tcp/cpr/2902 (A) Details
The grasslands of the Project area
The grasslands of the project area are hard grazed but have a good ground cover of valuable herbage. Winter areas are individually fenced but the fences are mostly boundary markers rather than for stock control. A two-area grazing system is used with winter-spring grasslands around winter quarters and summer-autumn pastures at a short distance; there is little altitudinal variation in the area so the main difference between winter and summer lands is distance from the winter base. There may be a lack of balance between the areas allocated to winter and summer grazing. The areas and situation of the main vegetation types is not well known or mapped. Stock numbers are not accurately known.

Grassland monitoring
A system of pasture monitoring has been in place for over a decade and has built up sound databases of information on grassland yield and growth patterns. The techniques used are labour-intensive so the number of sites which can be dealt with is limited; this prevents adequate cover of the various pasture types and quick assessment of standing herbage in autumn over a wide area which is required for risk assessment. An electronic pasture probe, used in conjunction with classical sampling, would allow standing herbage to be measured at a great number very quickly; a probe has been acquired by the project. The areas of the different pasture types and their emplacement are not known; mapping is urgently needed to allow more accurate assessment of grassland yields.

Pasture resource assessment
Rapid processing and analysis of monitoring results and their integration with livestock, climate and other parameters is essential if useful information is to be available on time; the project introduced and tested a software system and trained staff in its use. The Resource Assessment for Pastoral Systems (RAPS) has shown great promise in the project area and should be used henceforth as the means of handling data for grassland advisory work and risk forecasting. RAPS should become a mainstream part of such work throughout the province, incorporated into the Bureau’s routine activities, and should not be left as a parallel system to older methodology.

RAPS software is extremely promising for handling pastoral data and integrating the many grassland, livestock and climatic data to provide information in a suitable form for planning grassland use, providing advice to local authorities and herders as well as assessing and forecasting risk. Preliminary testing over two seasons has provided very promising results and shown the advantages of special programmes for analysing and integrating pastoral data. The preliminary analyses have also identified subjects on which more, or more accurate information are needed. These are noted above and include: mapping of vegetation types; verification of livestock numbers and the need for a greater cover of sampling – which could be attained using an electronic pasture meter. Training courses have been held and the user manual and the software itself have been translated into Chinese. RAPS is a tool for handling and integrating data so it should be integrated into the Bureau’s routine work, preferably Province-wide, not kept as a separate programme. Extension of the use of RAPS will require the training of more staff, there may also be a need for more in-depth training of specialist staff who would supervise others.

Bureau staff have taken to RAPS rapidly and have been quick to understand the potential of the system and to learn how to use it. The system should be integrated into the Bureau’s routine work. Further training should be provided at several levels. Information gathering on grassland yields, areas of grassland, types, livestock numbers, livestock weights etc. should be improved and routinely up-dated. In Qinghai Province a large “Three Rivers” project, with a large component of management of grassland environments is under formulation; RAPS data handling could be very useful within such a programme and the Bureau is studying how best it could be employed.

Preliminary results of RAPS analyses
Preliminary RAPS analyses have produced a considerable amount of information which is valuable for identifying problems of grazing management and for providing points for further investigation. The main points and outcomes of these analyses included: overall and seasonal relationships between herbage growth in the grazed areas, timing and extent of conserved forage production, and livestock requirement or intake; the timing and extent of feeding conserved forage relative to livestock seasonal intake; the seasonal balance of metabolisable energy with limits of use as defined by utilisation constraints; the seasonal balance of available dry matter with limits of use as defined by utilisation constraints; proportions of grazed forage sources and conserved forage sources relative to total forage intake by livestock; seasonal changes in the numbers of livestock; seasonal occurrences, if any, of forage deficits relative to livestock forage requirements; the proportion of total grazed forage resource consumed by livestock and extent of forage carry-over loss due to senescence and physical detachment.

A major issue relating to the timing and duration of availability for use of the seasonal grazing lands was revealed during preliminary analyses. Strictly timed movements of livestock between seasonal grazing lands resulted in "dysfunctional" pastoral systems. To alleviate this condition, significant overlap of use between the summer and winter grazing lands was defined in the "use restriction" profiles of the relevant records. While contrary to “traditional” view, the flexibility of the timing and extent of movement between the seasonal grazing lands more realistically represented the current pastoral production regime. The flexibility was reported during the 2004 herder interviews. This issue needs to be investigated more thoroughly.

Having the correct balance between seasonal grazing lands from both the viewpoint of resource availability and resource use by livestock has a significant affect on the overall efficiency of use of the pastoral resources and, consequently, opportunities for the mitigation of pastoral risk. Analyses of the benchmark databases for the four project areas indicate that there are imbalances between the winter and summer grazing lands. The most common indication is in the available dry matter profiles. For all project sites, except for Nanqi village, the overall available dry matter curve does not get “close” to the utilisation limit. This can be caused by some available forage within the seasonal grazing land which the stock are not able to consume as they are moved to the next grazing land. If the consumption limit of the "under-utilised" grazing land is realistic for sustainable use, then it may be possible to extend the grazing duration to increase the level of consumption of the “surplus” available herbage.

Sown fodder
Herders in the project area do not grow crops and the growing season is too short and cool for their cultivation. It is, however, possible to produce oats to the stage at which they can be made into hay. Oats is probably the only suitable crop; rye and barley have been tested under similar conditions elsewhere in Qinghai and found less promising; vetch, Vicia sp. was used by the project in 2004, mixed with oats, and it failed. Oat seed cannot be produced in the project area but the crop is widely grown in the low-altitude, eastern, agricultural zone of the Province, where there is an excellent seed base.

Climatic conditions for haymaking are far from ideal. Oats are sown in mid to late May when hard frosts are over; they are harvested in October when herders return from the summer pastures. Since oats are grown widely in other parts of Qinghai and also since the equipment needed is the same as for common crops of the agricultural areas such as wheat and barley, the necessary skills and equipment are readily available. Simple tools for land preparation and harvest are on sale in the townships near to the project area so herders have no problems in finding the necessary hoes and sickles.

In 2004 and 2005 oat demonstrations were carried out with target households; twenty households grew oats in Nanqi and ten in Jilong. Plot size varied: in Naqi the range was 0.95 – 12.9 mu and the average 5.27 mu whereas in Jilong the range was 3 – 7 mu and the average 5. Sowing was in mid to late May and harvest in October. Plots of one mu or less are cultivated by hand and the seed broadcast and hand covered; this requires 17.5 – 20 kg/mu of seed. For larger plots a drill is often used which gives better germination and requires less seed. Little maintenance is required other than protection from stray livestock. Yield data are not available from the demonstrations due to problems in recording.

Reserved grassland
A few herders have, of their own initiative, enclosed small areas of grassland close to their homesteads with wire-mesh and spread sheep manure (much yak dung is used as fuel). These enclosures are protected from about May until they are grazed, usually by ewes, in December – January. The development of the natural vegetation within the enclosures is outstanding and valuable pasture plants such as Poa and Elymus nutans grow strongly. Outside the fence the grassland was like a close-mown lawn and these grasses could only be found by very close examination.The project should encourage some more herders to reserve grassland and monitor the results – it looks like a cheap way of supplying some good winter grazing. If small groups could be organised to pool their reserved grassland, fencing costs would be reduced considerably.