Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


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Prof. Hu Zizhi and Dr Zhang Degang

1. Introduction

2. Soils and Topography
Wildlife Groups
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
Features of Agricultural Zones
Character and Developing Trends of Nine First Class Agriculture Zones
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
Farm Size
Livestock Species and Breeds
Animal Units
Feeding Systems
Integration of Livestock into Farming Systems
Socio-economic Conditions
5. The Pasture Resource
Area and Distribution of Grassland
Grassland Classification
Grassland Types and Area
Grassland Productivity
Animal Product Unit Index
Grassland Protection
Grassland Nature Reserves
Zonation of Flora
Species of Unique Forage Plants
Special and Rare Forage Species
Dominant Plants of the Main Zones
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Fodder Resources
Grassland Use
Grassland Deterioration and Control Strategies
Grassland Improvement
Forage Grasses and Artificial Grassland
Major Forage Grasses and Forage Crops
Classification of Artificial Grassland
Grass Cultivars and Seed Production
Good Forage Grass Cultivars
Seed Production
Zonation of Grassland for Sustainable Ecological and Economic Development
Principle of Division of Economic Zones of Grassland Agro-ecosystems
Grassland Zones
Current Grassland Situation and Proposed Strategy for Each Zone

7. Research and Development Organizations and Personnel
8. References
9. Contacts

[The graphics in this profile have been provided by the authors and the designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. ]


The People's Republic of China (see Figure 1) in eastern Asia, on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean, has a land area of around 9,600,000 km2; the area of its territorial waters is 4,730,000 km2. It has land borders with fourteen countries: D. P. R. Korea, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos and Viet Nam; it has sea borders with P. O. Korea, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. It is the most populous country, 1,295,000,000 with 22 percent of the world’s population. According to the World Factbook the July 2006 population was 1,313,973,713 with a growth rate of 0.59%. There are 56 ethnic groups but Han account for 94 percent; Chinese is spoken all over the country. Beijing, with a population of 12,570,000, is the capital and the hub of politics, culture and economy. Population distribution is shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 1. Map of Peoples Republic of China

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map2a.jpg (5571 bytes) Population Distribution in China

Figure 2. Distribution of Human Population

There are 34 provinces (or municipality, autonomous region and special administrative region) and 668 cities. Based on economic development and geography, China is divided into three parts: west, central and east. The east includes Liaoning, Tianjin, Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Hainan, Taiwan, Hongkong and Macao. The centre includes Heilongjiang, Jilin, Shanxi, Henan, Anhui, Hubei, Jiangxi and Hunan. The west includes Guangxi, Sichuan, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Tibet (see Figure 3).

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Figure 3. East, Central and West Parts of China

Agricultural Land Use Agricultural land includes cultivated land, forests, inland water, grassland and others (see Figure 4). Cultivated land and forests are mainly in the east and centre, and grassland in the west (see Figure 5). The east is dominated by farming and the west by grassland husbandry. Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu are the six main pastoral areas.

Table 1. Agricultural Land Use Characteristics

Land Use

Area (1000 ha)

Percentage of Total

Cultivated Land






Inland Water






Useable Grassland






Source: National Bureau of Statistics (2000a)

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Figure 4. Map of Land Use

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Figure 5. Distribution of Arable Land in China

Plant and Animal Resources. China has abundant plant and animal resources: there are more than 30,000 plant species, which puts it in third place after Brazil and Colombia and accounts for 13.1 percent of the world total; it has many species of cultivated plants, domesticated livestock and their wild relatives. Its agricultural history dates back for 7,000 years. It is the main area and centre of diversity of many fruits and the birthplace of soybean; the number of local crop cultivars exceeds 20,000 (National Biodiversity Situation Research Report, 1998).

Economic Development. The national economy has improved greatly since the founding of the People's Republic. Since the beginning of the Reform and Opening in 1978, the average annual growth rate of the gross domestic product (GDP) is 9.8 percent at fixed prices, and the goal of quadrupling GDP over 1980 was achieved in 1995, five years ahead of the plan. China's economic gross product is now the seventh largest in the world.

National agricultural gross output value in 1999 was 2451.91 billion RMB Yuan (1 US$ was worth 8.2 ¥ in 1999), of which, agriculture was 1410.62, forestry 88.63, animal husbandry 699.76 (28.53 percent of the total), and fisheries 252.90. The number of domestic herbivores in China was 429,506,000 head (at December 1999), of which, cattle, buffalo and yak were 126,983,000, horses 8,914,000, donkeys 9,348,000, mules 4,673,000, camels 330,000, sheep 131,095,000, and goats 148,163,000. FAOSTAT (2005) figures for 2004 give: cattle, buffalo and yak 134.8M, horses 7.9M, donkeys 8.2M, mules 4.0M, camels 265,000; sheep 157.3M and goats 183.4M.

In 1999, 5,054,000 tons of beef, 2,513,000 tons of mutton, 8,069,000 tons of milk (cow milk 7,176,000 tons), 283,152 tons of sheep wool (fine wool 11,410 tons and semi-fine wool 73,700 tons), 31,849 tons of goat wool and 10,180 tons of cashmere were produced. 2004 production data were: beef and veal 6.5M mt (2005-6.8M); mutton and lamb 2.2M mt (2005-2.4M); total milk 27.0M mt (of which cow milk was 22.9M mt) (2005-28.7M and cow milk 24.5M); total wool 373,902 mt (2005-400,000 mt) and goat meat 1.8M mt (2005-1.9M). It should be noted that milk production more than doubled between 2000 and 2004. In 1997, 65,700 beef cattle, 4,585 sheep, and 9,882 goats were exported; 479 beef cattle, 84 sheep, 1,543 goats, 244 horses were imported. Imported stock was for breeding. In 2004 some 59,009 cattle, 8,637 goats and 145,269 sheep were exported (as well as 2.0M pigs). Imports included 132,446 cattle, 2,950 sheep, 0.5M mt of meat and 3.2M mt of milk equivalents.



