Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

MONGOLIA


by
J.M. SUTTIE


1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. Changes in administrative systems in the twentieth century
2. SOILS AND TOPOGRAPHY

3. CLIMATE AND AGRO-ECOLOGICAL ZONES

4. RUMINANT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

4.1.  Grazing livestock production
4.2  Livestock in herding systems
4.3  Evolution of stock numbers
4.4  Intensive livestock production
4.5   Grazing management
4.6  Transhumance
4.7  Risk in herding
5. THE PASTURE RESOURCE
5.1  Grazing lands
5.2  Sown fodder
5.3  Grazing management on negdels
5.4  The present grazing situation
6. OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT OF PASTURE RESOURCES

7. RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANISATIONS AND PERSONNEL

8. REFERENCES

9. CONTACTS



1. INTRODUCTION

Mongolia is one of the few truly pastoral countries; its economy depends almost entirely on livestock, with little crops, forestry or industry. Its cold, arid climate is only suitable for extensive, transhumant grazing with local, hardy breeds, which is still practised with few inputs other than the hard work and skill of the herders. This ancient grazing system has proved itself for many centuries and remained sustainable through the political changes of the past century. The grazing lands are in good condition and the local breeds intact and thriving; this contrasts with the situation in some neighbouring countries which now face the consequences of excessive use of exotic breeds and reliance on bought, imported winter feed.

Figure 1. Map of Mongolia

Mongolia lies between 42o and 52o N and 880 and almost 1200 E. About half the land is above 1 400 m. It is completely landlocked (see Figure 1), bordering Russia, Buryatia and China; well-defined natural boundaries delimit the Mongolian steppe; the Altai and Gobi Altai mountains to the west and Southwest, the Khangai mountains in the North Centre, the Gobi desert to the south and the taiga to the north; these do not facilitate trade or transport. Access to the sea is through the Chinese port of Tianjin, 1 000 km from the frontier. There are few hard-surfaced roads; the main Russia-China railway traverses the country (with change of gauge at the border), but few internal lines. Livestock move to market by droving, other commodities have to be transported over poor, unsurfaced roads and tracks. 

Grasslands and arid grazing cover 1 210 000 km2 (80% of the land area) and forest and forest scrub 150 000 km2 (10%). Some 90 000 km2 are said to be used in settlement and infrastructure and 52 000 km2 in national parks. The arable area is under 10 000 km2 , all mechanised, large-scale farms; some has fallen out of cultivation since the demise of the state farms (about 7 000 km2 are estimated to be recoverable). About 80% of the country, therefore, is extensive grazing exploited by traditional, pastoral methods. The five main biogeographical zones are: (i) High mountains (70 000 km2), (ii) mountain taiga (60 000 km2); (iii) forest-mountain &steppe -mixed forest and grazing - (370 000 km2); (iv) dry steppe grassland (410 000 km2); (v) Gobi - desert steppe and desert - (580 000 km2). Extensive livestock production is, by far, the country’s major land use and industry. See Table 1.

Table 1 Land resources
LAND USE
PERCENTAGE
AREA Km2
Total land area  
1 500 000
Grasslands and arid grazing
80.7
1 210 000
Forest
6.9
104 000
Saxaul forest in Gobi
3.1
46 000
Arable*
0.5
7 000
National parks
3.5
52 000
Hay land*
1.3
20 000
     
*=Figures from early nineties - much now fallow

Most of the population, about 80%, is Mongol; the extreme west is inhabited by Kazahks and there are some reindeer people in the extreme north, Buryats, Tuvans and other Mongol-related peoples make up the rest. The total population has risen sharply, more rapidly than livestock numbers, tripling since 1950, (see Table 2). The degree of urbanisation rose very steeply on collectivisation - originally urban dwellers were only 15%, but ten years on this had risen to 40% and by 1989, the end of the collective period was 57% - including those in the sum centres. The 1997 figures show a slight decrease in the proportion (but not number) of town dwellers - perhaps reflecting some families returning to herding.

