Country Pasture/Forage Resource Profiles


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Kinzang Wangdi

1. Introduction
2. Soils and Topography
3. Climate and Agro-ecological Zones
4. Ruminant Livestock Production Systems
5. Fodder Resources
6. Opportunities for Improvement of Pasture Resources
7. Research and Development Organizations and Personnel
8. References
9. Contacts


Bhutan is a small landlocked kingdom covering an area of 38 394 square kilometres (SYB 2011) in the eastern part of the Himalayan Range between latitudes 260 40’ and 280 20’ north and longitude 880 45’ and 920 7’ east. It is surrounded by the Tibetan Plateau in the north, the Bengal and Assam Plains in the south, Arunachal Pradesh in the east and the Darjeeling and the Sikkim Himalaya in the west (see Figures 1a and b).

Figure 1. Map of Bhutan (Source: World Factbook)

Figure 1b. Administrative Map of Bhutan (Source: <>].

bhutanmap.gif (8712 bytes)

The country is mountainous with elevations ranging from 160 up to more than 7,000 metres above sea level (SYB, 2011) traversing south to north with a great diversity of environments. Population estimates have ranged from 600,000 to 810,000 to as high as 2.3M, but the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan [PHCB] 2005 (Anon., 2009) put the population at 634,982 with an annual growth rate of 1.3%. Based on the PHCB 2005, the population in 2011 was estimated to be 708,265 comprising 369.476 males and 338,789 females with a male female percent ratio of 52.2: 47.8 (SYB 2011). The World Factbook gave an estimate of 716,896 with a growth rate of 1.175% for July 2012. Some 90 percent of the population are dependent on agriculture.  Agriculture and livestock contribute to 45% of the country's GNP, while tourism, though a contributor to the economy, is strictly regulated, maintaining a balance between the traditional and development and modernization. [According to SYB (2011) agriculture in 2010 contributed 16.8% to the total economy i.e. as measured by the Gross Domestic Product. It was also the single largest sector that provides livelihood to more than 60 percent of the population as per Labour Force Survey 2011]. Farming is essentially subsistence and the main crops grown are maize, rice, millet, buckwheat, barley, and mustard. This is changing in some areas. However, the mountainous nature of the country makes only about 8 percent of the total land suitable for crops (LUPP, 1995). Furthermore land use is dictated by the diverse climate and topography. Land use is shown in Table 1.

Thimphu is the capital and largest city; it became the capital in 1961 and as of 2005 had a population of 79,185, with 98,676 people estimated to live in the entire Thimphu district (Wikipedia). In 2007, Bhutan made the transition from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy and held its first general election. In January 2008 Bhutan’s Planning Commission was reconstituted as the Gross National Happiness Commission.

Bhutan ranks among the most biodiverse countries and is in the top 10% of countries with the highest species richness per unit area. It has been designated as one of the ten Biodiversity Hotspots in the world and the centre of 221 Global Endemic Bird Areas. Its rich biodiversity includes more than 120 species of butterflies, 28 of which are endemic to the Eastern Himalayas, and as many as 750 plant species endemic to the Eastern Himalayas. Protected areas cover 26% of Bhutan’s territory and 9% of additional land has been declared as biological corridors connecting the protected areas. With the addition of conservation areas, more than 35% of the country’s area is under some form of conservation management. More than 70% of the country is covered by forest (see Table 1).

Table 1. Bhutan: land use

Land use Area
‘000 ha.
Percent of country
Forest 2904.5 72.5*
Wetland 38.8 1.0
Dryland 181.7 4.5
Shifting Cultivation (Tseri) 88.3 2.2
Orchard (apples, citrus, cardamom) 5.8 0.1
Natural Pasture (Tsadrog) 155.3 3.9**
Improved Pasture 1.1 <0.1
Others (Scrubs, rocks etc.) 632.2 15.7
Total land area 4,007.7 100

Source: LUPP Dzongkhag Data Sheets, 1995. MOA 1997a, 1997b; Roder et al. 2001.

*70.5% in 2010 according to SYB, 2011.
**4.1% in 2010 according to SYB, 2011.

Agricultural area 2.9% in 2010 according to SYB, 2011.

The number of farming households in 1996 was estimated at 65,000 with an average of seven members. Average land holdings were 1.5 ha with 10 percent of households owning more than 5 ha (PPD, 1996). Most farming is subsistence with an integration of crops, forests and livestock.