China’s topography is characterized by high land in the west, lower land in the east, and hilly, varied terrain (see Figure 6):

- the first terrace is the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with an average altitude over 4,000m;

- the second terrace starts from the north and east edges of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and ends in Daxinanlin Mountain, Taihang Mountain, Wushan Mountain, Xuefengshan Mountain; its landform is highland with basins at altitudes between 1,000 to 2,000 m.

- the third terrace is east of the above area and extends to the eastern continental shelf, its landform is mainly plains and hills.

The natural conditions and agriculture of the three terraces are very different. This topography (see Figure 7) makes most water systems run from west to east and drain to the Pacific Ocean; except for those rising on the southern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau which run from north to south and drain into either the Pacific Ocean or the Indian Ocean from the barrier of the Hengduanshan Mountains.

Figure 6. Three terraces of China [Sun He, 1994]

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Figure 7. Topography of China

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China is hilly, it is one of the countries with the highest mean altitude; 33 percent is mountainous and only 12 percent plains. The area below 500 m almost equals that above 3,000 m, both of them around a quarter of the total (Table 2).

Table 2. Land Characteristics of China
Item Area (1,000 km2) Percentage of Total
Total Land Area 9,600


By Topographic Feature    
Mountains 3,200


Plateaux 2,500


Basins 1,800


Plains 1,150


Hills 950


By Altitude    
Under 500 m 2,417


500 to 1000 m 1,625


1000 to 2000 m 2,399


2000 to 3000 m 677


Above 3000 m 2,483


National Bureau of Statistics, 2000


Based on the complex influence of climate, topography, vegetation and human development, China's soil types are complex (see Figure 8). A simplified map of soil-vegetation distribution in China is shown in Figure 9.The zonal soil types in the East Monsoon Zone are latosol, lateritic red soil, red soil and yellow soil, yellow-brown soil, burozem and drab soil, dark brown forest soil, podzolic soil from south to north. The zonal soil types from northeast to northwest are chernozem, chestnut soil, brown soil, sierozem, grey brown desert soil, brown desert soil. On the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the soil types from east to west are alpine meadow soil, alpine steppe soil, alpine desert soil and alpine frozen soil. Because there are plenty of mountains, the vertical zonal pedigree of soil type appears widely. There are different soil pedigrees on the different mountains. Influenced by the long history of cultivation, agricultural soil types are also many, such as paddy soil, oasis soil and lou soil (stratified old manurial loessial soil).

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  1. Latosol-Tropical Forest
  2. Lateritic red soil-Monsoon evergreen forest
  3. Red or yellow soil-evergreen forest
  4. Yellow-brown soil-evergreen forest or Aestisilve
  5. Burozem-Aestisilve
  6. Drab soil-Xerophytic Aestisilve
  7. Dark loessial soil-Steppe
  8. Sierozem-Desert Steppe
  9. Gobi or Solonchak-Desert
  10. Dark brown forest soil or Planosol-Theropencedrymion
  11. Black soil or Chernozem-Forest-steppe
  12. Chestnut soil-Steppe
  13. Brown soil-Desert Steppe
  14. Brown desert soil-Desert
  15. Podzolic soil-Needle Forest
  16. Alpine meadow soil or Subalpine meadow soil-Alpine Meadow
  17. Alpine steppe soil or Subalpine steppe soil-Alpine Steppe
  18. Alpine desert soil-Alpine Desert

Figure 9. Soil - Vegetation Distribution

Soil degradation is the most important constraint for China's ecological conservation and economic development. The area of desertified (i.e. soil degradation in the arid, semi-arid and non-humid areas) soil accounts for 27.32 percent of the land area (see Figure 10 and Table 3). Of this, 61.3 percent was caused by wind, 7.80 percent by water, 8.89 percent by salinization, 13.85 percent by frost and 8.16 percent by other factors. The area of degraded grassland is 1,052,300 ha, and it is increasing at an annual rate of two percent. At the same time, the area of degraded arable land in the arid, semi-arid and non-humid regions is 7,744,900 ha, or 40.6 percent of total arable land.

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Key: Factors of Desertification
Water erosion   Wind erosion   Other factors  
1 Light 9 Light 17 Light
2 Medium 10 Medium 18 Medium
3 Heavy 11 Heavy 19 Heavy
Freeze thawing   Salination      
4 Light 12 Light 20 Non-desertificated land
5 Medium 13 Medium 21 Extreme dry area
6 Heavy 14 Heavy 22 Wet area
7 Water 15 National boundary 23 Unfixed national boundary
8 Province boundary 16   24 City

Figure 10. Distribution of Desertified Land in Northern China

Table 3 Desertification in Northern China by Cause



Over cultivated grassland 23.3
Overgrazing 29.4
Excessive deforestation 32.4
Improper water use 8.6
Communication construction 0.8
Sand dune drift driven by wind 5.5
Cai Yunlong, 2000


China has one of the widest ranges of vegetation types in the world. According to the classification system used in "Vegetation of China" (Wu Zhengyi, 1980), there are ten vegetation type groups covering 29 types and 560 formations (see Figure 11): 1) Coniferous forest, 2) Broad-leaf forest, 3) Shrubs and shrub-meadow, 4) Steppe and savanna, 5) Desert, 6) Tundra 7) Alpine sparse vegetation 8) Meadow, 9) Marshes 10) Aquatic vegetation.

With obvious latitudinal zonal distribution, the vegetation types in the East Monsoon Zone from south to north are as follows: tropical rain forest and monsoon forest, subtropical evergreen broad-leaf forest, warm-temperate deciduous broad-leaf forest, temperate broad-leaf and coniferous mixed forest, sub-temperate coniferous forest.

With obvious longitude zonal distribution, the vegetation types in northern China from east to west are as follows: forest, steppe and desert.

