MEDIC PASTURE


Profit from livestock

HomeFARMING ZONES IN WANAFarmers'Guide to cereals and pasture >   You Are Here  

CHAPTER HEADING

SUMMARY OF CONTENTS

The first stage in convincing farmers to adopted medic pasture is to produce a simple budget. This shows the changes in costs and returns when medic is grown and the increase in profit. Some sample budget forms are provided.
If the extremes of over-grazing and under-grazing can be avoided the medic pasture has a much greater chance of success. Some simple planning to provide a rough balance between the area of proposed medic pasture and the number of sheep will make grazing management much more straightforward.
The traditional method of medic pasture establishment in the WANA region over the last 25 years and in Australia for 80 years has been to sow medic seed into a well prepared seedbed. Medic seed can be costly and seedbed preparation and sowing is difficult for small farmers who lack the proper equipment.
Establishing medic pasture using pods is an innovation that offers many potential benefits particularly for small farmers. The method was first developed by ICARDA in Syria in the 1990's and now forms the basis of the Zaghouan rotation in Tunisia. It potential in the WANA region is considerable.
The parcour or rough grazing land occupies more than half of the cereal zone in the WANA region. Pasture establishment using seed has been difficult but pods may be a better option.
Grazing the green medic pasture is vital in make a profit, to control weeds and produce ample supplies of pods for future years. Farmers in the WANA region have developed innovations that take their grazing management to higher levels of efficiency than those achieved in Australia.
Pods provide a valuable feed supply in summer for sheep and are needed for the regeneration of the pasture in future years. Farmers must find a balance.
Measuring the pods is an important part of grazing management. We have made a separate topic so it can be printed and used as an extension guide for farmers.
The medic pasture has completed its first year. The pasture regenerates with the autumn rains. Farmers must decide whether to cultivate the land for cereals (the classic medic - cereal rotation) or leave it for another year or more. The options are discussed.
Making hay from medic is not as simple as it may seem. This chapter discusses the options and innovative rotations for medic hay production.

YOU ARE HERE

Turning the medic pasture into profits is the objective. This chapter shows how live- weights are increased, death rates reduced and lambing percentages increased. The new flock structure is more efficient and produces greater returns.
A check list of possible failures and what to do about them.

FOUR COMMON ROTATION ON THE GROUND IN THE WANA REGION

SEASON

ROTATIONS

CEREAL - FALLOW

CEREAL - MEDIC
( Traditional rotation)

CEREAL - VETCH

CEREAL - GRAIN
LEGUME.

AUTUMN

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

WINTER

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

SPRING

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

SUMMER

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

AUTUMN

Weeds germinate naturally

Medic regenerates from seed
produced 18 months earlier.
No cultivation of the land required.

Land cultivated and sown to vetch or similar forage legumes.

Land cultivated and sown to grain legume such as lentils or
chick peas.

WINTER

Weeds grazed. Low stocking rate.

Medic pasture grazed. High stocking rate.

Grazed or more often left for hay.

Grain legumes grow.

SPRING

Land cultivated for fallow

Medic grazed. Pods produced for future regeneration.

Cut for hay.

Grain legumes mature.

SUMMER

Bare soil vulnerable to erosion.

Pods and stubble grazed.

Stubble grazed.

Grain legumes harvested.

Stubble grazed.

AUTUMN

Cereal cycle begins again.

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Livestock management.
 

Most medic pasture has been introduced into the WANA region by agronomists, not livestock people. The agronomists have seen the livestock as convenient mowers which can be brought onto the pasture at suitable times to utilise excess growth and keep the pastures tidy by controlling weeds.

The early FAO projects in Algeria and Syria in the 1970s disregarded livestock completely and mistakenly believed that medic could be used as a green manure providing nitrogen for cereal crops. The medic was often not grazed and simply plough into the soil. This proved a disaster as the ungrazed medic pasture also provided an abundant supply of weed seeds. The weeds flourished, the medic was shaded out and nitrogen production was low.

In Iraq, Libya and Jordan the complete medic package was introduced, including Australian farmers to train local farmers in practical skills. (see: Overview of medic system ) This was a great success with the seeding of medic pasture and cereal production using shallow cultivation. It did not have as great an impact on livestock production as the Australian farmers had no experience of livestock systems in the WANA region.

In western Libya there were large farms and fenced fields, as in Australia, with flocks grazing in the Australian manner. This system has little future in the region where most flocks are under the control of a shepherd and taken out to pasture each day. It did demonstrate the high growth rates and greatly improved lambing percentages possible with Libyan breeds of sheep once they are provided with adequate feed.

