As part of the “More milk and meat through better breeds” project, seeking to increase the productivity of dual-purpose cattle in Nicaragua through the use of appropriate breed types and the application of best husbandry practices, the Livestock and Fish team held focus group discussions in the action sites of Matiguas and Camoapa (Nicaragua).
The topics discussed with farmers included the main cattle breeds kept by farmers, as well as the most important traits desired for each breed of cattle reared, for both bulls and cows. The main cattle breeds kept in the region include Brown Swiss, Brahman, Holstein, Jersey, Simmental, and Indigenous Creole. However, farmers noted that they did not know about productivity levels of other breed-types of cattle, and showed interest in learning more.
Farmers then discussed cattle mating methods and replacement options, including the use of Artificial Insemination (AI), which was known by all livestock keepers but was practiced by none of the participating farmers from Camoapa, and only by four farmers from Matiguas. This low adoption of AI within both sites is due to challenges such as the high cost of the procedure, limited access to services, limited knowledge on AI procedores, and limited skills for serving animals using AI. Farmers reported they keep their own bulls for mating purposes, and rarely use a neighbor’s bull to serve their cows.
A mapping exercise was also conducted to compare seasonal changes in rainfall and pastures against times of calving. The main months for calving were identified as November to February in Camoapa, and November, December, February, and April in Matiguas. Farmers aim to align calving to pasture availability, explaining that forage availability is an issue between the months of January and June.
Finally, farmers shared the main diseases which affect their herds (mastitis, scours in calves, milk fever, and retained afterbirth), and commented on record keeping and types of records kept. Participants keep only some written records on general herd productivity, but noted that if the practice of record keeping on individual animal performance were made easier, and further benefits were obtained from this aside from providing information on their animals’ milk production, they would be more likely to take up the practice of record keeping.
Other constraints identified included difficulties in acquiring labour for rearing animals, high costs of production versus low milk prices, lack of incentive mechanisms, challenges in feed and forage availability, and disease management. Discussing relevant issues with dual purpose cattle farmers from the Livestock and Fish action sites in Nicaragua and identifying the constraints they face constitutes a crucial step to identify opportunities and inform intervention strategies aimed at improving productivity at farm level.