On the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, vegetation type distribution is characterized by both horizontal and vertical zonal features. With increasing altitude and decreasing rainfall from southeast to northwest, vegetation types are: mountain forest, alpine shrub, alpine meadow, alpine steppe and alpine desert.

Vegetation distribution in China can be summarized as: 1) all types (whatever forest or steppe and desert) are present; 2) subtropical evergreen broad-leaf forest widely distributed through the impact of monsoon; 3) a complete and unique vertical distribution spectrum of alpine vegetation on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. For a general idea of the main vegetation types see Figure 9.

Figure 11. Vegetation Distribution of China (Wu Zhengyi, 1980)

Wildlife Groups

Based on the distribution of dominant and common species and their related natural eco-geographic conditions, there are nine eco-graphic wildlife groups (Hu Zizhi, 1997):

1) Tropical forest, shrub, grassland-cropland group: the components in this group are complex, including many families, genera and species. The main hoofed animals are Cervus unicolor, Cervus eldi, Elaphodus cephalophus, Muntiacus reevsii, Muntiacus manta, Capricornis sumatraensis, and Sus scrofa.

2) Subtropical forest, shrub, grassland-cropland group: Main hoofed animals are Muntiacus reevisi, Elaphodus cephalophus, Hydropotes inermis, Moschus chysogaster, and Sus scrofa. Lepus sinensis and Lepus capensis are common in shrub and grassland.

3) Warm-temperate broad-leaf forest, forest-steppe, cropland wildlife group: Main hoofed animals are Capreolus capreolus, Moschus moschiferus, Cervus nippon, Cervus elaphus, Naemorhedus goral, and Elaphurus davidianus .

4) Temperate steppe: rodents dominate here and ungulates take second place: Microtus brandti and Microtus gregariuis take the first place in population and Cittellu dauricus, Myospalax aspalax, Marmota bobac, and Ochotona daurica take second place in the east. Hoofed animals: Procapra gutturosa is the representative in this group, its distribution ambit is consonant with steppe. The population is low at present, but once there were flocks of more than a thousand. Gazella subgutturosa is representative of the desert-steppe.

5) Temperate desert wildlife is the same as in the temperate steppe group, hoofed animal and rodents dominate. Hoofed animals: Gazella subgutturosa is dominant with groups of 3 or 5 head on desert or gobi. Camelus bactrianus is a special species, but now quite rare. Equus hemionus also exists. Rodents: Meriones unguiculatus, Meriones meridianus, Meriones libycus, Rhombomys opimus, Dipus sagitta, and Allactaga sibirica.

6) Sub-temperate coniferous forest wildlife group: Hoofed animals: Alces alces, with large body size, browsing the leaf of broad-leaf trees in-group, is the representative in this group and called "forest giant". Moschus moschiferous, Capreolus capreolus, Cervus elaphus, Sus scrofa are also in this group.

7) Alpine forest-shrub wildlife group: This group is distributed in the southeast of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau with altitude between 3,500 to 5,000 m. Since three vegetation types (mountain forest, alpine shrub and alpine meadow) are interlaced, the animals are distributed accordingly and the dominant ones are those living on alpine shrubs. Hoofed animals: Cervus albirostris, Cervus elaphus, Moschus sifanicus and Capricornis sumatrensis. Rodents: Same as alpine meadow and alpine steppe.

8) Alpine shrub-meadow group: This group is in the middle of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau at an altitude between 3,800 to 4,500 m and the hypsography is smooth. Shrubs are on the north-facing slopes and meadow is on the plain and south-facing slope. Hoofed animals: Cervus albirostris, Cervus elaphus, Procapra picticaudata, and Pantholopus hodgsonii. Rodents: Marmota himalayana, Ochotona tibetica, Ochotona gloverii, Myospalax fontanieri, and Lepus oiostolus.

9) Alpine steppe and alpine desert group: This group is in the western cold and dry area of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, centred around Qiangtang, at altitudes between 4,000 to 5,000 m. Animals in this area live under natural conditions since there are no people in most of the area. Hoofed animals: Equus hemonius, Bos grunniens, Pantholops hodgsonii, and Procapra picticaudata are dominant on alpine steppe and alpine desert. Ovis ammon and Pseudois nayaur live in hilly areas. Rodents: same as alpine shrub-meadow.



With its vast territory and the effects of topography and surrounding atmosphere, China has three climatic zones: East Monsoon Zone, Northwest Arid and Semi-arid Zone and the Qinghai-Tibet Alpine Zone (Sun, He, 1994).

The East Monsoon Zone occupies 45 percent of the land, with prevailing wind directions: northwest, north and northwest winds are common in winter and southeast, south and southwest winds in summer. Rainfall varies seasonally according to wind and coincides with high solar radiation, which gives good conditions for plant growth. Drought, waterlogging, wind disaster and cold snaps are frequent in the east because of the protean monsoon, typhoon and cold wave.

Eastern China can be divided into three climate zones from south to north:

- Tropical Zone
- Subtropical Zone and
- Temperate Zone.

Temperature differences between zones are quite large in winter, but small in summer. Winter temperatures are lower than other areas at the same latitude, but higher in summer. The major vegetation in the east monsoon area is different types of forest.

The Northwest arid and semiarid area is in inner Eurasia and is controlled by a continental climate all year round. Precipitation decreases gradually from east to west from 400 mm to less than 100 mm. Steppe and desert dominate the landscape. Vertical variation of climate on the Qinghai-Tibet alpine area is very significant, which is characterized by low temperature, strong solar radiation, wind, and uneven rainfall. Precipitation declines from southeast to northwest on the plain of the plateau and the natural landscape varies accordingly from forest, alpine shrub and alpine steppe to alpine desert. Temperature and rainfall details for various cities are given in Tables 4 and 5.

