Written by Livio Costa-Júnior, IGA Country Representative for Brazil and Professor of Parasitology at the Federal University of Maranhão
The Northeast Region of Brazil has 90% of the 10 million goats present in the country (Figure 1). The Northeast is characterized by an area of 981,821 km² of a semi-arid interior and 3,317 km of coastline, where it has the highest human population density and a large consumer market for products from this semi-arid region. Consumption occurs in specialized restaurants and bars in all areas of the Northeast region with several typical dishes.
Additionally, the Northeast has 11.6 million sheep that are frequently raised together with goats on the same farm. Often the owners, who are predominantly small and medium-sized producers, have no knowledge of the particularities of each species. The challenges in the production of goats in Brazil include: 1) feed management and 2) sanitary management, mainly for gastrointestinal nematodes.
It is difficult to produce large areas of forages in Northeast Brazil because this region has a low rainfall index. Nevertheless, a high diversity of native shrubs with elevated protein concentrations for goat production grow in that region. The ability of the goat to adapt to dry seasons, compared to other animal species, is the likely cause for the high concentration of goats in this semi-arid region. Nevertheless, several farmers believe that native shrubs are not sufficient for the maintenance of the animals. For this reason, native shrubs are frequently deforested for the planting of exotic grasses, which are easier to handle but show adaptation difficulties and easy degradation. Increasing goat production in this semi-arid area also faces the challenge of handling the various shrub species, which are phenologically and grazing capacity specific, which makes this diverse environment really difficult to understand and manage. In the last 20 years, several researchers have addressed the problem and the ability of native shrubs to feed ruminants, including goats. This has been demonstrated but due to the great flora diversity, studies for several plant species and their management are still lacking.
Feed and herd health management are directly influenced by the climate, mainly by the amount of rainfall. The inconsistency of rains from year-to-year and the climatic changes that have occurred, make sanitary management difficult. Problems with feed management are frequent in years with hydric deficit (Figure 2). However, high infection rate and high mortality of goats with gastrointestinal nematodes, are verified in years with abundant rainfall. This is the main disease of Brazilian goats, occasionally up to 40% mortality of the herd in a single rainy season. Another factor of great importance is that the farmers use the same anthelmintic dosage to treat sheep and goats, resulting in under-dosing goats and selecting for gastrointestinal nematodes resistance to the various anthelmintic compounds available in the Brazilian market. Additionally, reduction of worm refugia due to the intense period of drought is another factor to fast worm resistance selection.
Brazil and more specifically the Brazilian Northeast show an extraordinary capacity for goat production, with an expansive herd and the upstream consumer market. Nonetheless, the challenges in animal production, mainly in feed management and in the control of gastrointestinal nematodes, should be considered priorities to increase goat production in the country.
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