There is a growing interest in sheep and goat production for meat. The two species are jointly called shoats. I keep getting inquiries with mind-blowing numbers of slaughter shoats or for live export.
The stated destination for the meat and the live animals is always the Middle East.
From August to December 2022, I had four inquiries totalling 60,000 shoats per month by different people to different countries.
Apparently, the would-be traders commit themselves to inquiries because they believe Kenya has lots of shoats, estimated at 47 million.
My advice to anyone intending to enter any high-volume livestock slaughter and export trade is to understand it means more than identifying animal numbers from census data and quickly extrapolating how many one can get to slaughter and export.
It is a hard, military-like operation that requires lots of research, planning and involvement of many stakeholders, including farmers.
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I recall one trader who had about five years ago committed to export 1,200 Boran steers per month, weighing 400-500 kilos for 12 months.
She did the first two months and the stocks dried off.
Slaughter cattle exports are much more complicated than shoats because the animals are in shorter supply, they have a longer reproduction and growth cycle and consume high volumes of feeds and fodder.
Their production for a sustained market requires very good planning and farmers who understand and are willing to invest in commercial beef cattle production.
The inquiries I had late last year equally did not materialise into actual business.
Kenyans must know that livestock trading differs a lot from inanimate commodity business.
The four traders who had inquired and confirmed they had orders for the shoats or shoat meat ranging from 10,000 to 15,000 animals per month, or equivalent in meat, abandoned the plan because they could not raise the animals or the cost of identifying and consolidating the stocks was uneconomical to the buyers.
The findings of the traders are a common encounter for many who attempt to venture into the business.
The main reason is that shoat farming in Kenya is still subsistence and sentimental for community recognition. It is a traditional show of wealth.
Animals are sold when there is need for money such as school fees or health problems.
Otherwise, many of them grow old and die.
The second cause of challenges in shoats high-volume trade is that farmers are not keen on proper breeding of the animals. The shoats are mostly mixtures of many breeds, especially the small East African goat, Galla, Boer goats, Kalahari Red and dairy goats.
For sheep, there are mixtures of the Dorper, Somali Fat-tail, red Maasai and wool. Heavy inbreeding complicates the scenario.
The net result of the nation’s failure of a structured shoat farming programme is animals that have a wide variance in growth rates and mature weights.
It is also difficult for any importer to obtain shoats of a specified breed.
It is important for Kenyan shoat farmers and traders to understand that specific countries have consumers with preferences for particular breeds of shoats. For instance, the Galla goat and the Somali fat-tail sheep are preferred in the Middle East.
In addition to the breed preference, some nations require specific weight and age ranges for the shoats or the meat imported.
Again, the Gulf countries have preference for animals with a carcass weight range of six to 15 kilogrammes.
This means the region prefers young shoats mainly for their tender juicy meat.
It therefore follows that if Kenyan livestock and meat traders wish to participate in the lucrative Middle East shoats meat market, they must encourage farmers to produce the animals commercially using the breeds preferred by the market.
Last week, my colleague Dr Mbithi and I visited Gladys at her farm in Kajiado where she intends to rear sheep and goats on a large scale.
Gladys wanted to know what the appropriate shoat breeds she could farm for meat for local consumption.
We went with Dr Mbithi since he is our animal nutrition associate expert. Gladys had said she wished to formulate her own shoat feed to supplement pasture feeding.
Dr Mbithi quickly concluded that the sheep and goats were fairly well-fed for body maintenance and reproduction but not to attain slaughter weight.
He noted the supplementary feed was chopped too long and there was therefore a lot of wastage.
When one does her own feed formulation, it is important to ensure that the fibre component is chopped at a length of 4mm to ensure full and uniform mixing of the ingredients.
For every bite of a nutritionally balanced well homogenised feed, the shoats are able to gain the nutrients they require in the correct proportion.
When the animal eats to its fill, it will have received all the nutrients required daily for body maintenance, growth and reproduction.
Water must also be provided for the animals to drink at will.
I observed Gladys had about 130 sheep and goats portraying a Kenyan shoats herd.
The goats were mixed, including some of the rare hair breeds.
There was also inbreeding with some of the goats being very small.
Sheep were a bit better but the flock was a mix of Dorper, Somali Fat-tail, red Maasai and wool.
I told Gladys that she needed to remove the small inbred shoats.
Second, she should obtain pure Galla bucks to breed the larger females to start converting her goat herd into Gallas.
She would also need to get pure Dorper rams to breed the larger female sheep to convert the herd into Dorpers.
In the Kenyan situation, Dorper sheep and Galla goats are the most recommended breed of shoats, particularly for arid and semi-arid areas because of their good fertility, rapid growth rate and good meat quality.