Ethiopia Highland Shepherds

Sheep, goats, and their shepherds in the Highlands of Ethiopia. During the wet season, children from the age of 4 are often responsible for moving the livestock to pasture in the morning, staying with them during the day, and returning in late afternoon. These children take on their responsibility seriously. When they return to school at the end of the growing (wet) season the crops have been harvested and the animals can freely graze residue. The children still collect them in the evening for return to their safe haven.

Young child herding flock down cliff
Young child herding flock down cliff seeking feed

In many parts of the world sheep and goats are brought into a shelter for night protection and containment. These shelters are most often built with locally found materials similar to the homes of their human companions. As you can see from this photograph the structure is elegantly simple. In this case, it is built into the hillside and although some distance from the houses the animals can be heard during the night if they become startled or upset. In other regions, the animals may be housed below the main sitting room or next to the house. In all cases, the sheep and goats are highly valued and their close presence is as important to the people as it is to the sheep and goats. Being within sight and hearing of each other is important for both the humans and small ruminants.

Night shelter for goats
Night shelter for goats built into hillside from local materials. Abergele Woreda, Ethiopia

In parts of the Amhara region, such as in the Sekota woreda, browsing options have become more and more limited and livestock need to be trekked longer and longer distances to find feed. This contributes to stress and livestock loss along with opportunities for contagious diseases to be spread as new areas are entered and animals mixed. The exotic Australian Eucalyptus tree has taken hold as a fast growing source for needed timber. It is planted in groves, around houses and as hedges. When harvested new sprouts emerge from the stumps. It thrives in part, because of its aromatic vapors. Goats and sheep do not harvest its leaves or sprouts. In one sense this is a much valued and needed timber resource that brings in additional cash flow for households, but it is useless for goats and sheep.

The Daily Road Trip—to market or to find grazing
The Daily Road Trip—to market or to find grazing

Farmers may currently lack effective animal husbandry methods, tools, information and support that could help them adapt new methods to their culture and environment. But even with these challenges, the farmers stated their hope for a better future. They reflected upon their current problems, and were open and receptive to learning new methods. Reoccurring droughts and lack of feed is a continual challenge and difficult to overcome.

Young shepherd wearing hand crafted leather
Young shepherd wearing hand crafted leather on the way to the live animal market.

Sheep, goats, their shepherds in the Highlands of Ethiopia (Farmer-to-Farmer Sheep Assessment Assignment, July 2006).