Table 2 Population (,000)
Year
1950
1960
1970
1980
1997
1998
Total
772.4
968.1
1265.4
1682.0
2387.0
2422.8
Rural and Urban population 
Year
1956
1963
1969
1979
1989
1997
Urban
183.0
408.8
527.4
817.0
1161.1
1226.3
Rural
662.5
608.3
670.2
778.0
877.9
1127.0
Total
845.5
1071.1
1197.6
1595.0
2044.0
2353.3
Urban %
15.3
40.1
44.0
51.2
57.0
52.1
Source: State statistics office

The rise since 1950 has been large and rapid, projections for the next twenty years show a near doubling! Education from 6 to 16 has been compulsory for many years and the level of literacy in the population is very high. There are strong training institutions to university level - many post-graduates have trained abroad. There are technical schools in each aimag More girls than boys follow secondary and university studies - their families do not require them for herding and there are adequate women to attend to dairy duties.

The herders all practice transhumance; this means that they must move seasonally with their livestock on the pastures. They live in gers (yurt in Russian), cylindrical, domed structures with a wooden framework covered with felt. The ger is free-standing, not held in place by guy-ropes like a tent. While the ger is easy to take down and erect, and domestic equipment designed for ease of transport, the moving of the family’s gers and baggage requires frequent hard work and transport. Fuel for cooking and heating is generally dried dung, except in the forest zone where firewood is also used.

Mongolia is rich in wildlife; its herds share the grazing with antelope, gazelle, elk and deer. Rodents are widespread and can cause much local damage to grassland through feeding and burrowing, control was once done through poisoning but this has stopped, there are abundant predators, hawks, buzzards, eagles and foxes which feed on them. Wolves prey on sheep and in the Gobi Altai the protected snow-leopard may cause damage.

Crops and Industry are very minor components in the national economy; mineral resources have yet to be tapped on any scale, the forest is relatively small in area and slow-growing. Agroindustrial processing, almost entirely livestock-based, has contracted since economic liberalisation. Traditionally herders did not till the land, their economy and life-style was entirely pastoral; the climate gave little incentive to do so with the technology available. A little irrigated cropping, mainly wheat and barley, was done in the region of the Great Lakes; the grain was parched and ground to a pre-cooked flour (similar to the "tsampa" of Tibet). When suitable agricultural machinery became available during the second half of the twentieth century, however, it was possible to undertake large-scale cereal production. In some of the less unfavourable areas of Central Mongolia over a million hectares were cultivated. The land used was, of course, among the best pasture. Some fodders (discussed below) and potatoes were grown but the area was small compared to that of grain. The technology used, based on a rotation of alternating strips of crop and fallow, was adapted from Canadian practice.

State farms and negdel in suitable sites produced enough grain to meet the population’s needs - more cereals were eaten during the collective period than before or now. FAO 1996 quotes a 40% reduction in the consumption of flour to 1992. In a semi-arid area with a very short thermal growing season, all agricultural operations must be carried out very rapidly, especially seed-bed preparation and sowing; yields potential is low, production methods had, therefore, to be extensive and highly mechanised. Considerable seasonal risk is involved; harvest can be difficult through dull summers delaying ripening, early frost or snow. Cropping is not attractive to smallholders. Production was highly mechanised, field sizes large, over a square kilometre. Harvesting was by combine harvester, often with assisted drying. Straw was recovered and handled mechanically - some was ground up as a component of "concentrate" feed. The fallow had to be cultivated in summer to control weeds and prepared for the coming year’s crop.

Since the collapse of the former producing organisations, the crop area is greatly reduced, although some companies are still active. There are many financial as well as technical problems, including seed supply, and competition from imported flour. The country is now very much dependent on its neighbour for grain supplies, a problem for national food security. Much of the former arable is in tumble-down fallow, the area is not known but it is estimated that 700 000 hectares might be recovered for cropping; this provides some grazing but would require continual weed-control work if it is to be cropped. Straw is not, therefore, an important source of fodder.

Details of livestock numbers, meat production and exports are given in Table 3. Also reference should be made to Tables 4 and 7 as there are slight differences depending on the source of the statistics. 

