Livestock Research for Rural Development 21 (4) 2009 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD News

Citation of this paper

Productive and reproductive characteristics of goats sold at markets in Lilongwe District of Malawi

B J C Malata and L J Banda

University of Malawi, Bunda College of Agriculture, PO Box 219 Lilongwe, Malawi   /


Goats play an important role in livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Malawi as they serve as assets that can be easily liquidated to provide cash in times of need. A study was carried out between January and August 2004 to determine the characteristics of goats disposed at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets in Lilongwe District. Sex, age, body condition score, and reproductive status were recorded in 723 goats. Structured questionnaire were also administered to goat sellers at the two markets.


Results showed that middlemen were the main suppliers of goats (70.4%) at both markets. More female goats (75%) than males are sold. These goats are within the productive age of 2-5 years. This age group mostly comprised of rearing (28%) and breeding (49%) goats. The goats were generally of high body condition score with a mean of 4.090.76. Season had no significant effect on body condition score (p>0.05). Most of the does that were slaughtered (53.8%) were pregnant. A total of 236 fetuses were recorded to have been destroyed through slaughter of pregnant does. Pregnant, young and breedable goats are sold at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets. This implies that farmers make indirect losses from such sales.

Keywords: goats, Malawi, market, productive status, reproductive status


Livestock production is an instrument to socio-economic change, improved income and quality of life (Adesehinwa et al 2004). Among the livestock herds, the goat has proved to be of utmost importance in many developing countries because they are widely kept by the rural farmers. Other people have called the goat ‘the poor person’s bank or the poor family’s insurance policy’ (Peacock 1996). According to (GOM 2004), the population of goats in Malawi constitutes about 65.9% of the ruminant population. About 311,800 households keep goats and this is about 90% of the rural population. Although goats play an important role in smallholder household economy and food security, their productivity has remained low. Various technologies and interventions previously employed have apparently portrayed no impact on goat productivity. It is possible that other factors with indirect effects on goat production such as marketing and disposal of the goats are not taken into consideration. Therefore this study was carried out to determine the contribution of such factors to goat productivity.


The objectives of the study were to determine:

-                     The predominant age and sex of goats sold at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets during the wet and dry seasons.

-                     Body condition scores of goats sold during the wet and dry seasons.

-                     The reproductive status of goats sold at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets.


Materials and methods 

The study was carried out at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets. Nanjiri market is located along the Lilongwe-Blantyre road about 20 kilometres south of Lilongwe and Chigwirizano market is in Likuni about 10 kilometers west of Lilongwe. Both markets are in Lilongwe West Rural Development Project (RDP). Nanjiri market carries out goat marketing and slaughters on Wednesdays and Saturdays while Chigwirizano market conducts marketing everyday. Data collection was done fortnightly in two phases according to seasons, wet and dry seasons. The wet season ran from January to March 2004 while the dry season was from April to August 2004.


A total of sixty-structured questionnaire were administered to goat sellers. Nanjiri market had forty-six respondents and Chigwirizano had fourteen respondents. Data collected included source of goats, type of seller and period of the year goats are often sold. Data was also collected from butchers, sellers and meat inspectors where body condition scores of goats sold were recorded. Six body condition scores were used where 0 = extremely thin; 1= shallow loin muscle; 2 = loin muscle of moderate depth; 3 = loin muscles are full; 4 = spinous processes can just be felt; and 5 = loin muscles are very full (Steele 1996). Number of pregnant does slaughtered and fetuses disposed were also recorded. Age was estimated by dentition. A maximum of forty samples were collected per day and where the samples were less than forty, all the goats were sampled. Data on reproductive status was also collected as follows: suckling females (0 – 6 months old); rearing females (No birth yet); breeding females (after first birth); suckling males (0 – 6 months); rearing males (up to 18 months old); castrates (castrated males); bucks (breeding males); and culls (with missing or worn teeth).


Qualitative data was analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Scientists (SPSS) statistical software where frequencies and cross tabulations were generated. The general linear model (GLM) procedure of statistical analysis system (SAS) was used to analyze quantitative data. Means were separated using Duncan’s multiple range test.


Results and discussion 

A total of 723 goats were sampled. Higher numbers of goats were sold at Nanjiri (79.8%) than Chigwizano market. More female goats (75%) than males were sold at both markets (Table 1). The goats were within the productive ages of twenty-four to sixty months.

Table 1.  Sex of goats sold at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets between January and August 2004


Number of goats

Percentage, %










There were no significant differences in mean ages (p<0.05) between the dry and the wet seasons (52.1 0.6 and 50.2 0.7months, respectively). The overall mean age observed was 51.2 months. The findings at the markets contradict what the farmers indicated in individual interviews where they indicated that they usually dispose male goats. However, this response of farmers agrees with Kamwanja et al (1985) who reported that goats slaughtered in Malawian markets are mostly males under 24 months old. The farmers indicated that disposal is done when they are in problems requiring cash. Therefore the current market situation may be depicting that the farmers’ need for cash is so overwhelming that they end up selling animals that they would not normally sell given a choice. This can further be confirmed by sales that included suckling animals (Table 2) that are rarely sold under ‘normal’ circumstances. It is also possible that male goats are sold elsewhere instead of taking them to the market. There is a high demand for male goats by Asians and therefore it is possible that most of the male goats go to the Asian market thereby leaving females for the local markets. Observations in villages also show that farmers tend to keep more females than males therefore when hard pressed for cash it would be the females that would be available for disposal. The current market situation could also be aggravated by the current food shortages due to low rainfall. Disposing goats when in problems indicates that farmers sell goats without proper planning and hence they are likely not to benefit much from such sales.