Table 4. Temperature of Main Cities (1961 to 1990)


Average temperature (ºC)

Frost-free period (days)

Coldest month

Hottest month

Annual average

Beijing -4.3




Tianjin -3.6




Shijiazhaung -2.7




Taiyuan -6.0




Huhhot -12.5




Shenyang -11.5




Changchun -15.9




Haerbin -19.1




Shanghai 3.7




Nanjing 2.1




Hangzhou 4.0




Hefei 2.4




Fuzhou 10.6




Nanchang 5.1




Jinan -1.0




Zhengzhou -0.1




Wuhan 3.3




Changsha 4.8




Guangzhou 13.3




Nanning 12.7




Haikou 17.2




Chengdu 5.5




Chongqing 7.2




Guiyang 5.1




Kunming 7.6




Lhasa -2.1




Xi’an -0.5




Lanzhou -6.1




Xining -7.7




Yinchuan -8.4




Urumchi -12.7




Table 5. Rainfall of Main Cities (1961 to 1990)


Annual rainfall


Maximum daily rainfall (mm)

Maximum snow thickness (cm)

Beijing 577.0 212.2


Tianjin 559.5 158.1


Shijiazhaung 527.6 200.2


Taiyuan 456.8 183.5


Huhhot 401.6 127.2


Shenyang 684.4 215.5


Changchun 576.3 130.4


Haerbin 519.6 94.8


Shanghai 1,110.9 204.4


Nanjing 1,034.1 179.3


Hangzhou 1,374.7 189.3


Hefei 975.2 238.4


Fuzhou 1,348.3 167.6


Nanchang 1,521.2 289.0


Jinan 674.1 298.4


Zhengzhou 645.2 189.4


Wuhan 1,222.5 298.5


Changsha 1,376.6 192.5


Guangzhou 1,681.9 253.6


Nanning 1,320.6 198.6


Haikou 1,625.0 283.0


Chengdu 921.1 201.3


Chongqing 1,138.6 195.3


Guiyang 1,107.8 113.5


Kunming 1,006.6 165.4


Lhasa 426.1 41.6


Xi’an 573.0 97.0


Lanzhou 316.0 96.8


Xining 367.5 62.2


Yinchuan 193.8 66.8


Urumchi 276.1 57.7


Features of Agricultural Zones

The most important difference of agricultural zonation is between the east and west. This is due to geography and ecological environment, in which water is the prominent factor. Based on the zonal and azonal differences, China may be divided into three natural zones (similar to the areas shown in Figure 6), i.e., the monsoon zone in the east, which accounts for 45 percent of all land; the arid inland zone in the northwest, 30 percent of total land; Qinghai-Tibet Plateau inland zone in the southwest, 25 percent of total land. There are intrinsic differences in agricultural features between the zones. The eastern monsoon zone is an agricultural area, the northwest and southwest are pastoral areas.

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Figure 12. Ecological zonation of agriculture (Sun He, 1994)

Character and Developing Trends of Nine First Class Agriculture Zones

China can be devided into nine main agricultural zones (see Figure 12):

The Northeast As a vast plain, this zone has fertile land for agriculture and forest and plenty of water, but relatively low solar radiation. Industry and communications are developed, the population engaged in agriculture is low and the agriculture is quite large-scale. It is the most important production base for cereals , soybean and sugar beet. Forestry is also developed and it has the largest natural wood production. The development of animal husbandry is slow; it is dominated by stall feeding and grazing is subordinate.

Inner Mongolia and Along the Great Wall With a temperate climate, low precipitation and shortage of water, there is less arable and forest, but vast grasslands. The agricultural environment is very vulnerable because of frequent drought, windy weather and increasing desertification. The main agricultural sector is livestock: crop and animal husbandry are mixed. Animal production is still traditional nomadic or semi-nomadic (herders live in fixed houses in winter and early spring but travel at other seasons), but its commercial economy is undeveloped.

Yellow River, Huai River and Hai River The climate is temperate monsoon with simultaneous rainfall and solar radiation. Water is relatively scarce. With vast plains, well-equipped agricultural machinery, good communications, a long history of cultivation and a high proportion of arable land, it is an important base for wheat, cotton, maize, groundnuts and fruit. The development of animal husbandry and aquaculture is relatively high.

Loess Plateau The topography is characterized by plateaux and hills covered by loess; soil erosion is very severe. Solar radiation is plentiful, but water scarce. Agricultural structure is unitary with rainfed grain production. The commodity economy is weakly developed, however the potential for developing grassland farming and fruit culture is high.

Middle and Lower Reaches of Yangtse River Water and solar radiation are abundant. Solar radiation, temperatures and water are all favourable. The arable area is large and fertile. City density is quite high and industry is well developed. Agriculture is highly developed with a high total yield of agricultural products and a high commodity rate. It is the main integrated agricultural production area and the base for rice, cotton, oil crop, tea, silk, pigs and fish.

The Southwest The climate is warm and humid. The terrain is dominated by hills, with little flat land. There is plenty of biodiversity and rare species. Agriculture is poor with extensive systems and low productivity. Grain production is for subsistence. It is the production base for tobacco, rape seed, silk, tea and fruit. The dominance of commercial pig production is remarkable. There are many forest and speciality products.

South China The topography is characterized by hills, scarce arable land and a long coastline. Most of the area is subtropical with plenty of precipitation; it is the only area suitable for tropical crops. The land is superior and favours export-oriented industries. The rural economy is well developed. The staple agricultural products are vegetables, fish, pigs and poultry. Grain production exceeds local needs. The difference in development between coastal and hill areas is very obvious.

Gansu and Xinjiang Land resources are typified by vast areas and low quality; there is much natural grassland but little forest and arable. Solar radiation and thermal resources are abundant, but water is very scarce. Desertification and salinization are very severe and the agricultural environment is very fragile. Energy and mineral resources are abundant. Communications are poor. Scattered oases are the main agricultural production mode. Grain and oil resources per capita are high. The yield of cotton, sugar beet, fruit and melon is high. Grassland husbandry is well developed. There is animal production in both crop and pastoral areas, but its output is quite low.