Table 3. Mongolia statistics for livestock numbers, beef, veal, sheep, goat meat and milk production, goat and sheep exports and beef and veal exports for the period 1992-99 
Item 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
Cattle nos. (,000,000) 2.8 2.8 2.7 3.0 3.3 3.5 3.6 3.7
Camel nos.
( ,000)
476.0 415.2 367.7 366.1 367.5 357.9 355.4 356.5
Sheep nos.
(,000,000)
14.7 14.7 13.8 13.8 13.8 13.6 14.2 14.7
Goat nos.
( ,000,000)
5.2 5.6 6.1 7.2 8.5 9.1 10.3 11.1
Horse nos.
(,000,000)
2.3 2.2 2.2 2.4 2.7 2.8 2.9 3.1
Beef & veal prod. ( ,000 t) 75.7 64.5 64.4 71.3 89.9 86.6 86.0 87.0
Sheep meat prod. ( ,000 t) 96.9 96.6 95.9 93.5 93.2 78.5 84.3 87.0
Goat meat prod. (,000 t) 19.4 16.0 16.0 18.0 28.1 25.9 28.1 29.5
Milk prod.
(,000 t)
296.3 273.3 288.7 337.2 337.3 370.4 377.1 378.6
Goat+Sheep exports
(nos) (,ooo)
103.7 80 60 60 60 60 60 60
Beef & veal exports (t) 4,000 4,000 4,000 2,300 3,357 7,033 7,033 n.r.
Source: FAO statistics 2000 n.r. = no record
Changes in administrative systems in the twentieth century

The cold, arid climate is well suited to extensive grazing and transhumance which best makes use of pastures where forage availability in any one place can vary greatly from season to season and year to year. The ancient, original systems were transhumant with a wide range of possible travel. In the late 13th century Marco Polo described Mongol transhumance and their gers. The country’s pastures have probably always been heavily stocked, hard grazing is a historical phenomenon, not something of recent development. Kharin et al (1999) quote Przhevalsky (1883) who "said that all suitable agricultural lands were reclaimed and all grazing lands were overloaded by livestock." Feudal land ownership was done away with on the founding of the Mongolian Communist State in 1921; transhumance continued with government supervision.

A fundamental change took place in 1950 with the collectivisation of the livestock industry; while this facilitated the provision of government services and marketing (and probably control of a nomadic population), it decreased the range over which herds could travel and thus reduced opportunities for risk-avoidance in times of feed scarcity. The unit of management was the negdel covering the same area as a single district (sum); it was primarily an economic unit responsible for marketing livestock products, supplying inputs and consumer goods as well as fodder and transport services to members; it provided health, education and veterinary services. Although livestock was collectivised, each family could keep two livestock units (bod) per person, so about a quarter of the herd was under private control - see Table 11. 

During the collective period, the Government intervened heavily in livestock production through the provision of breeding stock, fodder, marketing, transport and services. It was a heavily subsidised production system which did not allocate resources efficiently. The loss of mobility through collectivisation was compensated by the production of supplementary forage and a State Emergency Fodder Fund (SEFF) was established to provide feed during weather events which would threaten survival but, with heavily subsidised transport and undervalued prices, herders soon became dependent on it as a regular source of feed. By 1991 the SEFF, handling 157 600 tons, had become a major component of the state budget. A network of stock-routes allowed slaughter stock to be trekked to market, fattening en-route. There were marketing and primary processing facilities for hides, skins, wool and cashmere.

Eighteen aimag » provinces were subdivided into 225 districts "sum", in turn divided into brigades. Negdel HQ had administration, schools (boarding), medical facilities, a veterinary unit, communications, recreational facilities and shops. Negdels were set production quotas and paid accordingly with bonuses - the system was production driven. A vast number of salaried administrators and specialist staff was built up at all levels, especially in the capital. 