Elsewhere in the WANA region the exploitation of medic pasture has been a hit and miss affair. Generally there has been a considerable saving in winter feed and a great increase in lamb growth rates but the longer term benefits have not been fully developed.

Throughout the WANA region (both the complete medic package countries and the fragmented medic package countries) there has been an emphasis on cereals. This priority for cereals is understandable. It suited the perceptions of both the Australians and the national policy makers in the WANA region. The Australians emphasised cereals because returns from sheep in Australia are low. Most sheep are kept for wool and wool prices have been poor for many decades.

The WANA policy makers emphasised cereals because of national policies for self sufficiency in cereals.

Local farmers' needs were not given a high priority. The high profitability of sheep was rarely considered. The economic environment is now changing with less emphasis on national priorities and more on commercial profit for farmers. In that context the returns from sheep kept for meat in the WANA region are many times higher than returns from sheep kept for wool in Australia.

Algeria is the most extreme example. Consumer prices for local fresh meat are about three times higher than in Australia. If the consumer price for meat is converted into returns to farmers and these returns are compared to the average weekly wage the contrast between Algeria and Australia is even greater.

In Australia a farmer would need to sell two or three thousand lambs each year to earn an amount equivalent to the average weekly wage for a worker.

In Algeria a farmer with 80 to 100 sheep could expect an income equivalent to the average weekly wage for a worker.

    It is now time to reconsider the medic farming system.  

    The basic question is not the role of medic in the cereal zone but the role of the cereals in the medic zone.  

    For the farmer profit from livestock is the objective not the growing of the pasture. In this section we tackle the livestock management from the farmers' point of view of increasing profits.


Livestock production under the cereal-fallow rotation

      * Autumn and winter.

    The season begins with the first rains in autumn. A few weeds germinate in the cereal stubble and on the fallow.

The weeds on the fallow are killed by cultivation during the preparation of the land for the cereals. The cereal crop is then sown into the cultivated fallow from last year and this area of land is unavailable for grazing livestock. 

The weeds and self-sown cereal in the stubble are grazed in autumn and winter. They provide little feed which is poor quality.

Farmers are dependent on hay, straw and grain to supplement the diet of the livestock. These are all additional costs. Even if they are produced on the farm they can be sold so they represent potential income.

    Usually the sheep have their lambs during this period. The poor feed means lambs are born with low body weights and the ewes have low milk production.

     *   Spring.

    In spring the weedy pasture is cultivated for the fallow.

Farmers are faced with a conflict.

Early fallowing is better for weed control in the next cereal crop.

Early fallowing is better for moisture storage if conditions are suitable. (See  Moisture storage under cultivated fallow )

Early fallowing is bad for livestock. The sparse weedy pasture is killed. Livestock are dependent on parcour and roadsides until the cereal stubble is available in early summer. The spring period is not a season of abundant pasture growth but shortage.

    The lambs are now growing and require pasture or other feed to supplement their mothers' milk.

The feed from the parcour and roadsides is inadequate and the lambs grow at a rate well below their potential.

Some lambs will not recover from this period of stunted growth. All lambs would benefits from additional feed during the period when they can utilise it best.

        * Summer

    The cereal stubble is now available.

Due to inefficient harvesting stubble can be a rich source of feed for sheep. There is usually a considerable amount of grain left on the ground or blown through the harvester.

While it provides a boost to the livestock it is in fact an inefficient means of feeding.

It would be much more efficient to harvest all the grain and feed what is needed to the livestock at the appropriate time.

       * Late summer and early autumn.

    Again the livestock suffer a shortage of feed.

While cereal stubbles are still available they have been selectively grazed of all the best material. Sheep in particular graze the grain, the flag and chaff. The cereal stems that are left are low in protein. Digestibility is low and intake is reduced.

Livestock will lose weight.

        * Livestock production overall

    It is not surprising that livestock production is low. The overall stocking rate is low because the output of feed is low. The output of meat per flock is low because the quality of the feed is poor.

    The low output of feed leading to low stock numbers is self evident. The low quality and quantity of the feed also has an impact on flock efficiency - that is the output of meat per animal.

    This can best be described by following a male lamb born in winter.

    Early growth is dependent on milk The milk production is below full potential because of a feed deficit in winter for the mother.

    In spring the lamb should grow rapidly. It still consumes some milk but is increasingly dependent on pasture. Lambs graze behind adult sheep and find little on the poor quality parcour and roadsides.

