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Villagers breed profits with sheep

By SUN RUISHENG in Taiyuan and LI HONGYANG in Beijing | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-12-30 09:30
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For more than four decades, villagers in Nanxiaozhai in Huairen, Shanxi province, have stuck to a path to fortune by sheep breeding.

"There are no idlers in the village. Men do sheep farming and women do sheep shearing. Each of them makes about 300 yuan ($47) a day by just working odd jobs. Even the elderly could earn incomes by washing sheep intestines and tripe. Nearly every household has a car, and most people have bought a house in the cities," said Zhao Xiulian, a sheep farm owner.

The 57-year-old said that in the late 1970s, villagers in Nanxiaozhai had to sell sheep for a living due to crop failures on the saline and alkaline farmland. They bought sheep from a nearby village and carried them home by bike for butchering. The next day, they transported the meat by bike for sale to Datong, a city 30 kilometers away where most people lived by coal mining. A sheep could earn them 10 yuan.

"My husband used to travel for about half a month to fetch a sheep from another county. He slept in desolated houses in mountains during the trip and sometimes even on grassland. He got fleas on his body and wore out his shoes every time he came back," Zhao said.

Without a fridge, they stored the sheep in a cellar and sprayed water on it that froze into ice to keep the meat fresh.

Guo Zhidong, Party chief of the village, said that about 80 percent of the young people in the village were engaged in the sheep-trading business 40 years ago.

They had to do so because back then the per capita income was just 80 yuan a year. Each of them had only 0.2 hectare of farmland with not enough rain or other water resources for irrigation.

"Sheep dealers from our village traveled as far as the middle and western parts of Inner Mongolia, Hebei province, and the eastern bank of the Yellow River. Making a fortune with sheep became the consensus of the villagers," Guo said.

In 2000, as the mutton consumption market expanded and competition was fierce, villagers couldn't buy a sheep at a proper price and they sometimes were forced to buy a lamb together. But they later found they could raise lambs themselves and developed sheep-raising as a new industry, Guo said.

Villagers began to build centralized sheep farms in 2010. For example, a local villager started breeding 300 sheep in 2013 and now has more than 1,000. Last year he earned 2 million yuan in profit. At the same time, scientific and technical personnel from the grass and animal husbandry development center gave lessons.

Villagers have now formed a complete sheep trade chain with teams for slaughtering, shearing and transportation. Guo said sales teams and customers complete the transaction through the "Taobao mode"-picking sheep online and placing orders on mobile phones.

So far, the village's breeding park covers more than 100 hectares with an annual production of more than 700,000 sheep. A total of about 2,500 villagers have 80,000 yuan per capita income, he said.

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