Negdel were divided into production herding brigades and were further sub-divider into suuri - individual units made up of one to four households (sur). There were other, salaried brigades for haymaking, mechanisation etc. Brigades set production targets for each sur determining the quantity of meat, wool and other products to be delivered according to the annual state procurement order. A sur was usually involved in the production of single-species herds for which a monthly salary was paid (each household, however, had private livestock for subsistence). Pasture management was organised along rational lines and the seasonal movement of herds (and resting of grazing land) planned by the sur. Emphasis was on output rather than pasture improvement but the system did assure better pasture management than to-day’s anarchy. Hay lands were reserved and managed separately from grazing. 

The negdel were privatised in 1991; this was meant to take place in two stages. Thirty percent of negdels’ assets were distributed between members; a further 10% of the livestock was distributed to sum inhabitants (administrative and health workers etc.). The remaining 60% of assets was formed into a limited liability company; these companies were generally unsuccessful and the livestock industry reverted towards its earlier family-based transhumance. Sometimes the stock was distributed without the formation of a company.


2. SOILS AND TOPOGRAPHY

The level to undulating topography of the Mongolian plateau is frequently interrupted by low mountain ranges and is surrounded by rough topography. Luvic Xerosols associated with Orthic Solonchaks occupy the largest part of the land, the steppes of the Gobi desert. Associations of Haplic Yermosols and Orthic Solonchaks also occur there. Luvic Kastanozems associated with Orthic Solonchaks occupy a large area in the north and east, the best of Mongolia’s pasture lands. Mountain ranges are covered by Lithosols associated with Luvic Xerosols or Haplic Yermosols (FAO/UNESCO 1978).


3. CLIMATE AND AGRO-ECOLOGICAL ZONES

The climate is cold, semi-arid and markedly continental (see Appendix). High mountain ranges isolate the country from the influence of the Atlantic and Pacific climates; the Siberian anticyclone determines the low temperature in winter and the low precipitation. The frost-free period at the capital is around 100 days. There are four distinct seasons: a windy spring with variable weather - spring rain is especially valuable to get the pasture growth started before the main summer rains - a hot summer when the main rains fall in the earlier part, a cool autumn and a long cold winter with temperatures as low as -300. The growing season is, therefore, generally limited to about three months. Precipitation is low, mainly in the warm season between June and September; the largest grazing areas, the steppe and the mountain steppe and forest, get between 200 mm and 300 mm annually; the desert steppe receives between 100 and 200 mm; the desert gets below 100 mm; only the northern zone has over 300 mm. Most of the precipitation returns to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration; about four percent infiltrates to the aquifer and six percent contributes to surface flow. Strong winds (with velocities in excess of 20 metres/second) are common in spring and early summer and then dust storms can cause disaster to people and livestock. 

Major biogeographical zones are shown in Figure 2. There are five major steppe zones with different livestock production capacities. The Khangai-Khosvol region in the north-west is mountainous with scattered larch forest. It includes Arkhangai, Khovsgol and part of Bulgan and Zhagvan aimags; this is mixed grazing with yaks replacing cattle at the higher altitudes. Selenge-Onon in North Central (Tuv, Selenge and parts of Bulgan) is the main area of agricultural production. These two regions drain to Lake Baikal. Altai (covering Uvs, Bayangoli, Khovd and parts of Zhavakan and Gobi-Altai aimags) is a high, mountainous, area with internal drainage and contains large lakes. In the north of the region this again is grazed by the main types of livestock with yaks; there is some localised fodder and horticultural production under irrigation in the lower parts. The Central and Eastern steppes (comprising Dornod, Hentii, Sukhbaatar and parts of Dorongobi and Dungovi) are characterised by broad, treeless plains; of which the Herlen river traverses part; the primary activity is herding of horses, cattle, sheep, goats and camels. Gobi (mainly Bayankhongor, Omnogobi, much of Ovorkhangai and parts of Dungobi, and Gobi-Altai) is desert steppe and desert; used for grazing camels, horses, cattle and goats with very limited hay harvesting; drainage is internal; oases produce vegetables and fruit.


