Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles
H.M. Shelton and Chaisang Phaikaew
3. RUMINANT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION SYSTEMS
4.2 Forage resources in lowland rice paddy systems
4.3 Pasture resources in upland cropping systems
4.4 Pasture resources in cooler highland areas
4.5 New initiatives in forage improvement for smallholders
Thailand is a land of 60 M people covering an area of approximately 51.3 M ha and lying between 6o N and 20o N latitude. Eighty percent of the country lies below 500 m altitude, with only 5% above 1000 m (Donner 1978). Real GDP in 1996 was US$2750 per capita with 8.8% growth including 3.2% in agriculture.
Average farm size is 4.2 ha/household (Kreethapon 1994). Of 20 M ha designated as farm land, 18 M ha (93%) is used for cropping and can be divided into paddy rice (55%), field crops (34%), vegetables and permanent crops (11%). Only 0.7 M ha is classified as grassland or idle land. Therefore, the ruminant population of approximately 1.8 M water buffaloes, 4.6 M cattle, 37,300 sheep and 144,200 goats (Table 1) are largely grazed or hand-fed in conjunction with the cropping enterprises. Dairy cattle are mainly situated in the Central and Northeast regions and their numbers are still relatively small although they are rapidly increasing.
Meat and milk production
in 2002 was 172,000 tonnes of beef and veal, 53,000 tonnes of buffalo
meat, and 580,000 tonnes of milk. Milk production almost qadrupled
since 1991. However, demand for livestock products exceeds local production
necessitating increasing imports of beef, veal and milk (Table 1) as
well as milk products.
Table 1: Thailand statistics for ruminant numbers, beef, veal, buffalo
Source: FAO Database 1998
Four seasons are recognised in Thailand. These are the Southwest Monsoon season from May to September (the rainy season); the Post-Monsoon season during October (transitional period); the Northeast Monsoon season from November to February (the cool season); and the Pre-Monsoon season during March and April (the hot season) (Eelaart 1973). These influences create four agroecological zones which are briefly described below and are shown on the map, namely:
• Three Monsoon zones (Central Plains, Northern and Northeast Regions) which receive 940-2150 mm per annum with humid months ranging from 4.5-8.0 depending on region (Eelaart 1973).
(a) The Southern Region
The topography of the Southern Region comprises the Phuket range in the west and the Nakorn Si Thammarat range in the east. Soils are derived from a variety of parent materials such as limestone, bedded sediments and granites, and vary from clay loam to sandy loam. There are also large areas of alluvial soils, beach sands and acid peats (Donner 1978).
The region is dominated by plantation agriculture principally rubber, oil palm, fruit trees and coconuts occupying almost 2 M ha, although rice and horticultural crops are also grown. Cattle and goats are used as "weeders" in oil palm and coconut plantations, however the majority of the cattle and buffalo in the region are integrated in the rice growing areas (Sophanodora 1997).
(b) The Central Plains Region
The Central Plains Region lies in the lower watershed of the Chao Phraya River and comprises fertile alluvial soils which are seasonally flooded.
The region receives an average annual rainfall of 1260 mm and over 90% of farm holdings are cropped principally to rice. Hence the region is known as the rice bowl of Thailand. Since there is limited land available for grazing ruminants in the region, livestock rely heavily on rice straw.
(c) The Northern Region
The Northern Region comprises 3 physiographic zones (Topark-Ngarm and Gutteridge 1986):
In the Northern Region, rainfall varies from 900 to 2000 mm. At Chiang Mai (300 m altitude), temperatures vary from 29oC/13oC in January to 36oC/21oC in April. Temperatures decrease at approximately 0.5oC per 100 m altitude and frosts occur in sheltered highland locations.
The majority of the ruminant population are in the lowlands and uplands, with few in the highlands.
(d) The Northeast Region
The Northeast Region is a slightly elevated plateau of 17 M ha 100-300 m a.s.l. Khon Kaen in the centre of the Northeast, receives an average of 1250 mm rainfall per annum with 85% falling mid-April to mid-October. Average monthly temperatures range from 30oC/17oC in December to 36oC/24oC in April.