Qinghai-Tibet This zone is characterized by rarefied air, high altitude, strong solar radiation and low temperatures. The area of natural grassland takes first place and forest takes second. Arable land is very rare and distributed in patches. Water is plentiful but unevenly distributed. It is a sparsely populated vast land in a remarkable landscape. Communications are very difficult. Agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry have features common to all alpine areas. Animals, crops and trees are adapted to low temperature and low oxygen concentration, and their potential for productivity is quite high. Livestock herding on natural pasture is the major agricultural sector. Grain production per capita is only half of the national average. The management of agriculture and animal production is extensive and production levels low. The commodity economy is undeveloped and backward.


Since 1949, animal husbandry has developed rapidly. The livestock population reached 833.7M by the end of 1999 (and 954M by 2004). Pigs take first place with 422.6M and account for nearly 50 percent of the total. Among the herbivores, around 70 percent of sheep, all camels, 25 percent of cattle and goats, 44 percent of horses and 39 percent of donkeys are raised in six provinces or regions where the pastoral industry of China is concentrated (see Table 6). Of the total livestock, 2,461,300 are kept by state owned farms - 3.67 percent of the total (2.54 percent of pigs). Meanwhile, the yields of meat and milk increased greatly (see Table 7) especially in the period 2000-2004 when for example the production of cow milk more than doubled. Average annual growth rates of meat and dairy output from 1980 to 1998 are 8.7 percent and 9.9 percent respectively. National total yields of meat and sheep wool took first place and second place in the world in 1999. Meat availability per capita is 47.3 kg, which exceeds the average world level. But the availability per capita of milk and wool is still quite low. The proportion of animal product value in total agricultural production has increased from 12.4 percent in 1949 to 28.5 percent in 1999.

Table. 6 Livestock population (in thousand head)
Year/Region Cattle and buffalo Horses Donkeys Mules Camels Pigs(NBS data Year end) Goats (NBS data year end) Sheep (NBS data year end)
1996 110,318 8,715 9,444 4,780 349 362,836 123,158 114,125
1997 121,757 8,912 9,528 4,806 350 400,348 134,801 120,956
1998 124,419 8,981 9,558 4,739 335 422,563 141,683 127,352
1999 126,983 8,914 9,348 4,673 330 430,198 148,163 131,095
2000* 127,149 8,916 9,348 4,673 330 437,541 148,401 131,095
2004* 134,824 7,902 8,207 3,957 265 472,895 183,363 157,330
2005* 137,975 7,641 7,919 3,740 262 488,810 195,759 170,882
Six pastoral provinces and regions (1999) 29,608 3,907 3,637 1,502 329 63,952 38,032 91,454
Proportion of pastoral provinces in total (%, 1999) 23.32 43.83 38.91 32.14 99.70 14.87 25.67 69.76
Note: the pastoral provinces and regions include Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, Sichuan Province and Gansu Province. Source: National Bureau of Statistics [NBS] (2000a)
*2000/2004/2005 data from FAOSTAT, 2006

Table 7. Output of Livestock Products of China


Meat (1000 tons)

Milk (1000 tons)

Sheep wool (ton)

Goat Wool




Pork Beef Sheep & goat meat Cow & sheep milk Cow Milk Total Fine Wool Semi-fine Wool
1996 31,580 3,557 1,810 7,358 6,294 298,102 121,020 74,099 35,255 9,585
1997 35,963 4,009 2,128 6,811 6,011 255,059 116,054 55,683 25,865 8,626












1999 38,907 5,054 2,513 8,069 7,176 283,152 114,103 73,700 31,849 10,180
2000* 41,406 4,991 2,754 9,479 8,632 292,502 n.r. n.r. n.r.  n.r.
2004* 47,210 6,803 3,951 19,550 18,500 325,000 n.r. n.r. n.r. n.r.
2005* 50,095 6,800 4,349 25,650 24,530 400,000 n.r. n.r. n.r.  n.r.
Six pastoral provinces and regions (1999) 5,476 814 959 2,228 2,084 172,336 71,694 33,629 9,914 5,971
Proportion of pastoral provinces in total (%, 1999) 13.67 16.11 38.16 27.61 29.04 60.86 62.83 45.63 31.13 58.65
Note: the pastoral provinces and regions include Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region, Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai Province, Sichuan Province and Gansu Province. Source: National Bureau of Statistics (2000a)
*2000/2004/2005 data from FAOSTAT, 2006
n.r.= no record

There were 56,575 technical extension posts servicing livestock production and veterinary medicine with around 400,000 staff in 1999. There are 1,852 breeding farms (83 are national key farms), of which, 104 are for cattle, 187 for sheep, 23 for rabbits, 585 for pigs and 491 are integrated breeding farms. The coverage of high quality breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs are 35 percent, 55 percent and 90 percent respectively(Source: National Bureau of Statistics, 2000a).

The degree of commercial livestock production used to be very low and the supply of animal products insufficient. Now, the proportion of animal products consumed domestically is very small and their commercialisation has increased greatly. Animal husbandry has moved from the subsistence to the commercial economy.

Farm Size(National Bureau of Statistics, 2000a)

There are two types of holdings: private family farms and state-owned farms. The pasture of family farms still belongs to the state and families pay according to a Long-term Grassland Use Contract with the government, but the livestock belong to the family. State owned farms are mainly for breeding and their size varies greatly. Those in crop growing areas, for pigs and poultry, are usually small. Those in pastoral areas are normally larger with 30,000 to 50,000 ha. of pasture and 20,000 to 30,000 head of animals (in sheep units). The largest state owned farm covers 150,000 ha. These farms are mainly for breeding sheep and cattle, a very few for horses and goats. The state owned ranches of ancient China were for providing war-horses for the army. In the late 1970s, most military ranches switched to sheep, cattle or integrated farming.