4. RUMINANT LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION SYSTEMS

Grazing livestock production

Mongolia’s livestock are raised at pasture in traditional, extensive grazing; this is the best, and in most cases the only, type of exploitation to which the grazing lands are suited. Livestock are herded on the open pasture, by mounted stockmen, and return to the camp each night, to be penned or tethered, although camels may be left at pasture. The intensive sector, which was government-run on state farms, has largely broken down since it could not be based on natural pasture and depended on large external inputs of feed. Local cattle are poor milkers and exotic dairy cattle require good, warm housing to survive 


Figure 2. Map of Biogeographical Zones

the long winter; provision of feed for housed dairy stock is expensive and forage for the eight-month winter has to be saved during a three-month growing season. Some small semi-intensive dairying is developing in peri-urban areas and where cropping and grazing land intermingle. Swine and poultry numbers have fallen drastically since decollectivisation. Nowadays livestock are privately owned: over 95% were in private hands at December 1998; there were 83 600 herding households with 409 600 herders. The average household herd was 170 head; 71% of the total herding families have herds between 51 and 500 head.

The major infectious diseases have been under control for many years through regular vaccination. Recently veterinary services in the field have been privatised; the state still supplies vaccines, free of cost, for the major diseases but herders now have to pay their veterinarian to deliver and carry out the vaccination. Dogs were, previously, licensed but are now breeding rapidly and their numbers are uncontrolled. Gid, "circling disease, as translated locally", of sheep is common; dogs are intermediate hosts of a tapeworm, probably Taenia multiceps, the intermediate stage of which is known as Coenurus cerebralis.

Livestock in herding systems

Six species are commonly raised, their distribution and frequency depending on ecological conditions and pasture type; camels (Bactrian), horses, cattle, yaks, sheep and goats. Although small ruminants are by far the most numerous, large stock predominate in terms of livestock units - camels, horses and cattle account for about 69% of the total. Some data on live-weight are given in Table 6. Currently the overall livestock population is estimated at over 31 million head; nation-wide statistics from 1918 to 1996 are given in Table 7. There has been a steady increase in numbers, except for camels which have declined from a peak of 859 000 in 1960 to 358 000 in 1995; this drop coincided with collectivisation when motor transport became available for moving camp (and probably mechanisation of the military) - their lack may be felt by the, now unmotorised, private herders.

The traditional livestock are all, of necessity, well adapted to the harsh climate; they can regain condition and build up fat reserves rapidly during the short growing season. The hump of the camel and the fat rump of local sheep breeds provide energy reserves to help tide them over winter and spring. Yaks, camels and cashmere goats develop winter down in their coats which helps reduce heat loss. All can survive outdoors throughout the long, cold winter with little or no shelter nor supplementary feed. The young are generally born in spring and their dams benefit from the fresh grass; generalised breeding seasons are given in Table 5. The livestock are generally small. Table 6 gives the average liveweight of those sold to the national abattoir which is probably a fair indication of the general run of stock; some authors claim heavier weights, which are, no doubt, possible with selected or better managed flocks.

Bactrian camels are important in the Gobi and other dry regions, and are used in many other areas to pull carts or carry baggage; they are the only class of pastoral livestock whose numbers are falling. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the fall has ceased and numbers may be beginning to rise. Camels are used for milk and meat as well as transport; camel-hair is a minor but high-priced product. Three breeds are recognised, all from the Gobi, but for moving herders’ camps camels are important in most of the country. Camel as subsistence herds and camel-breeding is mainly in the desert and semi-desert zones.

Horses of the local breed are small but hardy; they are extremely important as part of the herders’ essential equipment as well as for sport, meat and milk - fermented mares’ milk (airag) is a favourite, and highly saleable, beverage. Horse-racing is popular and herders’ preferred selection is for speed.

The small local breed of cattle is the basis of the pastoral beef industry; in many areas signs of admixture with exotic blood (Alatau, Simmenthal and, most obviously, White-faced Kazakh) are obvious, but in harder areas pure Mongolian prevails. They are very hardy but poor milkers and most dairy products are reserved for domestic consumption. Cows are dried off as the feed supply diminishes in late autumn and those which do not get in calf may be disposed of. At the colder limit of the range cattle-yak hybrids are used. 

