be fed as green itself. In this case 2 kilograms of Jaggary (molasses) per ton of fodder is advised for good quality silage production. But this silage contains no grains. Hence feeding concentrates is inevitable. Using silage avoids the hectic work of fodder transportation and cutting every day. Thus reduces the labor requirement on regular days. Availability of nutrients is more in the silage than green fodder.

Sheep eat even tree fodders. Mulberry, Gliricidia, Subabul, Sesbenia, hedge lucerne and the tree fodders like jack fruit, mango etc. may be fed. Fodder grown continuously on any farm will have deficiency of micronutrients. These tree fodders will balance the nutrition along with taste. These perennial tree species grow without irrigation. Stall fed sheep may also be grazed around the shed on weeds and crop residues. This multi species grazing brings good growth in sheep.

Management of stall fed sheep

Clean the sheep shed once in a day. Collect the pellets and waste fodder and heap at a distance. Washing the shed is not recommended. Shed remains dry since the pellets are dry and the amount of urine is less. It is better if the sheep are kept in the paddock in the daytime. Floor of the shed should be dry always. Prepare a mixture of lime powder- 98% and ground copper sulfate 2%. Spread this 2 to 3 times in rainy season and twice in summer. This keeps the floor dry and avoids the growth of pathogens. Formalin fumigation is not in practice in sheep sheds. Ewe is given bath once before mating and once after 15 days. Give bath 2 to 3 times in summer if the sheep get dirty. But avoid bath from June to December. Otherwise sheep develops cold. Dirt will not reach the skin since it has wool cover. Dip the sheep in a tank with suitable insecticide for the control of ecto-parasites like lice, ticks etc. Spraying the same solution or injecting chemicals like Ivermectin is also in practice. Sheering of the wool once in a year is necessary for good health of the sheep.

Good rams are in great demand. But castrate the other rams which are not useful for reproduction within 6 months. This gives more growth and good quality mutton. Sheep need less water, that too in rainy season. But in summer each adult sheep drinks 4 to 5 liters of water. Keep clean water in the paddock in the tub or water channel. Sheep in stall fed system develops extra flat growth of hooves. This gives trouble in walking. Cut off this with suitable cutter. Avoid excess cutting which may cause bleeding. This procedure is called hoof trimming.

Pellet of sheep has more nutrients than cow dung. Hence it is in good demand. It has 1.93% nitrogen, 1.3% phosphorus and 2.31 % potash. Keeping the sheep on the farm for one night will give good crop for two years. Manure collected in the sheep farm may be used for fodder or other crops. It fetches INR 3000 per tractor load if sold.

Diseases and vaccination

Let us start with endo-parasites. Round worm, tape worms etc. are common in sheep like other ruminants. This problem is more in grazing sheep. Parasites suck the blood causing debility. Sheep may die if the infestation is severe. Hence de-worming is most important for successful sheep farming. Put first doze of de-worming medicine at 20 to 30-day stage for lambs. Next doze by 2 to 2 month age or at 10-kilogram body weight. De-worm the adult sheep once in August-September and again twice afterwards. The grazing sheep need 5 de-worming per year. There are many chemicals and brands. Dosage depends on body weight. Hence it is better to consult an experienced veterinarian for any medication. The ecto-parasites create many health problems apart from sucking blood. Dipping, spraying or injection of suitable chemical is followed for the control of ecto-parasites. Control of ecto and endo parasites is most important for best utilization of nutrients fed.

ET or Enterotoxaemia disease

It is a deadly disease of sheep. Excess feeding of moist fodder, sudden change in the food or climate will bring this problem. ET is common in rainy season. Sheep with good growth is more affected. Pathogenic bacteria called Clostridium develops very fast in the nutritious food in the intestine. Sheep dies due to the toxin released by the bacteria. Teeth grinding, bending the head on one side, diarrhea, lying down and convulsion with debility, sudden death after circling round etc. are the symptoms of ET. There will be no sufficient time for treatment if the problem is severe. To prevent ET put first doze of vaccine at two and half month stage for the lamb. Boosting resistance is recommended by another doze of vaccine after 17 to 30 days. Adult sheep are vaccinated once in March and again in September with ET vaccine.