In pastoral areas, a family farm usually has 5 to 6 people, 40 to 80 ha. of pasture and 100 to 150 sheep units of livestock.

In the eastern agricultural areas animal production at family level is quite small due to land scarcity. According to the sample survey on rural households in 1999, a family had only 1.48 pigs, 0.47 sheep and 0.05 cattle on average and the output of beef, milk and wool was 0.40 kg, 12.74 kg and 0.73 kg respectively. Some family farms specialize in pig raising, sheep raising or cattle raising and their scale is much larger than common family farms. Some of them could sell more than 100 fat beef cattle.

Livestock Species and Breeds

Based on origin and distribution, livestock in China may be classified into four lineages. They are Mongolia lineage (horse, cattle, sheep and goat) in the north, Kazakh lineage (horse, cattle, sheep and goat) in the west, Tibetan lineage in the western Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and Central Plains lineage in the central and southeast.

China has a great range of livestock breed resources; its breeds are famous for their prolificity, flavour and adaptation to extensive management, cold tolerance, load tolerance and adaptation to specific regions. There are special excellent breeds in each typical grassland type.

Cattle (Bos taurus)(Editorial Board of Cattle Breeds of China, 1998)

"Cattle" is the general name for Bos taurus and Bos indicus which are called "Huang Niu" (Yellow Cattle) in Chinese. Cattle are found in all areas below 3,000 m. There are 55 breeds. Based on their adaptation to ecological conditions, cattle may be sorted into three ecological-geographic groups: Northern Cattle, Central Plains Cattle and South China Cattle.

-The representative breed of Northern Cattle are the Mongolian Cattle which are adapted to grazing in the Temperate Zone Steppe and Temperate Zone Meadow. Excellent native breeds are Wuzhumuqin Cattle, Kazakh Cattle and Sanhe Cattle, all of them are meat and milk dual breeds.

-Central Plains Cattle are mainly in the flat agricultural tracts of the Temperate Zone Deciduous Broad-leaf Forest and are mainly stall fed with some grazing. There are many excellent native breeds such as Qinchuan Cattle, Nanyang Cattle, Luxi Cattle, Bohai Black Cattle etc. These native breeds are famous draught animals and their raising depends, historically, on lucerne cultivation .

-South China Cattle are in the hilly tropical subtropical zones, such as Hainan Cattle, Guangxi Cattle and Yunnan Cattle etc.

Yak (Bos grunniens)

Yak, regarded as the "ship of the plateau", lives on anoxic plateaux at 3,000 to 5,000 m and are mainly kept on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. There are 15,000,000 yaks in China (Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu, Xinjiang and Yunnan), around 90 percent of the world total. It is believed that they were domesticated from the wild Bos grunniens mutus, which is still found in remote mountains of Tibet (Zhang Rongchang, 1989). The habitat of yak is limited to the mountains and plateaux of the Asian highlands, inter-connected chain areas of the Himalayas, Pamir, Kunlun, Tianshan and Altai Mountains and parts of Mongolia.

Yak are raised for draught and meat; milk, hide and hair are also important products (Hu Zizhi, 1997). As "green food" (from less polluted plateaux), yak meat is very popular in cities. Nomadism is the main raising style for yak and nomads have been herding yak them on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau for probably 4,000 years. Herders drive their yak from low valley (cold season pasture) to high mountains (warm season pasture).

Yaks in China can be classified into two groups; Plateau Type and Valley type and seven native strains or types.

  • Yaks of the Plateau Type are mainly found in the centre of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau which covers most of Qinghai Province, the Tibet Autonomous Region and parts of Sichuan and Gansu Provinces. The habitat of the Plateau Type is mountainous and difficult of access. There are many marshes, semi-marshes and hilly grasslands with broad valleys, open topography and gentle slopes. So yaks of the Plateau Type have a wide range of geographical types, hair-coat, high proportion of polled animals, and different horn shapes. The weather is cold, the annual average temperature is below 00 C and annual precipitation less than 600 mm. The growing period is about 120 to 150 days. Because of differences of microclimate and level of feeding and grazing, the different breeds and populations of yaks show various body sizes. Milk and meat of yak are the staple food of local herdsmen. Generally, yaks of the Plateau Type are good milkers with high fat content milk.
  • Yaks of the Valley Type are mainly found in the alpine region of the Hengduan Mountain range of the south-eastern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, including the eastern part of Tibet, the southern part of Qinghai, the south-western part of Sichuan and north-eastern Yunnan. The altitude is 4,000 to 5000 m. Annual precipitation is more than 600 mm and the climate is frigid and sub-humid. Grassland in this region is mainly alpine shrub meadow and the growing period is about 150 to 180 days. Yak of this type have big body size, good tolerance, strong constitution, high meat productivity and high yield of hair and undercoat. Both sexes have wide and rough horns. The seven native strains are Jiulong Yak (big body size with male liveweight of 470 kg), Maiwa Yak (413 kg of male liveweight, good at loading), Tianzhu White Yak (distributed in Gansu and small body size with male liveweight of 260 kg, its white hair is valuable for stage property and its tail is also important for religious uses), Qinghai Alpine Yak (the most numerous, male liveweight is 440 kg), Tibetan Mountain Yak (found in Tibet and the male liveweight is 290 kg), Xinjiang Bazhou Yak (found in Xinjiang and the male liveweight is 360 kg) and Zhongdian Yak (found in Yunnan with male liveweight of 230 kg).

Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis)

Buffalos are of the swamp type and kept in the humid tropical and subtropical areas. There are three types and 18 subtypes. Buffalo are stall-fed and mainly kept for draught and meat. The milk and hide are also important products (Editorial Board of Cattle Breeds of China, 1998).