Yaks and their hybrid with cattle, the khainag, are kept in the higher areas. There are no named breeds, polled animals are common and are preferred. The proportion of yak and khainag in the national cattle herd dropped (See Table 4) from one third to one fifth between 1950 and 1994. The proportion of yak in their main areas is said to be increasing again.

Table 4 Cattle, yaks and their hybrids (,000)
Year
1940
1950
1960
1970
1980
1990
1994
Total Cattle & Yak
2634.9
1950.3
1905.5
2107.8
2397.1
2848.7
3005.2
Yak
725.8
561.0
495.6
452.2
554.5
566.9
570.8
Khainag (F1)
73.6
52.4
69.2
69.1
50.7
70.0
56.3
Yak & Khainag as % of total
30.3
31.5
29.7
24.7
25.2
22.4
20.9
Source after Cai Li & Weiner, 1995

Sheep unlike the other species, have many local breeds, adapted to different ecological zones. These are described in detail in an article in World Animal Review (Batsukh and Zagdzuren 1990). Sheep numbers have been declining slowly since 1990. In 1996 there were 13 560 600 which was 90 per cent of the 1990 figure. Mongolian sheep produce mainly carpet wool. Average production from adult sheep is 2.0. to 2.4 kg of greasy wool.

Mongolian goats are renowned for the quality of their cashmere; their number has increased rapidly in recent years, more than doubling since 1988. This is partly due to the ease of commercialisation of a product with a high price to weight ratio since the old meat marketing organisation broke down; traders now purchase cashmere from herders. Goats were traditionally kept in drier areas with plentiful browse - now they are increasing in areas where, previously, they were a minor component of the herd. Production per head varies from 250g (female) to 340g (male castrates) per head of raw combed product. Twinning is commoner in goats than in local sheep and weaning rates of 100% and over are claimed.

Table 5 Livestock - main seasons
Species
Mating
Birth
Slaughtering
Camels early Dec. - late Feb. late Feb. - mid May December
Mares mid May - late Aug. mid April - late July December
Cows mid May - late Sept. mid March - late July December
Yaks early June - late Sept. early April - late May December
Ewes late Sept. - late Dec. late Feb. - mid May Nov. Dec.
Does mid Sept. mid Nov. mid Feb. - mid March Nov Dec
Source Telenged 1996

The dairy products of the herding sector are consumed domestically. Cows and mares are the main sources but ewes are sometimes milked for a few weeks after weaning. Lactations are short and cattle are usually dried off by December, when feed has become scarce, to avoid strain on the developing calf. Much of the milk in the short season is processed to conserve it for later use. A wide range of traditional dairy products are made but clotted cream and dried curd are the main ones. Fermented mares’ milk, airag, is a favourite, saleable beverage; it is also distilled to produce an alcoholic drink, rakhi.

Table 6 Average liveweight (Kg) of livestock sold to State
Species
1950
1960
1970
1980
1985
Cattle
242
248
243
217
259
Sheep
37
36
36
33
41
Goats
28
28
28
26
32
Table 7 Evolution of stock numbers 1918 - 1996, ‘000 head
Year
Camels
Horses
Cattle*
Sheep
Goats
1918
228.7
1150.5
1078.7
5700.0
1487.9
1924
275.0
1389.8
1512.1
8444.8
2204.4
1930
480.9
1566.9
1887.3
15660.3
4080.8
1940
643.4
2538.1
2722.8
15384.2
5096.3
1950
844.2
2317.0
1987.8
12574.6
4978.6
1961
751.7
2289.3
1637.4
10981.9
4732.6
1970
633.5
2317.9
2107.8
13311.7
4204.0
1980
591.5
1985.4
2397.1
14230.7
4566.7
1985
559.0
1971.0
2408.1
13248.8
4298.6
1992
415.2
2200.2
2840.0
14657.0
5602.5
1996
357.9
2270.5
3476.3
13560.6
9134.8
* cattle includes yaks and their hybrids; Source: ADB 1998
 

Evolution of stock numbers: The numbers of the five species between 1918 and 1996 are shown in Table 7; since grazing pressure depends on species as well as overall numbers these figures have been transformed into stock units (on the basis of the traditional bod) in Table 8. The transformation is crude and does not take account of the different stages of maturity of animals within the herd but serves for rough comparisons. Present stock numbers are high but, in terms of livestock units, little higher, about 6%, than those of 1950 immediately prior to the development of collective management. Historically there was a very rapid rise between 1918, a time of troubles, and 1930 when numbers approached modern levels.