HS or Haemorrhagic Septicemia

This is another dangerous contagious disease of small ruminants. Sheep develop this problem by consuming polluted feed and water and also by contact with other infected sheep. Fever, difficult breathing, no feeding or Anorexia, diarrhea with or without blood, abortion in pregnant ewes etc. are the symptoms of HS disease. This is a deadly disease in which the sheep dies in 2 to 3 days without feed intake. This problem is more in the humid climate of rainy season. Detection and treatment of HS disease is difficult. To prevent this problem, vaccinate the lamb at 2 to 3-month stage. Booster doze may be given after 17 to 30 days. Adult sheep are vaccinated once in June-July and again after 6 months.

PPR disease

This is a contagious viral disease seen in all seasons. High fever, watery lacrimation in eyes, salivation in wounded mouth, debility due to anorexia, white strips below the nose, shooting diarrhea etc. are the symptoms of PPR disease. To prevent this problem, vaccinate the lamb at 2 to 3-month stage. Adult sheep are given PPR vaccination yearly once in December-January.

Sheep Pox

It is also a deadly contagious viral disease. Pathogen spreads by air and the contact with the affected sheep. Fever and watery lacrimation in the eyes are seen initially. In the later stage pustules appear around the base of the tail, eyes and on the udder and thigh skin. Pustules turn in to wound. Cough may be seen if the pustules develop in the lungs and respiratory tract. Lambs are affected more. At least half of the sheep in the herd die. To prevent this disease, vaccinate the lamb by 4 to 5-month age. Do not put too early. Vaccinate the adult sheep once in a year.

Blue Tongue Disease or BT

This is also a viral disease spread by Culicoides flies. This problem is more during rainy season and in marshy areas. Fever, swelling of lips, mandible and ears, salivation, blue coloured tongue, limping, shedding of wool etc. are the symptoms of BT disease. Lambs die due to starvation and other secondary infections. Veterinary scientists have developed a trial vaccine for this, which is proved effective. Give this vaccine once in a year by July-August.

Foot and Mouth Disease or FMD

This contagious viral disease is rarely seen in sheep. Normally stall fed sheep escape this problem. Contact with the affected animal, saliva, slime or the fodder polluted with the pathogen spreads this FMD disease. Fever, salivation, wound in the grooves of the hooves and mouth etc. are the symptoms. Limping is seen due to pain. Keep the sheep away from the cattle affected with FMD disease. Vaccinate the sheep twice a year in the out break area of the disease.

Foot Rot

Foot rot is another major problem in sheep. This disease is seen in rainy season if the temperature is more than 30 centigrade with high humidity. This problem starts if the sheep wander in mud mixed with cow dung and pellets. Pus accumulates in the grooves of the hooves. Sheep experiences severe pain. Maggots may be seen in the open wound. Malignant growth in the groove of the hooves may end up in peeling of hooves. Foot rot repeats in the same herd in the next season if the situation is conducive. Inject Strepto-penicillin or any suitable antibiotic to the affected sheep. To prevent foot rot, maintain hygienic condition in and around the sheep shed. Dust a mixture of lime powder and copper sulfate on the floor of the shed 2-3 times a year. Formalin fumigation may also be carried out once in the rainy season. If the paddock is kept clean, stall fed sheep escape foot rot problem.

All these vaccines cannot be administered at a time. Maximum 1 vaccine may be given per month. Develop a clear vaccination schedule and carry out. Vaccinate the lambs at right stage and bring them in to the adult vaccination schedule in due course of time. Putting any vaccine one or two-week difference will not be a problem. State veterinary department will carry out all vaccination free of cost. Test the pellets in the laboratory once in 6 months for endo-parasites. Blood test once in a while will indicate the health condition. Testing the feed and fodder will confirm the nutrient content. Lab at National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology at Adugodi, Bengaluru and the labs of veterinary universities will do all these analyses free of cost for farmers. These labs are useful for all domestic animals.