    In early summer the lambs do well on the cereal stubble but when the best is exhausted they will lose weight again. If they have reached a good weight they can be sold. If not they continue to graze the stubble. Low body weight lambs are vulnerable on this poor straw diet and without fat reserves they can die. The output is then zero.

    Those lambs that survive are carried on and will hopefully grow in the following winter and be sold.

    It can be seen that the system is extremely inefficient.

The deaths of lambs and weak adult sheep produces zero output. Those that do reach market weight take a long time. They consume large quantities of feed but as it is low quality it only "maintains" the animals.

They do not grow. "Maintenance" for male lambs is waste. They are not producing meat just standing still or even losing weight.

Female breeding sheep do not achieve their full potential.

Their lambing rate is low because they have a low body weight at the time of mating.

The female replacements grow slowly and are therefore unproductive for a long period as they do not have lambs.

Some of the female replacements die over the summer due to low body weights.


Increasing profit from livestock grazing abundant medic
 

    Profit can be increased in three ways:-

    * Reducing costs.

    The obvious area of cost reduction is the winter feeding with hay and grain. Green medic in winter provides small quantities of high protein feed. If this is fed with cheap cereal straw the diet is adequate.

    * Increasing output.

    Output can be increased in two ways:-

    More sheep run on the same system that is currently keeping them on the brink of starvation.

    The same number of sheep (or a few more) run with a much higher output per animals. That is increased efficiency from the flock.

    * Increasing the price.

    There is scope for increasing the price per kg of meat by producing at certainly seasonal periods or by having the ability to hold sheep during periods of drought. These strategies have considerable potential but should be postponed until the first two have been developed.


Utilising medic pasture for increased profit
 

    We recommend that the medic pasture is used to reduce costs and to increase the efficiency of production. Over the longer term numbers can be increased but not at the expense of efficiency.

 For medic in the cereal zone sheep are the best form of livestock. Their breeding cycle fits the climate and they are well adapted to eating dry medic pods.

    * Autumn and winter.

    The farmer should try to concentrate the lambing period into the late autumn and winter. In zones with particularly cold winters such as the high plateau of Algeria or parts of northern Iraq and Syria the lambing may be delayed until late winter.

At present there are feed shortage at most seasons and a concentrated lambing period does not have any great advantages.

If the farmer plans to begin lambing about eight weeks after the expected first rains in autumn he can save a considerable amount on feed cost. When the pasture first germinates the sheep are kept off the seedlings. The sheep are eight weeks away from lambing. They can be fed an average quality diet such as medic straw. This is not expensive and is readily available from medic pasture.

When the female sheep are 6 to 4 weeks from lambing their diet should be improved and increased. They will move onto green medic and straw (see  Grazing green medic ) and should have a good body weight at lambing.

Lamb weights will be reasonable and milk production good. Good milk production will result in rapid grow of young lambs.

Feed costs for autumn and winter will be medic straw and cereal straw. Both of these will be cheaper than the present diet of hay and grain.

    * Spring.

The farmer should now try for maximum growth for the lambs. The medic pasture will provide abundant feed.

One difficulty is that sheep will need to be grazed for longer periods each day to utilise the additional feed.

This may prove difficult as shepherds have other work to do. Portable electric fences and leaving the sheep all day in the fenced areas may be the solution.

Chart 1 below show the feed requirement of lambs at different body weight and growing at different rates. Growth rates of 150 gm per day have been exceeded in many experiments in the WANA region with sheep on medic or vetch pastures. They have been exceeded on the farms in eastern Libya on a large scale with flocks of thousands on medic pastures. These pastures were grown in the zone with less than 250 mm average rainfall.

Chart 1

Live weight of lamb in kg.

Growth of 50 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 100 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 150 gm. per lamb per day

20 kg

0.5 grazing day

0.6  grazing day

0.7 grazing day

40 kg

0.7 grazing day

0.85 grazing day

1 grazing day

The greater efficiency of production form high quality pasture is demonstrated below.

Chart 2

Growth of 50 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 100 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 150 gm. per lamb per day

Live-weight of lamb in kg.