From 1961 until the early nineties the number of livestock units remained relatively stable, reflecting the organised management and marketing arrangements of the period. Since economic liberalisation there has been increase in both stock numbers and livestock units, although numbers are rising most rapidly because of the great increase in the goat flock. The decrease of the camels, however, almost compensates for the rise in goats; the greatest increase is in cattle by about a million or 12% of all livestock units. Small ruminants account for about 30% of the total. From 1950 and 1996 in terms of livestock units the sheep and goats population was in a very narrow range between 28.8 and 31.9; large ruminants and horses, therefore, account for by far the greater part of the grazing pressure.

Mongolia’s pastures have, therefore, already carried livestock populations equivalent to modern ones; how they were distributed in space in the early years is not known. The number of livestock per head of population, however, has declined steadily since records began from 34 head (11.6 units) in 1950 to 23.6 (8.1) in 1961 to 16.1 (5.6) in 1970 to 13.4 (4.5) in 1980 and 12 (3.8) in 1996; the human population, in a livestock-based economy, now has only one third of the livestock per capita which it had in 1950.

Table 8 Evolution of stock numbers as livestock units and species as percentages
Year
Camels %
Horses %
Cattle %
Sheep %
Goats %
Total SU ‘000
1918
9.7
32.5
30.5
23.0
4.2
3535.3
1924
8.7
29.3
31.9
25.5
4.7
4741.2
1930
10.6
23.0
27.7
32.8
6.0
6820.8
1950
10.8
28.4
30.5
24.6
5.7
8933.4
1961
16.1
29.5
25.3
22.8
6.3
7865.3
1970
15.9
32.2
23.1
22.1
6.7
7096.4
1980
12.3
30.1
27.4
24.7
5.5
7698.0
1985
11.1
26.1
31.9
25.1
5.7
7540.2
1992
7.5
26.5
34.1
25.2
6.7
8317.1
1996
5.9
24.9
38.6
21.2
10.0
9134.4
Stock units converted as "bod" Values derived from Table 7

Intensive livestock production: Localised intensive livestock production grew up with the collective movement; state farms and some negdels were involved. The main enterprises were dairying, using exotic stock in "mechanised dairies", pig and poultry rearing. All were aimed at the urban market. An Artificial Insemination Service supported the dairy industry. Keeping exotic dairy stock in such a climate was always difficult and expensive since they have to be warmly housed in winter, and supplying high-quality feed for the eight to nine month period when there is no fresh grass was expensive in cultivated fodder and, often imported, concentrates. Pig and poultry farms were largely dependent on imported stock and feed. After Economic Liberalisation most of the "mechanised dairies" and piggeries collapsed and there is a serious scarcity of dairy products in urban areas. Some small semi-intensive dairying is developing in peri-urban areas and where cropping and grazing land intermingle but its progress is slow and economic viability still unclear.

Grazing management

The first land law was enacted in 1933; the introduction of collective production in the 1950s, however, was the first major change from customary practice. A new law in 1971 introduced a classification of land according to its use and the responsibilities; the obligations as well as rights of economic organisations and the administration, were defined and land tenure arrangements introduced. A draft pasture law to take account of the changed political situation, drafted in 1997, is before the Ikh Hural for debate: individual ownership (by herders, economic entities and organisations) and group owners (bag) of natural pasture and areas for winter and spring camps, rules for use of grazing in emergencies, stock-raising in settled areas, rules for contracting grazing to right-holders, setting up of inter-aimag and inter-sum otor areas, granting of haymaking rights to individuals and groups of herders. Customary grazing rights, however, remain powerful and are a major factor when considering land issues.

