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Production and use of an illustrated handbook for sheep and yak herders in Qinghai

N.M. van Wageningen1 and S. Wenjun2

Qinghai Livestock Development Project, P.R. China

1. RDP Livestock Services BV, POB 523, 3700 AM Zeist, NL.
2. Bureau of Animal Husbandry of Qinghai Province, 4 Jiaotong Road, Xining 810008, Qinghai, P.R. China


Sheep and yak herders in pilot areas of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau are targeted by extension activities of the Bureau of Animal Husbandry. The abundance of detailed technical information discussed on field-days requires a reminder. For this purpose a handout was made in the form of a booklet of 190 pages. The booklet has an illustration on each page, and a minimum of explaining text in Tibetan and Chinese languages. This paper discusses features of the booklet and experiences with its testing. The most important feature of the booklet is in its illustrations. Without these, the booklet would be less attractive and less understandable to many herders.

Keywords: Handbook, parasite, sheep, yak


Sheep and yak herders on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau are targeted by extension activities of the Bureau of Animal Husbandry (BAH) with the main aim being to increase the productivity of their animals. Most of the extension activities comprise the development and dissemination of practical and technical advices. Common messages to herders are: the cultivation of fodder oats in sheep pens (to improve the stock of winter feed); the control of internal and external parasites; and the prevention and control of diseases of young stock (to reduce mortality of lambs and calves).

Herders on the Plateau live far apart, especially in summer when they move their herds and flocks to the upper pastures. Reaching herders for extension activities is costly and time consuming. Contacts of BAH field staffs with herders therefore often concentrate on those who live relatively near to the townships.

To achieve wider coverage for disseminating technical messages, the BAH organises field demonstration days during the winter season, inviting groups of herders to a camp of a nearby herder. An appointed 'herder technician', initially assisted by a staff member of the county's or township's government office, demonstrates the practice or treatment advocated whereby the host's animals or land is used. On such meetings the merits of a treatment are discussed, and, in case the meeting is a repetition, the effect of an earlier demonstration is reviewed with participants. The same herder technician plays a role in the supply of drugs and seed, which are advocated during the field-days.

To support the abundance of information that is discussed during field-days, an illustrated booklet has been prepared. This paper discusses features of the preparation and use of this booklet. It does not elaborate on the contents of messages and on how these messages were developed.

The paper reviews the use, the strengths and limitations of the pictures in support of written text as a means of communication. They argue that despite the differences in which herders interpret many of the drawings, the booklet in the context of its use, would not be effective without those pictures (Figures 1 and 2). They also describe practical issues of layout and report on the cost for printing 6000 copies.

Figure 1. Picture used with 'parasites' topic. (It should relate to the parasites that can be treated using the drug shown, the dosages and the time of treatment.)


Figure 2. Symbol used to indicate seasons. (It is repeated wherever an activity is time-bound.)


Definition of the user

A clear picture of the user of the booklet, Tibetan herders (Figure 3), had to be defined first. It is this picture that would influence the form of the booklet. There is a vast and colourful diversity in the background of herders and their ways of communication. We simplified this picture into the following generalisations:

Figure 3. A herder with a handbook.

Definition of the content

The initial themes for the handbook had already been decided on: information about those practices that had been tried out and developed (mostly with selected herder families) by the project in the past three years. These included the cultivation of oats in sheep pens (Figure 4), control of internal and external parasites, and prevention and control of the main diseases in lambs and yak calves.

Figure 4. Table of contents for the chapter on cultivating oats.

Only after testing the first draft, which comprised both herders and project staff, were two additional themes added: re-sowing of degraded rangeland and the control of pika (Ochotona curizoniae).

Definition of the form

To encourage users to read or have the text read to them, a picture would need to be added to each page of text. The text was to be limited to two or three essential sentences per page in colloquial Tibetan, and its translation in Chinese. Line drawings were chosen for illustrations, as these reproduce better. Instead of a written table of contents, a 'tree of icons' was made, of which parts were repeated on each page.

Process and cost of production

Technical specialists formulated the content of each chapter. Each message was formulated in two or three essential sentences per page and each page was illustrated with a sketch or contained an idea for a sketch. Two editors ensured cohesion between topics and interfaced with artists who prepared illustrations. On average each drawing was made 1.6 times, before it was finally accepted.

The working language was Chinese. Translation into Tibetan was the last step. The booklet was laid out on a desktop PC using Nitartha-Sambhota software to produce Tibetan fonts.

The page size of 98 135 mm (landscape) allowed the use of standard 16 K paper (folded in four) of 60 g. Only the cover page used 120 g paper and was colour-printed. The number of pages was 190 and the cost of printing (including material) approximated 4.20 RMB Yuan (US$ 0.55) per copy, for a series of 6000 copies.

Results of testing

A first draft was made in 40 copies and tested with small groups of herders and field staff, in five townships, and reactions were sought through semi-structured interviews.

Interpretations of drawings

When herders and staff were shown illustrations only and were asked to describe the illustrations, most difficulties were encountered with abstracted ideas. These included: the balancing of livestock numbers against feed resources (Figure 5), deficiencies of micro-elements in feed, and timing of activities (Figure 2). Herders looked critically at drawings showing signs of sickness in lambs (Figure 6).

Figure 5. Illustrations conveying abstract ideas such as feed balancing and deficiencies of micro-elements were difficult to conceive and understand.

Figure 6. Supposedly sick lambs. Sicknesses shown here include the common cold, deficiencies, diarrhoea and general weakness.

Understanding of the Tibetan text

Many of the herders who could read had difficulties with some parts of the initial text. The most important reactions concerned the use of non-local terms (for instance external parasites) and the use of difficult language, which was sometimes recognised as having been translated from Chinese.

Use of the booklet

After this testing phase, changes were made resulting in the final booklet. Of these, 6000 copies were printed and distributed to county field staff.

Distribution to participants of field-days

The booklet had been intended as a reminder of information discussed during field-days. During campaigns for promoting the cultivation of oats, it was distributed to nearly 1200 herders in 20 townships during the spring of 2000. During these demonstrations, the staff generally referred to the relevant chapters in the booklet. Some staff had prepared additional handouts to supplement the information from the booklet. In general, participants of field-days were very positive of the information supplied in the booklet.

Offer for sale

The booklet has been offered for sale as well, at a subsidised price of 2 RMB Yuan (approximately US$ 0.25, or 45% of the production cost). Only a few books were sold (less than 5% during the first 6 months). The main reason given for the lack of interest on the part of herders is that in the project area (comprising the poorest townships of Qinghai) herders are not used to paying for information that originates from the government.

Included in a package of sold inputs

A third option for distribution of the booklet has been the optional sale of it to herders when they buy drugs for control of stock diseases and parasites, as well as oats seed. None of the field staff have reported to distribute the booklet.


This booklet is a prime example of a mass medium. It contains an abundance of information, gathered and developed by specialists and compressed into a small form. Its strength is that many herder families can have a copy and thus access to information, it's weakness is that the information is one-way, generalised, and on its own probably not effective or convincing. The booklet is therefore targeted for use in connection with field demonstration days, as a reminder after discussions and hands-on experimentation.

The booklet covers a wider scope of topics (oats, parasites, pika control, young stock diseases) than is normally covered in one field-day. Thus, when it is used in conjunction with a field-day, some of the topics will not be discussed and the booklet may be the only source of information the herder has on such topics. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that the herder is made aware of additional messages than those covered during a field-day. The disadvantage is that these messages are on themselves hardly enough to convince. The booklet is very valuable as a reminder of dosages for the various drugs that are advocated.

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