20 kg

0.5 grazing day

0.6  grazing day

0.7 grazing day

Live -weight gain 16 kg = 20 kg - 4 kg (birth weight)

320 day of growth to reach 20 kg

160 days of growth to reach 20 kg

106 days of growth to reach 20 kg

Total number of Grazing Days to reach 20 kg live-weight

360 days X 0.5 per day = 160 GD

160 days X 0.6 per day = 96 GD

106 days X 0.7 per day = 74 GD

Chart 2. above shows that the higher growth rates use less feed than the lower growth rates. The reason is simple. With low growth more feed is used for maintenance - less for growth. The increased growth is dependent on the quality of the pasture and the stocking rate.

Reducing the stocking rate on low quality pasture will not increase the growth rate. The sheep cannot physically eat enough fodder to grow at a high rate. Growth of lambs will continue after the pasture dries off.

This is totally different from the present situation. Weeds and grasses decline rapidly in feed value as they reach maturity and become dry.

Medic pods retain their feed value.

The pressure is still on the farmer to push the male lambs to market weight and sell them. This reduces the flock size over the summer.

The objective for female replacement sheep that are kept over the summer is to reach at least 40% of the adult body weight (usually about 22 to 25 kg but different for different breeds) at the time the pasture dries off.

This is an optimum weight as animals will have some fat reserves to carry them over the summer. Sheep with lower body weights will struggle to survive.

    * Summer.

    Cereal stubbles are now available and are a good source of feed initially.  Farmers should try and ration the feed out over the summer to ensure that body weights are maintained. One way this can be done is to keep the chaff, grain and other material that passes through the harvester separate. This is a simple operation. ( See:  Harvesting cereals ) It can be stored and fed to the sheep when they need it. Dry medic pods can be rationed over the summer as well.

A good body weight for breeding females sheep will provide the basis for high fertility. There will be a better lambing percentage next winter. Sheep are mated in early summer for lambing in late autumn. Dry medic pasture and early stubble grazing should provide sufficient feed for sheep to maintain a good body weight.

After the females have mated the body weight can be allowed to drop a little. The sheep can utilise some of their fat reserves. Maintaining a reasonable weight will reduce the death rate from all sheep but particularly young sheep over the summer.

This is one way to increase efficiency for the flock.

Feeding is not the only management tool for increasing the survival of sheep. The treatment of parasites (internal worms in particular) and diseases play an important part but there is little incentive for farmers to carry out these animal health measures if the lack of feed causes the sheep to die.

Farmers will need to consider selective feeding of young sheep. Hopefully all the male lambs will have reached market weight and been sold in early summer. The female replacement sheep will also have grown well. It may be worthwhile separating these out from the adult sheep each night and feeding them separately with some additional grain.

The basis for this decision is that the females will mate if they have reached a sufficient body weight. Even if the lambing percentage for these young females is a low 40 or 50% it is some production. Otherwise it is another year before they are productive.

    * Capital investment

    One of the great advantages of improved efficiency of production from the sheep flock is that no additional capital investment is required.

In fact capital is less.

The rapid turn off of male lambs means that there is less capital committed to the flock.

The rapid growth of the female replacements makes the flock more productive for the same number of sheep.

The increase in lambing percentage for the adult sheep makes the flock more productive for the same number of sheep.
 

    * Profit for small farmers

    The increases in output of livestock have a great impact on the profit for small farmers.

This can best be illustrated by our own production of olive oil.

We use in our household and exchange with friends 50 kg of oil. If we produce 75 kg we have 25 kg to sell for cash. If our production is 100 kg that is a third higher we can sell 50 kg or double our income from oil.

If our crop is 150 kg of oil we can sell 100 kg which is four times the amount when our production is 75 kg. 

Of course economists will dismiss this as voodoo economics and say that the home consumption amount must be entered into the profit statement as an opportunity income as it could be sold rather than consumed by the family. I don't believe that small farmers think that way. Our assessment is closer to their reasoning.


Increasing the number of sheep
 

    * Natural increase

    After the efficiency improvements have been achieved farmers can increase the size of their flock. This can be done gradually by retaining surplus females and through the reduced death rate of all sheep. Farmers do not need to purchase more sheep.

    * Drought risk.

    With increased numbers of sheep there are increased risks due to drought. If there is a total drought farmers will have no pasture. It does not matter whether it is weeds or medic neither will grow without rain. More sheep will mean that there will be more animals to feed on drought reserves or purchased feed.
   

This must be taken into account when increasing flock numbers.

    + Increased flock efficiency always pays a good profit.

    + Increased flock size will also make a good profit in most years but there is a greater risk due to drought.

    + Farmers should consider selling some of their increased pasture production from medic as hay or for grazing by other flocks as an alternative to increasing their flock size. These options may not be as profitable as their own sheep but carry less risk.

