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Impact of goat feeding and animal healthcare on child milk access in Ethiopia

By Gezu Bekele, Esmael Tessema Ali, Genene Regassa and Nicoletta Buono

Gezu Bekele is an experienced veterinary doctor and senior participatory research specialist with in-depth knowledge of pastoral livelihood systems in the Eastern African Countries. He currently works with the Participatory Research and Evaluation (PRE) Consultancy established in Ethiopia in 2009. Previously he worked with FIC/Tufts University and FAO in Ethiopia, the AU IBAR/CAPE unit in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, and FARM Africa.

Esmael Tessema Ali is a Project Manager with VSF Germany in Afar since March 2012. He holds a veterinary medicine degree from Hawassa University, Ethiopia. Esmael has more than six years of experience with marginalized pastoralist communities focusing on emergency response in drought prone areas of Ethiopia,

Genene Regassa is country programme manager and focal person for Veterinaires Sans Frontieres Germany in Ethiopia. He holds a veterinary medicine degree from Addis Ababa University and an MA in participation, Development and Social Change (Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK) with more than 18 years of professional experience, mostly working in pastoral areas of Ethiopia.

Nicoletta Buono is Regional Programmes Coordinator for VSF Germany based in Nairobi. She holds a veterinary medicine degree from Milan University and MA from IUSS School in International Cooperation. She has been working in the Humanitarian and Development sector since 2001.

This article is the result of the VSF Germany project in Afar regional state funded by Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs through its Humanitarian response fund (UNOCHA-HRF). The authors acknowledge UNOCHA-HRF for continued support of humanitarian response projects in the most vulnerable pastoral areas of Afar region. Our immense gratitude goes to Afar Region Pastoral Agriculture Development Bureau, district line offices and pastoral communities from Afdera and Berehale who invested their time in sharing their views, thoughts and benefit of the project during impact assessment. We also thank Mr. Adrian Cullis, from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO), who offered technical support during the design of impact assessment and also facilitated a discussion forum to share the findings of the assessment to wider audience through Disaster Risk Management Agricultural Task Force meeting (DRM_ATF).

Milk yield data collectionLocation: Ethiopia

What we know: Drought negatively impacts on animal health and survival. This is especially critical in pastoral communities whose livelihoods depend on livestock. Animal milk is an important nutrient source in pastoral children.

What this article adds: Goat supplementary feeding and voucher based community animal healthcare was implemented amongst pastoralists in two drought affected districts of Ethiopia. Impact on goat milk production, milk off-take for household use, animal survival and child access to milk was evaluated using quantitative and qualitative methods. Households reported a fall in flock size and goat birth rate during the drought. Mortality in kids born to goats that received supplementary feeds was significantly lower compared to kids born to goats that were not supported. Milk off-take was significantly higher in supplementary fed goats. A significant difference in mean milk off-take between the two districts may partly explain district differences in kid survival. Plain animal milk was prioritised to children under 5 years of age in households; focus group discussions reported child nutrition benefits.

Under the Humanitarian Response Fund (HRF) programme, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) provided a grant to Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Germany (VSF Germany) to implement a livelihood based intervention project in Afar region, Ethiopia, with a view to protecting young children against drought-induced malnutrition. The project was designed in response to poor performance of the sugum season rain in the second quarter of 2012, which was characterised by critical water shortage problems for humans and livestock, deterioration of pasture, livestock mortality, abnormal migration, high school dropouts and closure of schools in several woredas.

The project had two main interventions components: animal supplementary feeding and animal health care targeting goats. It was implemented between late September 2012 and end of February 2013 in Afdera and Berehale districts of the Afar region. The rural population are Afar pastoralists whose livelihoods depend on livestock. They keep mixed herds of cattle, small ruminants and camels through seasonal movements between the wet and dry seasons’ grazing areas. These districts are classified as lowlands, with ponds and wells serving as water sources for both people and livestock during the dry months. Recurrent drought affects these areas every year.

Milk consumption by malnorished ChildrenProject aims and objectives

The aim of the project was to improve child nutritional status by increasing their access to goat’s milk. It was expected that a combination of animal supplementary feeding and animal healthcare would sustain and increase daily milk off-take1 and reduce animal mortality. This should improve household and child access to animal milk and so positively impact on child nutrition. In order to test this causal logic, an impact study was conducted in April 2013 by an independent consultant. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to measure the daily average milk off-take and rate of mortality on both fed (goats receiving supplementary feeding) and unfed goats (no supplementary feeding). Particular emphasis was given on the survival of kids (baby goats) born during the drought period.