Sheep (Ovis aries)(Editorial Board of Sheep Breeds of China, 1989)

Sheep, the major grazing livestock in China, are kept in temperate areas within N 30º to 50º and E 75º to 135º. There are four lineages (Mongolia, Kazakh, Tibetan and Central) with many excellent breeds. Inner Mongolia Fine Wool Sheep, Aohan Fine Wool Sheep and Northeast Fine Wool Sheep are excellent breeds bred with the Mongolian Sheep as female parent.

Kazakh Sheep is an ancient coarse wool breed in the desert areas of Xinjiang, it was used as the female parent of Xinjiang Fine Wool Sheep. Xinjiang Fine Wool Sheep has strong adaptability and has been successfully introduced into many places.

Tibetan Sheep is an ancient breed which can adapt to extreme alpine climates, but can not adapt to warm areas. Gansu Alpine Fine Wool Sheep and Qinghai Fine Wool Sheep are excellent breeds bred with Tibet Sheep as female parent.

Central Plains Sheep are kept in warm temperate and subtropical areas under semi stall feeding; they have some special features. For example, Hu Sheep can live under subtropical humid conditions and is the southernmost sheep breed. Xiaoweihanyang Sheep and Hu Sheep are very prolific, each lambing could give 2 to 6 young (artificial feeding always needed). Daweihanyang Sheep have an exceptionally fat tail.

Tan Sheep famous for their fur with long curled hair, are raised in desert and semi-desert areas.

Goat (Capra hircus)

Goats are the most widely distributed livestock in China, since they can adapt to many climates and pastures. There are 35 breeds. The most special breed is Zhongwei Goat; its fur is like the famous "Tan Sheep". The Tibetan Turi Goat is famous for its cashmere. Since 1999, the Government has requested farmers to switch goat management pattern from grazing to stall feeding. This is for recovering the ecological condition of grassland.

Horse (Equus caballus)

Horses are the ancient draught animals of China in areas below 4,000 m. There are four major ecological-geographic groups (North Grassland Horse, Xinjiang Mountain Grassland Horse, Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Horse and Southwest Mountain Horse) and 70 breeds. In pastoral areas, horses are used for riding and grazed on natural grassland. Herders in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang also drink mares’ milk. In agricultural areas horse are pack and draught animals, mainly for ploughing, and are kept in stables or even the farmers’ yard. Normally Chinese do not eat horsemeat. The special breeds are Haomeng Horse (natural ambler), Chinese Mini Debao Pony, Erlunchun Forest Horse, anoxic tolerant Tibetan Horse and Yunnan Horse (adapted to stony mountain terrain).

Camel (Camelus bactrianus)

Camels are important in temperate deserts. There are some single humped camels in south Xinjiang but the great majority are two-humped Bactrian camels. There are three breeds in China, Xinjiang Camel, Alashan Camel and Sunite Camel, the latter lives in the steppe and its body size is the largest since the forage is better. The major purpose of camel raising is as pack animals and for wool. Camel are raised on natural grassland with supplementation in winter.

Pigs (Sus scrofa domestica)

There are breeds of 60 pigs in China, most are stall-fed. The Tibetan Pig is a grazing breed, usually grazing on natural grassland as a mixed flock of 60 to 80 heads (adult and young, male and female are all mixed). It grows slowly because of poor forage; its adult liveweight is around 35 kg. However, its meat is very lean and is superior material for preserved pork and roast suckling pig. Xinjiang Yili White Pig is another grazing breed, but its numbers are quite small. It grazes on grassland along rivers or in woodland, but is kept in sheds during winter with supplementation.

Animal Units

For convenience of management, an Animal Unit is defined, based on the grazing pressure on grassland or grass consumption of certain specific animal, as the standard so other animals can be converted into Animal Units by comparing the same items. The Animal Unit is also called "Animal Equivalent" or "Animal Index". Sheep is used as the standard unit in China; a Sheep Unit is defined as a ewe of 40-kg liveweight and its nursing lamb(s) and the daily forage consumption is 5 to 7.5 kg. The conversion coefficients of Sheep Unit to other grazing animals are given in Table 8.

Table 8 Stock Units
Species Description Stock unit
Sheep Breeding ewe and its nursing lamb


Adult ram


One-year old lamb hogg


Goat Breeding doe and its nursing kid


Adult buck


One-year old goat hogg


Pigs Mixed herd on average




Adult cow


Draught bull, medium working strength


Fattened beef cattle


6 to 12 month old cattle


12 to 18 month old cattle


18 to 24 month old cattle


Yak Mixed herd on average


  Breeding yak cow and its nursing calf


Horse or Mule Adult horse or mule, medium strength


  Breeding mare and its nursing foal


  1 year old horse or mule


  2 year old horse or mule


  3 year old horse or mule


Camel: Adult camel


Feeding Systems

Extensive Grazing System. Feeding systems in the north and west differ because of the ecological conditions. Steppe is the dominant grassland type of Inner Mongolia where the pasture is flat and the environment is simple. Land can be grazed at any season so long as water is available; there are no seasonal restrictions to grazing . Animals are moved rotationally following a predetermined range and routine.

In Xinjiang desert areas, there are two seasonal grazing belts: basins and mountains. Animals graze in the basins in winter, move in transhumance to the mountains in spring and to the high mountains in summer, returning to the basins in late autumn. It is a strict seasonal grazing system and animals spend 1 to 2 months travelling from winter to summer pasture. This system is adopted commonly in Central Asia.

In the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, although animals graze where the elevation is above 3,000 m, grassland is still divided into two grazing seasonal belts: lower cold season pasture and higher warm season pasture. Summer pasture can be used for only 1 to 2 months. This system composed of frigid alpine grassland and resistance to anoxia makes Tibetan livestock unique. Now, this system has switched to one in which animals are supplemented in winter.