Most of the goats were within the rearing (28.4%) and breeding (48.9%) ages (Table 2). This shows that farmers dispose breedable stocks.

Table 2.  Reproductive status of goats sold at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets

Reproductive Status

Wet season

Dry season








Suckling females







Rearing females







Breeding females







Suckling males







Rearing males





















Spent goats














The implication is that farmers incur both productive as well as economic losses. They lose out on the numbers of kids born per lifespan of the doe (Kanyerere and Kamwanja 1991) and dress out percentage (McGregor 1984). The high number of does slaughtered could be due to drought problem that increased demand for money to acquire food and other domestic requirements. Such sales further confirm the suggestion that farmers dispose goats out of desperation for money and hence do not consider the losses attached to such sales.


Both farmers and middlemen supplied goats at the markets. However, middlemen were the main suppliers (70.4%). More goats were supplied in the dry season (52.0%) than in the wet season (48.0%). The difference in goat supply between the dry and wet seasons was found to be in response to price differences. The average selling prices were relatively higher during the dry season (MK 2500 to > MK 3000) than the wet season (MK1500 to MK 2000). However, farmers supplied relatively more goats in the wet season (17.4 %) than the dry season (12.2%). Middlemen sold more goats in the dry season in order to make more profit since prices are higher during this time while farmers seemed not to necessarily sell goats for profits but in desperation for food and farm inputs. This was confirmed in individual interviews where 92.3% of the respondents indicated that farmers sell more goats in the wet season. The reason given was that the wet season is the period of food shortages. Therefore goats are sold to generate income for purchasing food.


Goats sold in the wet season were significantly of lower age (p<0.05) than in the dry season (Table 3). This shows that younger goats were brought to the market during this time probably in desperation for cash. However the goats were generally of good body condition with the body condition score of 4 being the most predominant (43%) seconded by the body condition score of 5 (30.2%). There were no significant differences in the mean scores between the wet (3.98 0.04) and dry (4.09 0.04) seasons (p>0.05) respectively (Table 3). The overall mean score was 4.09 0.76 (mean SE) indicating that goats supplied to Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets were generally of good body condition throughout the study period.

Table 3.  Mean age and body condition score of goats sold at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets



Age, months (Mean SE*)

Body condition score (Mean SE*)



50.2a 0.68

3.98a 0.04



52.1b 0.60

4.09a 0.04

aMeans with different superscript within the same column are significantly different (p<0.05)

*SE= standard error

The generally high body conditions scores observed could be explained by the fact that the study was carried out in the period of the year where pastures are relatively in good condition.  Apart from that, between April and August goats have access to crop residues such as groundnut haulms and other grains that supplement the pastures and hence their nutrition is improved thereby improving their nutritional status. The results are similar to those of Karua (1989) that had scores ranging from 2 to 5 with high scores of 4 and 5 (94 %) also being observed in the dry season (June and September). However, the results differ from the findings of Nsoso et al (2003) who found that indigenous Tswana goats had highest body condition scores (3.78 0.11) in the wet season. The difference could be due to differences in climate as well as management practices in Malawi and Botswana. In Malawi goats are tethered during the wet season and have limited access to pastures and therefore this affects their nutritional status. The goats are on free range in the dry season and are able to benefit from crop residues.


A total of 299 does were slaughtered out of which 53.8% were pregnant (Table 4). From individual interviews farmers indicated that they do not sell pregnant animals and 81.7% of the respondents indicated that they are able to distinguish pregnant does. The results imply that either the respondents are not accurate with their methods of determining pregnancy or even with knowledge; they sell the goats out of desperation for cash.  Middlemen indicated that they sell all types of goats regardless of age, sex, condition or breed depending on what the farmers have offered to sell them.

Table 4.  Frequency of pregnant does among does slaughtered at Nanjiri and Chigwirizano markets

Condition of the doe

Wet season

Dry season





























The high numbers of pregnant does slaughtered in these markets indicates a high rate of reproductive waste. The high numbers of fetuses that are destroyed evidences this. Out of the 161 pregnant does slaughtered, 53.4% had singletons and 46.6% had twins. A total of 236 foetuses were destroyed through slaughter of pregnant does.


None of the farmers interviewed went for training in goat keeping nor do they get extension services in goat production. This agrees with Conroy et al (2002) who reported that, government veterinary services in developing countries, although they may be free of cost, tend not to reach resource poor farmers. Lack of training and extension services in goat production may contribute to reasons for disposal of pregnant, young and breedable goats. If goat husbandry extension services were available they would provide to farmers more information on issues such as pregnancy diagnosis and disposal of animals. The availability of the information would give the farmers a wider choice for decision making in terms of goat disposal. For instance, if deciding to sell a pregnant animal knowing that the animal is pregnant, they would charge the price accordingly.

Although the enterprise is neglected in terms of extension services, results show that it significantly contributes to the livelihoods of people. 70.4% of the people interviewed were middlemen that depend on goat sales as their major strategy of sustaining their livelihoods. 63.3% indicated that they sell over ten goats and earn over K20, 000.00 in a year. This shows that goat production is a viable business and supports many including those who lack employment (26.9%). It may therefore be possible that given more support in terms of extension and other support services, goat production can contribute more to the livelihoods of some poor individuals.





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Received 28 March 2006; Accepted 22 December 2008; Published 18 April 2009

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