Principal land use in the region is rainfed paddy rice, upland field crops, forest lands and grazing lands. The Northeast Region has the highest ruminant population and therefore the greatest potential for forage improvement. A typical Northeastern household cultivates 1-4 ha of upland crops (cassava, sugar cane, maize, horticultural crops) and raises 1-3 head of buffalo for draft. Many households also own a few head of cattle for draft and commercial sale.
Studies of legume crops in farmers' fields in Thailand have shown that a high proportion suffer from one or more deficiencies of the macro-elements phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulphur (S), nitrogen (N) and the micronutrients boron (B) and molybdenum (Mo) (Bell et al. 1990). These low nutrient levels would undoubtedly reduce productivity of forage legumes according to species, site and management.
Upland soils in the Northeast region are largely podzolics, latosols, and regosols characterised by sandy texture, acid reaction, low organic matter content and low cation exchange capacity. They are characterised by a low level of plant nutrients particularly of N, P, K and S while Cu, and Mo are limiting in some soils (Topark-Ngarm and Gutteridge 1986).
In the South, most soils are infertile and deficient in the major nutrients N, P, K, S, Mg and micronutrients Zn and Cu (Sophanodora 1995, 1997).
There are four main ruminant production systems in Thailand. These can be briefly described as:
Fenced and grazed improved pasture systems are not used to any great extent in Thailand. Large-scale ranch grazing of pastures is inappropriate for smallholders due to socio-economic limitations. These are: limited land areas available, lack of capital for such high cost developments, and lack of experience with the management of grazing ruminants leading to poor pasture and animal production outcomes. Most ruminants are raised in small numbers by smallholder villagers in conjunction with small-scale food and cash crop production. Feed supply for ruminants is mainly cut and carried. Cropping systems therefore have a marked impact on forage supply although cropping systems vary from region to region.
The amount of improvement that can be expected in liveweight gains and milk supply will depend on the success of the pasture improvement programmes, the productive potential of the animals, and animal husbandry measures such as disease control. However, the key limitation is poor nutrition of the animals due to:
Livestock graze volunteer species including Axonopus compressus, Paspalum conjugatum and Imperata cylindrica. However, these pastures are not productive and even with pasture improvement may not be highly productive. Manidool (1983) reported liveweight gains (LWG) of cattle grazing Brachiaria decumbens / Centrosema pubescens pastures under coconuts of only 50-100 kg LWG/head at 1-1.5 animals/ha. There are also extensive areas of leguminous cover crops principally Centrosema pubescens, Pueraria phaseoloides, Calopogonium mucunoides and C. caeruleum which have been planted in rubber and oil palm plantations to control weeds. They provide a high quality source of forage for livestock until year 5 when canopy closure greatly reduces productivity (Mullen and Shelton 1995). Work in Malaysia has shown that the improved grasses Brachiaria humidicola and Panicum maximum cv. Vencedor are very productive but strongly competitive with young rubber. The Malaysians have recommended a hedge row system of planting rubber in which double rubber rows are planted 20 m apart allowing pasture grasses and legumes to be grown in between in a more sustainable system (Mullen and Shelton 1995).
In this system, there is a shortage of forage in the wet season, when the best land is not available to livestock, a surfeit of straws just after rice harvest and another shortage of feed at the end of the dry season as forage supplies dwindle. Cattle are also supplemented with cut-and-carry naturalised grasses from roadsides, paddy bunds and community lands. Productivity of livestock in such traditional systems is limited by the variable availability of forages and the low quality of grasses and crop residues obtained in this manner.
The beef and dairy industries are often associated with lowland rice paddy systems and have grown rapidly since the early 1970s in areas such as the upper Chao Phraya River, the Northeast and Southern regions where there are large areas of lowland paddy rice production. Feed costs represent the largest proportion of total costs, especially for dairy farming where the use of concentrate feeds is mandatory to achieve high levels of milk production. The need for high quality pastures to reduce dependency on expensive concentrates and to contribute to sustainable farming systems has never been greater. Consequently there is increasing interest in developing small areas of paddy land for use as back-yard pastures in which improved species are planted, sometimes fertilised, and hand-cut for feeding to stalled animals.