The specific objectives of the assessment were to:


Animal supplementary feeding

VSF Germany’s supplementary feeding programme in Afdera and Berehale (Afar National Regional State) was implemented between September 2012 and February 2013 The approach used by VSF Germany was to prioritise milking and pregnant goats with concentrate feed distributed to the owners. The daily ration was fixed at 0.3 kg of concentrate feed per adult goat. In Afdera, the concentrate was distributed from eight sites and in Berehale, from four sites. Eight goats were targeted with concentrate feed in each household. Between September 2012 and February 2013, concentrate was distributed six times at 21 days intervals. A home-based feeding approach was used that incurred lower running costs than a central feeding system.

Voucher based animal care

During the supplementary feeding period, VSF Germany implemented a new voucher-based treatment intervention for livestock. This was delivered through Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) and a public veterinary service. Herders were responsible for purchasing drugs administered as prophylactic and curative treatments with Vouchers received from the programme. The vouchers were distributed to individual recipient once at the beginning of the programme. Each recipient secured nine vouchers with a total value of 240 birr.

VSF was responsible for supplying veterinary stock used for the voucher programme to the district veterinary unit. The district veterinary unit supplied CAHWs with initial veterinary drugs and then treatment in exchange for vouchers submitted. CAHWs received 20% of the cost of the submitted voucher in the form of cash from VSF Germany as a mark-up. Both VSF Germany and districts veterinary unit were responsible for monitoring the implementation process.

Impact assessment

Focus group discussions and household interviews

A field assessment was carried out in April 2013 to collect primary data from beneficiary communities and government. Household questionnaires and focus group discussions (FGDs) were used to collect the information. The primary objective was to assess project participants’ perception of the project implementation process and impacts in terms of daily milk off-take and survival of the drought-affected goats.

In Afdera district, focus group discussions and interviews were conducted in five villages: Kulili, Ado’eyo, Dat’abu, Horahur and Sireba. In Berehale district, the assessment was conducted in three villages namely Dawayito, Gahare and Afbure. In total, 29 and 30 households were interviewed in Berehale and Afdera assessment sites respectively.

A checklist was designed for interviews of households who received goat feed from VSF Germany. Questions included the number and body condition of goats at the onset of the supplementary feeding support, amount of feed received, date of kidding, lactation period, whether the milking goats fed with concentrate were pregnant at the time of the assessment in April 2013 and household uses of milk from targeted goats.

Individuals in household interviews provided information on:

FGDs provided information on:

Government staff were also interviewed about the relevance and significance of the supplementary feeding and veterinary voucher interventions to the areas and populations targeted.

Milk off-take measurement

Milk off-take was assessed using two methods:

1) Milk off-take recorded during the supplementary feeding period (recorded milk off-take): VSF Germany recorded morning and afternoon milk off-take collected from a total of 1,134 milking goats in 12 intervention sites. The sample comprised 450 goats in four sites in Afdera and 684 goats in eight sites in Berehale.

2) Milk off-take assessed by owners (demonstrated milk off-take): 29 women were consulted in five villages in Afdera and 30 women consulted in eight villages in Berehale. These informants were asked to fill graduated cylinder with water to reflect an average morning and afternoon milk off-take for each of the milking goats fed with concentrate received from VSF Germany during the supplementary feeding period.

The morning and afternoon milk off-take data for both samples was summarised using Microsoft Office Excel 2007 and analyzed with PASW Statistics version 18. The analysis was repeated for each of the two study districts.

Chi-tests were conducted to compare mortality in the kids borne to goats fed with feed received from VSF Germany and those goats fed normally.


Impact of drought on the goat population 

Based on household data, the drought led to a decrease in the total flock size between April 2012 and April 2013 as follows (see Table 1):

Table 1: Goat flock size change during drought
Variable Location


(n=29 flock)
(n= 30 flock)
Goat population fall for
all reasons*
45.9% (293/638) 36.1% (267/740)
Goat population fall due
to death (all causes)
41.1% (262/638) 30.8% (228/740)

*Including death, forced slaughter and sale, but not due to migration

The drought also led to a reduced birth rate. The 12 FGDs estimated the proportion of survived kids born in 2012 Kerma season to be 12.5% on average. Table 2 illustrates the average proportional piling scores conducted by 12 FGDs for kids born in each rainy season (kerma and sugum) and the proportion of kids surviving in normal and drought years. According to this, both the birth rate and survival rate for kids fell for both Berehale and Afdera during the drought.


Table 2: Comparison of births and births surviving in normal and drought years

Season Variable 

 Normal year

2012 drought 












Births surviving 











Births surviving






Actual number of kids born in Kerma 2012 in study flocks




Impact of VSF supplementary feeding on kid mortality

The results of interviews carried out with 29 and 30 women in Afdera and Berehale areas respectively were as follows:

There was a statistical difference observed in kid mortality between the Berehale and Afdera study flocks for fed goats (significantly higher mortality in the Afdera study flocks, 21.3, p<0.001) (Table 4). This was most likely due to the Berehale study group’s better access to feed or to milk of their mothers fed with supplementary feed compared to Afdera. Note that the amount of milk harvested per goat per day was higher for the Afdera groups, meaning there was less available for kid nutrition. There was no statistical difference between the Berehale and Afdera study flocks in terms of kid mortality amongst non-fed goats.


