Awgichew, Kassahun: Comparative performance evaluation of Horro and Menz sheep of Ethiopia under grazing and intensive feeding conditions



Locally available breeds of livestock are important economic resources since they are adapted to the existing production constraints such as feed shortages, prevalent diseases, etc. The productivity of indigenous breeds is low compared to temperate breeds, but their ability to survive and produce in the harsh and mostly unpredicted tropical environment is remarkable.

According to de Leeuw and Rey (1995), more than 55 % of the total livestock wealth of Africa is concentrated in Eastern Africa.

In Ethiopia livestock production accounts for nearly 15 % of the total GDP and about 40 % of the agricultural GDP (Sendros and Tesfaye, 1998). This does not include the contribution of livestock to the national economy in terms of draught power, manure and transport services.

Export of livestock and livestock by-products have also appreciable contribution to foreign exchange earnings of the country amounting to about 15 % and 70 % of all export earnings and earnings from agricultural exports excluding coffee respectively. The annual off take rate for sheep is estimated to be 40 % with an average carcass weight of about 10 kg (FAO, 1996) which is the second lowest amongst sub-Saharan African countries.

The highlands of Ethiopia account for not only over 60 % of the highlands of eastern and southern Africa, but also about 80 % of the livestock mass of the region (de Leeuw and Rey, 1995). They have also indicated that this is due to a larger proportion (more than 80 %) of cattle in the zone, the majority of which are oxen required for traction purposes.

Small ruminant production is an important agricultural enterprise in Ethiopia. It is estimated that Ethiopia has 25.4 million sheep (Beyene Kebede, 1998). However, a census conducted during the 1994/95 Agricultural Sample Survey by the Central Statistics Authority (CSA) indicates that there are only 12 million sheep (CSA, 1996). This survey excluded Eritrea and did not cover the entire Somali region of Ethiopia, which partly explains the lower estimate than the previous one. Since it is assumed that some 70-75 % of Ethiopia‘s sheep population is found in the highlands ( I. A. R., 1991; de Leeuw and Rey, 1995), Ethiopia‘s current sheep population including the Somali region could be about 20 million.

Although the total annual mutton and lamb production in Ethiopia has been decreasing by about 5 % over the last eight years (Table 3), it is still the largest volume of meat produced (about 80000 MT) in major sheep producing countries except South Africa. This could mainly be attributed to the high population size rather than productivity per head.


The decrease in sheep population could mainly be due to the shrinking of available grazing land and the expansion of cropping area in intensively cultivated areas as a result of growing human population pressure. It could also be due to the effect of recurrent droughts in drier parts of the country; or simply due to unreliable estimates as there has not been any proper livestock population census conducted in the country.

In the highlands, sheep are kept in small flocks of about 5 sheep per household by nearly 40 % of all smallholders. However, at higher altitudes (2800-3000 m) one can find flocks with 30 to more than 100 sheep.

Sheep production in the crop/livestock production systems of the highland areas has a very important role in contributing to the food security as well as in generating direct cash income.

Although Ethiopia is endowed with the largest livestock genetic resource in Africa, so far very little has been done to identify and characterise the genotypes existing in the country (Setshwaelo, 1990).

This study was undertaken to make a comparative evaluation of two indigenous highland sheep breeds. Such an evaluation is particularly useful in generating information which could be used in characterising locally available breeds and to develop breed improvement strategies.

Among the local highland sheep population , Horro and Menz are the most important breeds. Therefore, it is assumed that the information generated through this study will contribute to the proper characterisation and evaluation of these two important highland sheep breeds of Ethiopia under two different management systems to estimate performance abilities and improvement potentials.

It is estimated (I. A. R., 1991) that most of the local sheep breeds have a very low post-weaning average daily gain of about 50 g. In Ethiopia, most sheep are slaughtered at about 12 months of age with live weights of 18-20 kg. This shows that there is scope for improvement through improved management practices such as improved feeding and health care practices.

The objectives for performance evaluation of tropical goat breeds stated by Peters (1988) could also be applied for other tropical breeds of livestock. It is assumed that the low productivity of livestock is a combined effect of poor management, limited feed resources and high disease pressure. In such circumstances, it may not even be possible to exploit the existing genetic potential.

As reported by Wilson (1988), the awareness in recognising the value and the contribution of small ruminant production to a stable and sustainable food production in Tropical Africa has grown quite substantially in the last decade. Such positive development efforts need to be supported through appropriate research and development activities to enhance productivity of locally available breeds by minimising the prevailing production constraints.


It is necessary to have an understanding of pertinent performance abilities of breeds through a comprehensive collection of information on the breeds or types of small ruminants to be improved in terms of the identified production parameters. Therefore this research has been carried out as part of an ILCA (now ILRI) Pan-African research programme designed to investigate and characterise genetic resistance to endoparasites in some indigenous small ruminants in sub-Saharan Africa.


The overall objective of this study is to generate information on the relative performance of Horro and Menz sheep under station managed conditions.

The following specific objectives are considered.

  1. To estimate and compare between breed differences in:
    Growth rate
    Linear body measurements
    Fattening performance of male Menz and Horro lambs
    Carcass and non-carcass parameters
    Fat deposition characteristics
  2. To relate linear body measurements to growth traits and carcass performances

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