Para grass (Brachiaria mutica), Ruzi grass (Brachiaria ruziziensis), napier grass (Pennisetum purpureum) and guinea grass TD 58 are the principal pasture species used to boost feed supply (Phaikaew et al. 1997). Leucaena leucocephala is used in cut-and-carry systems to supplement poor quality rice straw.
Most ruminants in Southern Thailand are grazed in the rice growing areas by smallholder farmers owning only 2-2.5 ha of land per household. Species which have been successful elsewhere in Thailand such as Ruzi grass (Brachiaria ruziziensis), guinea grass (Panicum maximum) and Verano stylo (Stylosanthes hamata cv. Verano) are not well adapted to the seasonally flooded alluvial soils of the South (Sophanodora 1997). Para grass (Brachiaria mutica) and plicatulum (Paspalum plicatulum) are well adapted, but the palatability of plicatulum is poor and improved species for this environment are required (Sophanodora 1997). The aquatic plants hymenachne (Hymenachne amplexicaulis) and aleman grass (Echinochloa polystachya) which are successful in Northern Australia in flooded situations have not been extensively tested in Southern Thailand. Recent studies have shown that B. humidicola is well adapted to areas which experience seasonal flooding.
In this system, seasonal cropping practices influence feed supply. During the wet season much of the paddy land and upland is cropped so that livestock are grazed on remaining communal lands such as roadsides and fallow areas. Cut and carry feeding is important. During the dry season, after rice harvest, rice straw is the principal diet. But other crop residues such as cassava leaves, sugar cane tops as well as cut and carry naturalised grasses from roadsides, paddy bunds and community grazing lands are important.
Naturalised species on community grazing lands contributing to the grazing resource include the grasses Eragrostis spp., Axonopus compressus, Panicum repens, Dactyloctenium aegypticum, Digitaria spp., Perotis indica and Chrysopogon aciculatus; and the legumes Desmodiun triflorum and Alysicarpus vaginalis. However, these species, although adapted to heavy grazing on poor sandy soils, have poor productivity and low quality. Gutteridge et al. (1983) reported the results of a grazing trial at Khon Kaen, and at 3.2 weaner steers/ha, measured only 52 kg LWG/ha from native pastures compared to 213 kg LWG/ha from improved pastures comprising a mixture of Urochloa mosambicensis, B. decumbens, Stylosanthes humilis, S. hamata and Macroptilium atropurpureum.
Public and private grazing lands have been targeted for planting with ruzi grass, guinea grass TD 58, para grass, and signal grass (B. decumbens ) and the herbaceous legumes Verano stylo, S. guianensis cv. CIAT 184, S. humilis cv. Khon Kaen and the tree legumes leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala), gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium), pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) and sesbania (Sesbania grandiflora). Udchachon and Boonpakdee (1993) conclude that forage tree legumes have great potential for use as animal feed for smallholder dairy farmers during periods of feed shortage such as in the dry season.
There has been promotion of the concept of ley pastures in some villages. Greatly improved cassava yields have been demonstrated following fertilised Verano stylo pastures in upland areas (Gibson 1987). However, whilst there is considerable interest in backyard pastures there has been only limited adoption of crop-pasture rotation techniques. This is due to strong competition for limited land area for cash-cropping. Due to declining crop yields, ley farming may become popular in future (Foppes 1993).
Particular strategies which have been promoted are:
• Fence lines or hedge rows of tree legumes to provide high quality leguminous forage;
• Improvement of communal/public grazing lands by oversowing exotic legume species such as Stylosanthes humilis and S. hamata. These species can be commonly found growing along the roadsides of Northeast Thailand.
The main forage resource is the large area of Imperata cylindrica which supports low stocking rates of 0.1 beast per ha and which is of low quality.
Research in the highlands has shown that subtropical species such as the legumes desmodium (Desmodium intortum and D. uncinatum), lotononis (Lotononis bainesii), axillaris (Macrotyloma axillare), Kenya white clover (Trifolium semipilosum), white clover (T. repens); and the grasses setaria (Setaria sphacelata), guinea grass and signal grass are productive.
Weed invasion is a major technical problem in highland pastures, particularly Chromolaena spp., but this can be controlled by adequate fertilisation and frequent slashing.