Transhumance

The regular movement of herds between summer and winter pastures, is widespread in pastoral areas of Europe and Asia. The classic cycle is from low ground in winter to mountain pastures in summer, often associated with alpine herbage which is snow-covered in winter. The pattern of transhumance in Mongolia is not usually of this classic kind; most of the precipitation falls in the warmer months, wind-chill is a very serious winter hazard and livestock are not housed . Winter and spring camps, which are the key to transhumance, are chosen for availability of some shelter and access to forage and water. In the steppe, winter camps may be sited in valleys of suitable hills; in some areas riparian forests provide shelter. In mountain areas movements may be more vertical with winter camps generally at the hillfoots; mountain transhumance is over shorter distances than in the steppe. Access to summer and autumn pasture is less contested than to winter camps and, within a sum or similar sub-unit, may be almost communally used. Grazing circuits can not be firmly fixed under conditions of great variation in feed availability which have many weather-related causes; transhumance must be flexible and highly mobile so that herds can be taken where feed is available which may be much further in some years than others - this presupposes a degree of co-operation between graziers’ groups insofar as one group will allow emergency grazing to another should weather events make it necessary.

Risk in herding

Herding in Mongolia is a risky undertaking and much of the herders’ work and planning involves avoiding or minimising risks. The term dzud describes serious weather events associated with snow and cold; the major risks can be classified as dzud, drought, disease and others. Risk in herding is discussed in detail by Erdenbaatar (in press). Dzud and drought are traditional, and effective, controllers of stock numbers. From the point of view of pasture condition a white dzud has a double effect - it provides moisture for spring regrowth while reducing stock numbers. Dzud takes several forms:

Black dzud occurs when, in winter, there is a prolonged lack of snow and continued want of water because of freezing of surface sources so both staff and herders suffer from lack of water to drink. This type of dzud does not occur every year, nor does it usually affect large areas. Wells provide water in black dzud conditions but often a long trek would be necessary and at the wells shelter and bedding would not be available in the new camping areas

White dzud is caused by deep and prolonged snow cover. It is a frequent and serious disaster which has caused a great number of deaths. Opinions on how deep snow has to be to constitute dzud varies: over 7 cm causes difficulties in Khangai yak pastures while up to 10 cm leaves fodder accessible to small stock in the forest-steppe and steppe; in the steppe of less mountainous provinces 6 cm is considered a dzud. White dzud is, of course, more serious if it follows a dry summer and herbage is short.

[Please click here for information on the severe dzud of winter 2000

Storm dzud is caused by continuous snowfall and drifting over large areas. If it occurs at the coldest time of year it is very dangerous; animals may run many kilometres before the wind and most mortality is through exhaustion or falling into rivers.

Khuiten dzud is caused by extreme cold or freezing winds; when winter temperatures are 100 below seasonal averages stock can no longer graze freely and expend much energy in maintaining their body heat. It usually occurs when night temperatures drop sharply for two or more consecutive nights. Serious losses occur when khuiten dzud follows white or storm dzud.

Drought, from the herders’ viewpoint, is a lack of rain during the warmer part of the year. Drought in late spring and early summer is the most serious since the pasture is starting to grow and the animals are in greatest need of good forage to rebuild body condition and provide milk for their young. Drought over a wide area leads to concentration of livestock around water-points and better grazing and thus causes damage to the vegetation. 

Uncontrolled fire can be serious; it rarely originates from, or near, gers or winter shelters since great care is taken in such flammable surroundings. In the mountain regions unprotected fires of hunters and gatherers of wild fruit are a common cause. While accidental fire destroys standing forage and causes scarcity, and wastes much labour in control (to protect gers and property as well as grazing), controlled burning may be used to remove unpalatable old material and encourage a young flush. Predation, mainly from wolves is an increasing risk now that the premium on wolf-killing has been removed. Protection of snow-leopards in the Gobi Altai raises a problem of how to recompense herders for stock taken by these rare and protected beasts. Stock theft is a very rare risk although there have been reports recently of trans-border rustling in northern frontier regions.


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