Tethered System. Animals are tethered so they are strictly controlled and the grass can be completely utilized. It is used for saddle horses and high yielding milk cows in pastoral areas and for small pieces of grassland in crop areas.

Uncontrolled Grazing. Pasture use is not planned and animals are herded from place to place over a large area. This system existed when the grazing rights were not defined and the grassland was sufficient. After the Long-term Grassland Use Contract System was completed, this system has been gradually replaced by rotational grazing and only exists in remote summer pastures or open pasture. However, some researchers consider that the fact that nomads still follow this system is proof of the rationality and efficacy of many aspects of traditional pastoral production as a means to convert forage from cold, arid rangelands into valuable animal products in an environment where cultivated agriculture is not possible. The survival of pastoral nomads indicates that many of the strategies of animal husbandry and grassland management developed centuries ago are well-adapted responses to the spectrum of environment conditions (Miller and Craig, 1996).

Integration of Livestock into Farming Systems

In the two past decades, developing animal husbandry through integrating livestock into farming systems has been successfully introduced with the development of science and technology, improvement of production and management levels and increasing shortage of natural grassland. The approach for integrating livestock into the farming system is as follows. Since agricultural holdings are small grazed sown pasture is not practicable so stall feeding with cut and carry is usual for ruminants combining crop residues, wild herbage and cultivated fodder.

Growing Grass and Fodder for Livestock Since 1983, the central government has encouraged farmers to grow fodder and raise livestock. Agricultural experts and extension services are extending the "three components growing" model (cereals, cash crops and forage crops grown in rotation). Both farming structure and production efficiency were improved under this model. Practices vary according to region.

  1. In pastoral areas, government encourages and assists farmers to establish some artificial grassland for hay.
  2. In northern warm temperate agricultural areas, farmers are encouraged to use some of, or even all, arable land to grow high quality forages such as lucerne, or to grow Vicia sativa after wheat harvest for high quality hay and then to raise pigs and poultry.
  3. In southern subtropical paddy areas, farmers use the fallow paddy field to grow Lolium multiflorum for pigs, dairy cows and rabbits. This is a rotation of rice and ryegrass. Annual ryegrass is sown in November and cut once every 10 days from November to next March (in total 8 to 10 times). The yield of fresh grass is 60 to 70 tons per ha. and its content of crude protein is 20 to 26 percent. This farming system is called "Rice-Annual Ryegrass System" and is greatly supported by government. It has been extended to more than 2,000,000 ha. in southern subtropical paddy areas

Develop Beef Production with Maize Silage. In the Central Plains (including Henan, Hebei, Shandong and Anhui Provinces), maize stover was used as fuel or thrown away. Since the mid nineteen-eighties, maize silage technology has been the subject of an extension campaign. With help from the Livestock Technique Extension Service, farmers can easily get beef cattle through artificial insemination using imported frozen semen. Farmers feed beef cattle with maize silage supplemented with some concentrates. This is a high profile initiative. The central government, starting in 1992, established demonstration counties at national level for cattle fattening using maize stover; their number was increased to 268 and the number of local demonstration counties became 187 (including counties for sheep raising with ammoniated straw). At present, there are many large-scale beef cattle farms in this area. The Central Plains is now the most important beef production base and produces around 50 percent of national beef output. This trend is advancing rapidly for cereals are relatively abundant and the demand for beef is rising.

Sheep Production with Ammoniated Straw. In northern agricultural areas, wheat straw was used as fodder for draught animals. However, more and more farmers use machines instead of draught animals and a huge amount of straw was not used. Farmers burnt it in the field which threatened the environment. In the last decade, ammoniated straw technology was extended to increase the nitrogen content in straw, improve palatability and feeding value. Animal production in this area was greatly improved. This technology can also reduce environmental pollution. From 1995 the central government started to establish demonstration counties at national level and it strongly promotes roughage utilization and animal production. Sheep are given ammoniated wheat straw and supplemented with concentrates so that the wheat straw is fully used.

Socio-economic Conditions

Legislation. Since the open door and reform policy in 1979, law creation in the animal husbandry sector has made great strides. It began with the "Byelaw of Livestock and Poultry Epidemic Prevention" in 1985 and 13 laws relating to grassland and animal production have been passed up to now, including the "Law of Grassland", "Law of Animal Epidemic Prevention", "Byelaw of Animal Remedy Management", "Byelaw of Breeding Animal and Poultry", "Law of Quarantine Inspection of Imported and Exported Plants and Animals" and "Byelaw of Fodder and Fodder Additive Management". At the same time, over 100 detailed rules and regulations have been made and local government made local regulations accordingly. Usually the local Grassland Station or Animal Production Station is the law enforcer.

Social Services. As mentioned above, China has a complete animal husbandry technical extension network (including grassland technical services). The network has four levels: National, Provincial, Prefecture and County. There are more than 50,000 services in the country and more than 400,000 staff are employed. Additionally, around 500,000 village extension workers are involved in this network. Some extension workers at grass roots level were lost around 1990 since the fund was reduced. In 1998, 46,249 Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Medicine Stations (or Grassland Stations) at township level were determined as government-sponsored institutions, and out of them, 30,989 stations are totally sponsored, occupying 67 percent of the total. 295,407 staff are employed by these institutions (China Agricultural Yearbook Editorial Committee, 2000). This network provides strong backing for animal production.

Market Constraints Animal products had a seller's market before the 1990s and supply was insufficient. Thereafter, animal production was dramatically promoted and farmers have to face furious competition in a buyer's market. So as to make market mechanisms more active and favour animal production, government strengthens the information exchange between producers and consumers. Government also set-up the "Milk Plan for Students" and "Breakfast Revolution" to enhance milk consumption. To improve fine wool production, a Society of Fine Wool Producers has been set-up in Xinjiang Uigur Autonomous Region. Meanwhile, show, sale and auction of breeding sheep and wool was held in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. These two regions produce most of the sheep wool in China.

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