The Department of Livestock Development with support from the Feed Resources for Smallholder Livestock Production in Southeast Asia Project has embarked on an ambitious programme of forage improvement based on the following programme (Phaikaew 1997):
Thailand is unique in Asia for its development of a highly successful forage seed production industry. A pasture seed scheme for village farmers started in 1976 and since 1984 more than 8200 tonnes of forage seed (Figure 1) have been produced under the management of the Thai Department of Livestock Development (Phaikaew 1994, Phaikaew 1997, Phaikaew and Hare 1996). Most of this production has been in Khon Kaen Province in Northeast Thailand and has been distributed to the farmers of Thailand at nominal cost. Details of species produced are given in Table 2. The two main species are ruzi grass (Brachiaria ruziziensis) and stylo (Stylosanthes hamata cv. Verano). Substantial quantities of purple guinea grass (Panicum maximum T 58) and smaller quantities of Stylosanthes guianensis cv. Graham, Centrosema pubescens, Desmanthus virgatus, Macroptilium atropurpureum, Leucaena leucocephala, Cajanus cajan, Panicum maximum cv. Hamil and Common, Paspalum plicatulum, Setaria sphacelata, Andropogon gayanus, Brachiaria decumbens, and forage sorghum have also been produced. Programmes of investigation into seed production of promising new species Paspalum atratum BRA 9610, Arachis pintoi cv. Amarillo, Cassia rotundifolia cv. Wynn, Stylosanthes guianensis CIAT 184, Macroptilium gracile cv. Maldonado, and Aeschynomene americana cv. Lee and Glenn (Phaikaew 1997) are now underway.
Forage seed production
programmes in Thailand have evolved through research, pilot projects
and a Government supported village seed production enterprise. Village
farmers were guaranteed purchase at a predetermined price for seed which
was produced and cleaned on farm. Factors contributing to the success
of the programme were favourable climate for seed production, extensive
preparatory research, intensive initial supervision, realistic price
incentives, and good market demand.
Table 2: Seed production (tons) of grass and legume species in Thailand,
Key Research Institutions and Personnel
Khemsawat, Mr Chirawat. Director of Animal Nutrition, Department of Livestock Development, Bangkok 10400. Interest in pasture improvement and fodder conservation.
Manidool, Mr Chanchai. consultant to Australian Meat & Livestock Corporation. 97 Sukhumvit 53, Bangkok 10110. Pasture agronomist with special interest in the integration of pastures in plantation crops.
Phaikaew, Mrs Chaisang. Division of Animal Nutrition, Department of Livestock Development, Bangkaen, Bangkok 10400. Interest in all aspects of forage production and research in Thailand but has been especially involved in the seed production programmes.
Satjipanon, Ms. Chureerat. Khon Kaen Animal Nutrition Research Centre, Tha Pra, Khon Kaen 40260. Pasture Management Section.
Sophanodora, Dr Pravit. Department of Plant Science, Faculty of Natural Resources, Prince of Songkla University, Hat Yai. Pasture agronomist involved in research and extension.
Topark-Ngarm, Dr Anake. Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen. Plant breeder with broad teaching and research interests in improved pasture species evaluation for Thailand.
Tudsri, Dr Sayan. Department of Agronomy, Kasetsart University, Bangkok. Pasture agronomist with interest in pasture improvement.
Udchachon, Mr. Supachai. Khon Kaen Animal Nutrition Research Centre, Tha Pra, Khon Kaen 40260. Pasture management and modelling section.
Wanapat, Dr Metha. Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen. Ruminant nutritionist with research interest in strategies for use of low quality crop residues. Interest in forage tree legumes.
Wilaipon, Prof. Boonrue.
Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, Khon Kaen. Pasture agronomist
with broad teaching and research interests in improved pastures for
Donner, W. (1978). The Five Faces of Thailand. University of Queensland Press. 930pp.
Eelaart van den, A.L.J. (1973). Climate and crops in Thailand. Soil Survey Division Report SSR-96, Bangkok. 27 pp.
Foppes, J. (1993). Ley farming: From theory to practice - extension of crop-pasture rotations in North-east Thailand. In: Chen, C.P. and Satjipanon, C. (eds). Strategies for suitable forage-based livestock production in Southeast Asia. Proceedings of Third Meeting of Regional Working Group on Grazing and Feed Resources of Southeast Asia. pp. 207-215.
