Jamaica Cattle Rearing Of Livestock
The production of enough meat and animal feeds is one of the Jamaica’s major agricultural shortcomings. Most large estates devote little effort to livestock production, and the small farmers’ holdings only allow room for a few goats or sheep and a cow or two. In an effort to satisfy the demand for protein- rich foods, the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica must subsidize the importation of millions of dollars worth of dairy produce and eggs; meat and meat preparations and animal feed cost in excess of $90 million.
No developing country can allow such a high import bill to continue unchecked. But to date, the only areas of livestock production where Jamaica has been able to produce enough for home consumption are in poultry and pork products. Analyzing Jamaica cattle herds have pretty high numbers, while Jamaica and Guyana are among largest countries in the Caribbean, a key component for large herds, one of many problems that the potential rancher faces. Among the other problems are soils in grassland areas in Jamaica are deficient in minerals such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and sulfur. Grasses grown in such soils will reflect these deficiencies, and cattle eating these grasses will also lack the above minerals.
A rainy season where leaching occurs is normally followed by a dry period of about six months. Poor forage impedes animal growth during the dry period. In the hot tropics, bacteria multiply rapidly, and disease is an ever-present problem. Foot and mouth disease, foot rot and cattle ticks, have affected cattle herds. Loss of grown Jamaican cattle, or buying expensive chemicals for treatment of infected animals, add to the ranchers difficulties. On the poor forage available steers take from 3 to 4 years to reach the required saleable weight, compared to 1—2 years for the American animal.
Not only is the Jamaican animal more expensive eventually, but the meat is also tougher and therefore less palatable. Lack of research in types of food and grass suited to the environment is also a problem. In the last thirty years there has been some activity in trying to produce better pasture grasses for animals.
In February 1974 U.W.I. (University Of The West Indies) Forage Legume Project was started in Antigua. This work has been taken over by the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). Many of the Jamaican beef cattle are local breeds, but imports such as the Hereford and Angus can often be seen in large herds. Cross breeds with special meat producing qualities and disease resistance are gradually emerging. This is as a direct result of shrewd mating of livestock animals in Jamaica.
Jamaica leads the way with breeds such as the Jamaica Black Cattle — a mixture of the Aberdeen Angus and the Brahman; the Jamaica Red Poll and the Jamaica Brahman. The Buffalypso is another successful cross-breed found in both Jamaica and Trinidad. This is typical of Jamaican livestock.
Transport of meat and meat products, particularly in rural Jamaica, is a major problem. Lack of all-weather roads, in the case of the interior savannas, to the coast, or no roads at all to the Rupununi, means that meat has to be transported by air. This is quite costly.
The future of beef cattle production in Jamaica.
Jamaica, because of its large land area and relatively small population is closest to self-sufficiency in beef production. Indeed, she had a small export market, until foot and mouth disease and the cost of transport caused problems. No other West Indian country is likely to be able to produce enough cattle in the near future. The main handicap is lack of space. But, costs of imported food, lack of vets and the availability of cheaper products from outside countries all add to the problem.
Most herds in the West Indies are not pure beef or dairy herds. This is a good thing, in that cows that produce milk may also be eaten and their young male off-spring provides Jamaican veal. Can you think of any disadvantage to this system?