Table 3: Kid mortality


Afdera (n= 29 flocks)

Berehale (n=30 flocks)


Born to goats fed with VSF feed

Born to non-fed goats

Born to goats fed with VSF feed

Born to non-fed goats

Kids borne  in kerma 2012 (n) 

122 11 169 38

Existed in April 2013 (n)

93 0 157 19
Kids died (n) 29 11 12 19
Percentage of kids died (%) 23.8% 100% 7.1% 50%



Table 4: Statistical analysis of kid mortality





Kids born to goats fed with VSF feed vs. goats not fed

16.2, p<0.001

44.840, p<0.001

Kids born to goats fed with VSF feed in Afdera vs. Berehale

21.3, p<0.001

Kids born to non-fed goats Afdera vs. Berehale

1.87, p<0.2, ns

ns: not significant

The normal practice amongst Afar pastoralists is to slaughter kids born in the middle of drought to save the mother goat. In this study, almost all women interviewed during the study confirmed that the majority of the kids that existed in April 2013 would have been subjected to forced slaughter in the absence of feed received from VSF Germany.

Impact of VSF Germany supplementary feeding on milk off-take

Table 5 presents the average recorded daily milk off-take per goat during the intervention and Table 6 compares this compared to average demonstrated daily milk off-take per goat during the assessment in April 2013 (see earlier for explanation of both sampling methods). The difference in milk off-take between fed and non-fed goats was statistically significant in both study districts. Demonstrated milk-off take tended to be higher than recorded off-take.

Both the recorded and demonstrated daily mean milk off-take was significantly higher for the Afdera flocks compared to that of Berehale. This higher milk off-take may have contributed to the poorer survival of kids in the Afdera flocks, since less milk was available to feed the kids (see earlier). The general consensus among participants was that the milk off-take was attributable to the project in both areas. Another finding from the assessment was that milk off-take declined as lactation advanced in time.


Table 5: Daily milk production

95% confidence interval for mean milk off-take per poat per day (mls)


Daily record

PIA data 



Lower bound

Upper bound


Lower bound

Upper bound


N= 58 goats 869.2 847.2 891.2 1156.6 1119.7 1193.4

Milk recording period, average

80 days

Lactation period

94 days


N = 48 goats 733.7 724.3 743.1 883.3 802.2 964.5

Milk recording period, average 

43 days

Lactation period 

108 days

PIA: Participatory Impact Assessment


Table 6: Daily recorded and demonstrated milk production




Data source

Daily recorded milk off-take

Daily reported milk off-take*

Daily recorded milk off-take

Daily reported milk off-take*

No. of goats





Mean (CI)





Average milk recording period

80 days


43 days


Lactation period


94 days


108 days

*Demonstrated during participatory impact assessment

Utilisation of milk off-take by households

Milk off-take from fed goats was prioritised towards younger children in Afdera and Berehale (100% and 72.4% received plain milk to drink, respectively) (see Table 7). Milk mixed with food or tea significantly featured in the intake of older children and adults in both locations. In general, the results suggest that young children’s access to plain goat’s milk increased with the greater amount of milk produced per household per day. A positive impact on child nutrition was reported in all 12 FGDs.

Table 7: Utilisation of milk off-take    




Number of milking goats fed with VSF feed per household



Average milk production/goat/day (millilitre) 



Total milk production/household/day (millilitre) 



Households fed plain milk to children <5 years old

100% (29/29)

72.4% (21/30)

Households fed milk with food/tea to <5 years old children 

62.1% (18/29)

53.3% (16/30)

Households fed milk with food/tea to ≥5 years old children

93.1% (27/29)

96.7% (29/30)

Households used goat milk with food/tea for adult people

65.5% (19/29)

83.3% (25/30)


Impact of animal health care on daily milk off-take and kid survival

In the 30 sample flocks, around 20% (128/635) of the goats had been provided treatment, which were successful in around 96.9% (124/128) of the cases diagnosed by CAHWs.