Gibson, T.A. (1987). Legume ley farming – a low cost method of overcoming soil fertility limitations in an upland agricultural system. In: Wallis, E.S. and Byth, D.E. (eds). Food legume improvement for Asian farming systems, ACIAR Proceedings No. 18. pp. 236-237.
Gutteridge, R.C., Shelton, H.M., Wilaipon, B. and Humphreys, L.R. (1983). Productivity of pastures and responses to salt supplements by beef cattle on native pasture in North-east Thailand. Tropical Grasslands, 17: 105-114.
Kreethapon, I. (1994). Future legume production development in Thailand. In: Helge Brunse and Pipob Jarikpakon (eds). Tropical Forage Legume Seed Production and Processing. Lectures and Findings of Symposium and Workshop, Muak Lek, Saraburi, February 1994. pp. 92-99.
Manidool, C. (1983). Pastures under coconuts in Thailand. In: Junag, T.C. (ed). Asian Pastures. Teipei, FFTC Book Series No. 25. pp. 204-213.
Mullen, B.F. and Shelton, H.M. (1995). Integration of ruminants into plantation systems in Southeast Asia. ACIAR Proceedings N0. 64. 115 pp.
Phaikaew, Chaisang (1994). Forage legume seed production in Thailand: Background review and present status. Paper presented at Symposium on Tropical Forage Legume Seed Production/Processing at Dairy promotion Organisation of Thailand.
Phaikaew, Chaisang (1997). Current status of and prospects for tropical forage seed production in Southeast Asia: Experiences and recommendations from Thailand. In: Stür, W.W. (ed). Feed Resources for Smallholder Livestock Production in Southeast Asia. Proceedings of regional meeting in Vientiane, Lao PDR. CIAT Working Document No. 156. pp. 57-63.
Phaikaew, Chaisang and Hare, M. (1996). Thailand's experience with forage seed supply systems. Regional Workshop on Forage Agronomy, Seed Production and Seed Supply, Khon Kaen, Thailand.
Phaikaew, Chaisang, Nakamanee, Ganda, and Klum-em, Kiatisak (1997). FSP Activities in Thailand. In: Stür, W.W. (ed). Feed Resources for Smallholder Livestock Production in Southeast Asia. Proceedings of regional meeting in Vientiane, Lao PDR. CIAT Working Document No. 156. pp. 49-50.
Sophanodora, P. (1995). Forage research in Southern Thailand. In: Mullen, B.F. and Shelton, H.M (eds). Integration of ruminants into plantation systems in Southeast Asia. ACIAR Proceedings N0. 64. pp. 104-108.
Sophanodora, P. (1997). Crop-livestock integration in Southern Thailand: prospects and constraints. In: Stür, W.W. (ed). Feed Resources for Smallholder Livestock Production in Southeast Asia. Proceedings of regional meeting in Vientiane, Lao PDR. CIAT Working Document No. 156. pp. 77-82.
Topark-Ngarm, A. and Gutteridge, R.C. (1986). Forages in Thailand. In: Blair, G.J., Ivory, D.A. and Evans, T.R. (eds). Forages in Southeast Asian and Pacific Agriculture. ACIAR Proceedings No. 12. pp. 96-103.
Udchachon, S. and Boonpakdee,
W. (1993). Demonstration trial on suitable backyard pasture utilisation
for small dairy farm in Khon Kaen. In: Chen, C.P. and Satjipanon, C.
(eds). Strategies for suitable forage-based livestock production
in Southeast Asia. Proceedings of Third Meeting of Regional Working
Group on Grazing and Feed Resources of Southeast Asia. pp. 49 – 57.
For further information on forages in Thailand, seed sources (eg. ruzi grass, guinea grass, Verano stylo) contact:
Dr. Chaisang Phaikaew,
This forage resource profile was prepared in 1998 by Chaisang Phaikaew and Max Shelton. Livestock data were updated in November 2003 by S.G. Reynolds
Thailand has been a member of
the (FAO sponsored) Working Group (WG) on Grazing and