It is better to go for insurance for these costly sheep. 5% of the market value is the premium. Government veterinary doctor has to give valuation certificate. Putting marking tags to the insured sheep is compulsory. If the insured sheep dies the carcass should be kept till the inspection by the representative of the insurance company is over or for 12 hours.

Assessing age of sheep

There is one simple method to asses the age of sheep. Newly born lamb develops milk teeth after one week. At definite age permanent teeth replace these milk teeth. By counting milk teeth, we can guess the age of the animal. The milk teeth remain till one year. 2 permanent teeth are seen by 12 to 14 months. At 20-month stage sheep will have 4 permanent teeth. By 24 months it will have 6 permanent teeth. By age of 3 years or 36 months, sheep develops last pair of permanent teeth. That is 8 teeth. That means the growth is complete. After 7 years teeth start showing depreciation. This method of assessing age of the animal is an age old practice and is reliable also.

Economics of sheep farming

Developed countries have separate sheep breed for meat and wool purposes. But it is not so in India. Traditional farmers do not bother about the quality of meat. They sell their sheep whenever they need money. Mutton from the aged sheep is fibrous and hard. It tastes less and hence fetches less price. Sheep at 2 teeth age gives the best mutton. Systematic categorization of mutton is not in practice yet in India. Maximum profit is by selling the sheep by 12 to 14 months. Later on the speed of growth or the feed conversion ratio comes down. Most of the sheep are sold in traditional sheep market. Or the merchants purchase the sheep from the farmer and sell it to the mutton stalls. Breed, age, dressed meat percentage, consumers choice etc. decide the price. Systematic markets have not yet developed in India. Hardly few slaughter houses exist for sheep. Import of mutton in to India is negligible. Mutton is preferred in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh states. And hence the demand and the price are more. In all other states goat meat gets first preference. Dressed mutton percentage is 40 to 50 in India. Stall fed Rambouillet sheep before breeding can yield up to 60 to 65 % dressed meat. The reason is less loss of energy and less size of intestine. Aged sheep ram used for breeding for years and the lambing ewe yield less percentage of mutton, even though the body is large.

Mutton is in great demand. Well grown up rams get best price especially during Islamic festivals. Live sheep fetches half price that of mutton. That means if the mutton price is INR 300 per kilogram, live sheep gets INR 150 per kilogram. Stall fed Rambouillet sheep gains 40 to 50-kilogram body weight by 10 to 12 months. It sells at least for INR 6,000 to 7000. Cost of production of 1 kilogram of silage is 1 rupee. Each sheep needs 2 kilograms of silage per day. Hence the fodder cost is rupees 2 per day. If 50 grams of concentrate is fed it costs 50 paisa per day. Wages, electricity, medicine, feed additives etc. together will cost 1 rupees per day per sheep. In total the cost of rearing of stall fed sheep is INR 4 per day per sheep. That is rupees 1500 per sheep per year. Stall fed sheep of one-year age fetches at least INR 5,000 to 6000. Thus the systematic stall feeding of sheep generates an attractive income. 8 to 10 people can handle 1000 sheep under stall fed system with silage. Labor requirement is less compared to dairy farm.

Labor shortage is the major problem of agriculture in recent years. Flood, drought, fluctuation of price etc. have worsened the situation. But all of us can not run away from our land in search of jobs. What we need is the better alternative, which can give assured and stable income. Though the dairy farming is good, handling milk twice a day is difficult for many of us. Initial investment is also more. Hence the sheep and goat farming can be a good option. It has the potentiality to develop like poultry industry. Let us hope our farmers will en-cash this opportunity in coming years. Namaskar.