    + Farmers should also increase drought reserves when they increase flock size.

This increase should be greater than the increase in the flock. That is the farmer has a drought reserve of 4 qx of hay per sheep when his flock is 20 sheep he should increase that to 5 or 6 qx per sheep when he increases the flock to 40 sheep.


 

Flock efficiency - charts
 

* Typical flock grazed on weedy fallow and cereal stubble.
 
 

    Sheep actually on the farm are difficult to estimate.

    Obviously there are:  20 adult females.
                                   1 male

                 at lambing  14 lambs

    but other young females and male mature slowly due to lack of feed and can be on farm for long periods.
 
 Chart 2

Growth of 50 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 100 gm. per lamb per day

Growth of 150 gm. per lamb per day

Live-weight of lamb in kg.

20 kg

0.5 grazing day

0.6  grazing day

0.7 grazing day

Live -weight gain 16 kg = 20 kg - 4 kg (birth weight)

320 day of growth to reach 20 kg

160 days of growth to reach 20 kg

106 days of growth to reach 20 kg

Total number of Grazing Days to reach 20 kg live-weight

360 days X 0.5 per day = 160 GD

160 days X 0.6 per day = 96 GD

106 days X 0.7 per day = 74 GD

Chart 3

Live weight of sheep in kg.

Sheep not pregnant or early stage of pregnancy.

Sheep later stage of pregnacy.

Sheep lactating and with young lambs begining to graze.

50 kg

0.7 grazing day

 1  grazing day

2 grazing day

60 kg

0.8  grazing day

1.1 grazing day

2.3 grazing day

If we use the above charts to obtain an estimate of the feed requirement of the above flock (low livewieghts and slow growing lambs) we have:

20 adult female sheep + 1 ram

50 days lactating + young lambs @ 2 GD per day = 100 GD

50 days later stage of pregnacy @ 1 GD per day = 50 GD

265 days at early stage or not pregnant @ 0.7 per day = 186 GD

Total per sheep = 336 GD

21 sheep = 7035 GD

14 lambs growing @ 50 gm per day = 14 X 160 = 2240 GD

Total for flock = 9275 GD

* Flock grazing on medic pasture and cereal stubble - early stages.
 



Note:

        Increased lambing percentage due to:-

    + higher body weight of adult female sheep at mating.

    + young females grow faster and mature earlier.

Higher lamb weights result in low death rate.

Sheep actually on farm may be less. While there are now 16 lambs they mature faster and should be sold in 6 months.
 
 If we calculate the feed requirement for this flock (higher live weights and fast growing lambs) we have:

50 days lactating + lambs (higher live weight) @ 2.3 per day = 115 GD

50 days pregnant (late stages) @ 1.1 per day = 55 GD

265 days not pregnant or early stages @ 0.8 GD per day = 212 GD

Total per sheep = 385 GD

21 sheep @ 385 each = 8022 GD

16 lambs growing at 150 gm per day = 16 X 74 (Chart 2) = 1184 GD

Total for flock = 9206 GD

These calculations show that a flock with heavier sheep and faster growing lambs that reach 20 kg in 106 days instead of 360 days requires less feed than the traditional flock grazed on weedy fallow and cereal stubble at least to the stage that the lambs are 20 kg.

Male lambs will be grown further before sale but I have not included this as the traditional flock takes them into the second year.

The important factor is the quality of the feed. Farmers cannot achieve higher productivity from their flock by reducing the number of sheep. The sheep will not eat sufficient feed to produce at a higher level. The intake is related to digestibility.

Low digestibility will mean low intake and low productivity. The medic pasture provide more feed but just as important a higher quality feed.

Farmers in the WANA region cannot obtain better feed from their current pasture and stubble resources. They have to purchase expensive supplementary grain etc. Medic provides high quality feed at a low price.

* Flock grazing on medic and stubble - more advanced management.


    This chart demonstrates the large production increases that flow from increased efficiency. The lambing percentage of 90% is still modest and well within the genetic capacity of the breeds in the WANA region.

 * Increased flock size

As the medic pasture is established over all the farm the flock size can be increased. It is difficult to estimate scale of the increase because the existing feed resources are so variable. In Libya farmer in the eastern part increased their flocks by about 250% over a period of five or six years as medic became established on their farms and as they learnt to manage it correctly.

Some farms in Algeria had greater increases than this but these often reflect the low level of production on fallow and stubble rather than the the superiority of their medic pastures.