Jianping County and Beipao City are in the northwestern part of Liaoning Province, immediately adjacent to Inner Mongolia, at a latitude of about 42°N. The production system is essentially crop-based, but stock are kept and store cattle, purchased in Inner Mongolia, are fattened. Local mining towns and export from nearby seaports to the big cities of eastern China make fat cattle attractive commercially. Cultivated fodder is cut manually and carried; grazing is forbidden. Lucerne (Medicago sativa) is mown twice yearly, in June and August; Astragalus mown once, in early September. In both cases, 10 - 15 cm of re-growth are necessary before the onset of the severe frosts.
Green or wilted herbage is carted to the homesteads in bundles to reduce leaf loss while drying. Often, the high-quality leaves are allowed to fall off the stems during drying; these are then carefully collected and used, powdered, for pig, poultry and rabbit feed; the dried stems are used for feeding ruminants. This indicates a sound appreciation, by the farmers, of the feeding quality and economic value of the different parts of the plant. Astragalus, in Beipao, is sometimes ensiled in deep, concrete-lined pits, which involves extra cost and labour, but is popular with specialized stock-rearing families, because it greatly increases the palatability of the bitter Astragalus and there is no waste after feeding.
Two types of fodder processing are practised:
- At village or specialized household level, hay is powdered by simple hammer-mills for inclusion in livestock rations. These mills also serve for grinding cereals.
- Jianping beet-sugar factory, which has no roots during April to October, makes pellets of dried lucerne and Astragalus adsurgens which are commercialized both within China and for export. Households sell surplus green fodder to processors, and it must be delivered and transformed into dried pellets within 24 hours.
Farmers are well aware of the many ways of using fodder products in animal feeding systems, for the various types of livestock, in combination with the other feed sources available: crop residues, forest grazing and cereals.
Hay yields are 2.5 - 3 t/h over the first three or four years, and then fall off sharply. Astragalus is shorter-lived than lucerne, and the stand thins out rapidly after the third season. These yields are reasonable for the rainfall, but could probably be improved, as could longevity, if an improved fertilizer regime were used. Currently, maintenance fertilizer is not usually applied.