Cost-benefit analysis

A cost-benefit analysis was conducted for sample flocks covered by the assessment under each of the two VSF Germany intervention districts, and results are shown in Tables 8 and 9. The cost-benefit analysis was based on reduced kid off-take either due to death or forced slaughter or both reasons and sustained goat milk production, and based on the number of milking goats registered by VSF Germany to be fed. Both calculated a cost: benefit ratio of 1:1.83

Table 8: Cost-benefit analysis of VSF interventions in Berehale


Amount (USD)


Total cost of supplementary feeding and health care programme for 48 milking goats for average milk sampling period (43 days) = {(Total drought emergency response programme cost = 456,110)* ÷ (16,000 goats x 135 days) x 2 milking goats)} x 43 days



Value of daily mean milk off-take recorded for 48 goats for 43 days = {(0.734 litre × 48 goats) × 43 days)} × USD 0.55


Value of kid losses prevented in the feeding and health care project = {(50% mortality in kids born to non-fed goats - 7.1% mortality in kids born to fed goats) ×  169 kids)} × USD 5.5


Total benefits 

Cost-benefit ratio



*This is the sum of all budget lines funded by UNOCHA, including personnel and administration

Table 9: Cost-Benefit analysis of VSF interventions in Afdera


Amount (USD)


Total cost of supplementary feeding and health care programme for 58 milking goats for average milk sampling period (80 days) = {(Total drought emergency response programme cost = 456,110) ÷ (16,000 goats x 135 days) x 58 milking goats)} x 80 days



Value of daily mean milk off-take recorded for 58 goats for 80 days = {(0.869 litre × 58 goats) × 80 days)} × USD 0.55


Value of kid losses prevented in the supplementary feeding and health care programme = {(100% mortality in kids born to non-fed goats - 23.8% mortality in kids borne to fed goats ×  133 kids)} × USD 5.5


Total benefits

Cost-benefit ratio




Stakeholder recommendations for future programmes

Table 10 summarises assessment stakeholders’ perceptions of the supplementary feeding programme and their suggestions for future interventions.

Table 10: Stakeholders review of the VSF Germany interventions

Benefits perceived by informants

Suggestions from informants

Milking goats and kids survived to post-drought rain as we stopped slaughtering them following the arrival of concentrate

Improved goat condition

Prevalence of malnutrition in young children reduced with goats milk

Reduced amount of time and labour required for locating natural feeds said to have increased children’s school attendance 

Now convinced of value of concentrate for milking goats pays (source: FGDs in both Afdera and Berehale areas)

Increase number of milking goats targeted with concentrate per households 

Consider a breeding male for supplementary feeding in each flock 

The treatment voucher was new to us, but  very useful 

Disease related mortality, e.g. due to CCPP, reduced with treatment voucher (source: FGDs in Berehale area)

Promote the voucher-based approach

The timing of the supplementary feeding, i.e. onset and closure, was very appropriate 

The VSF approach of targeting milking and pregnant goats, as well as the amount of ration fixed for adult goat, 0.3 kg per day, and the 21 day’s supply intervals were fair

The condition of goats improved a lot and milk production increased

The project was implemented with due participation of government staff and the reporting system was very good and we found VSF to be transparent

Generally, the project protected household assets

Need to take account of critical water shortage problems in some Kabeles

We believe that transporting concentrate from outside areas will increase the intervention cost 


The provision of awards to model CAHWs was an innovative idea 

We are glad that the woreda veterinary units managed voucher implementation (source: region and woreda government experts and officials) 

Drugs left behind after the project were distributed to 55 CAHWs operating in Erebti, Kuneba and Megale woredas as a revolving stock. This is a good idea. 

 Need to find other ways of providing beneficiaries with additional vouchers to be used over a longer period.   


Conclusions and recommendations

The overall finding of the assessment was that the animal supplementary feeding programme implemented in Afdera and Berehale districts was justified in terms of cost-benefit ratio. In both areas, mortality in kids born to goats that received supplementary feeds was significantly lower compared to the kids born to goats that did not. This contributed not only to protecting replacement stock and associated post-recovery, but also continuity of milk production in the post drought period.

In targeting milking goats with supplementary feeding assistance provided to drought-affected pastoralists, the project is likely to have an impact on reducing the problem of child malnutrition. However an important limitation is that ‘evidence’ of child nutrition impact was only anecdotal from focus group discussions. In the future, similar ‘nutrition-sensitive’ projects would benefit from collaborating with a nutrition agency/Ministry of Health to strengthen the nutrition impact assessment of the programme.

Although provision of feed aid can help poor households building flocks, ensuring adequate supply of cost recovery feeds at a reasonable price is essential in the long term since the area is characterised by recurrent drought.

Implementation of the voucher system required CAHWs to provide services first using their own kits and then replenishing these from private source with the vouchers. However, in this programme, private sources were missing so that the district veterinary unit had to bridge the gap. Sustainability of the voucher scheme and establishment of private sector inputs is needed to support supplies.

For more information, contact: Gezu Bekele:; Genene Regassa:

Show footnotes

1The milk used for human consumption, excluding the milk consumed by the young goats (kids)

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Reference this page

Gezu Bekele, Esmael Tessema Ali, Genene Regassa and Nicoletta Buono (). Impact of goat feeding and animal healthcare on child milk access in Ethiopia. Field Exchange 47, April 2014. p72.



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