Agricultural practices have changed tremendously over the years. Until a decade ago, agriculture was practiced on a subsistence basis. Whatever was produced on the farm was consumed having little or no marketable surplus. Farm production was supplemented by keeping different kinds of domestic animals such as cattle for draught and milking purposes, chicken for eggs and pigs for meat etc.  At higher altitudes, herds of yaks and sheep are also kept for draught and milking.

Owing to the improved communication facilities in the country, there is an increasing tendency to go for cash crops like apples in the temperate north; oranges, areca nut and cardamom in the subtropical south. Other cash crops that are exported include ginger, chillies and vegetables.

Strategies to increase livestock and cereal production include the propagation and practice of double cropping of paddy production and distribution of high yielding varieties. In the livestock sector artificial insemination covers not only Jersey breeds that are high yielding but also for the production of Jatsa and Jatsam that are local high yielding varieties. As a result, increasing number of farms are mechanized with sizable investment on machinery and other inputs that are subsidized by government (SYB, 2011). Most farming integrates crops, forests and livestock.

Livestock is an integral part in all Bhutanese farming systems contributing 10 percent of the GDP (Dorji, 1995). This figure however does not account for value added contributions made to agriculture through manure and draught power. The large variations in the environmental conditions has led to a range of livestock production systems, ranging from the high altitude transhumance yak-sheep system to systems where animals are used primarily for draught and manure only.

Livestock categories with farmers include cattle, equines, pigs, poultry, sheep and goats. Cattle are by far the most numerous and constitute 79.5 percent of the total ruminant population (Table 2). Improved breeds introduced into the country are Jersey, Brown Swiss and mithun (Bos frontalis), but local native cattle account for 73 percent of the cattle population (although by 2008 it was suggested by Sherpa (2010) that of the cattle population of 325,625 head only 65 percent were local Siri with 19.6 percent Jersey and Brown Swiss crossbreds and 15.4 percent Mithun cross).

Table 2. Livestock population 1

Ruminants Number (‘000)* percent of ruminants
Cattle 304.9** 79.5
Yak 30.2 7.9
Buffalo 1.0 0.3
Sheep 31.3 8.2
Goats 16.0 4.1

Source: LUPP Dzongkhag Data Sheets, 1995; Roder et al. 2001. 11995 excluding pigs and poultry
* Note that some of these data differ somewhat from the FAOSTAT figures in Table 6 in section 4.

**According to Sherpa (2010) cattle numbers had reached 325,625 by 2008, while SYB (2011) gives the cattle population in 2010 as 310,071).

Primary production figures are not available, but earlier estimates based on animal population and household surveys put the annual milk production at 10,600 tons (PPD, 1996), production of different types of meat at 2,000-3,000 tons and eggs at 600-800,000 dozen. By 2008, Sherpa (2010) indicates that dairy production in Bhutan was 22,883 MT, 4,463 MT and 1,348 MT of milk, cheese (Photo 1) and butter respectively; the per capita consumption of milk was 34kg. Most of these products are for home consumption (MOA, 1995), although commercial production is beginning with, for example, the establishment of dairy farmer groups and milk processing units, and Sherpa (2010) examined the potential for establishing a dairy cooperative in Bumthang, a district in east-central Bhutan.

According to Livestock Statistics (2009) dairy production in Bhutan in 2009 was 25,692 MT, 2,613 MT and 1,267 MT of milk, cheese and butter respectively. The production of Chugo (dried yak cheese) was 86 MT, meat 1,332 MT (beef 769 MT), eggs over 1 M dozen and a small amount of wool (14,259 Kg). [The milk and meat production figures appear to be much lower than the FAO data in Table 6].

Photo 1. Cheese production (Source: Dairy Co-operatives in Bhutan. Used with permission of Dawa L. Sherpa of RNR RDC Jakar).


The topography of Bhutan is characterized by rugged mountains separated by river valleys (see Figure 2). Elevations range from just below 200m in the south to more than 7,000m in the north. Geologically, most of Bhutan consists of crystalline sheets with large masses of tertiary granite intrusions towards the north. For details of the geology of Bhutan see Ganser (1983) who defined 5 geological zones: the Sub-Himalaya; the Lower Himalaya; the High Himalaya; the Tibetan Himalaya, and the Indus-Tsangpo zone. For details of the geology of Bhutan see Figure 3.

Figure 2. Topographic map of Bhutan
(Source: South Asian Floods)

[Click to enlarge]

Figure 3. Geology map of Bhutan (Source: Department of Geology and Mines
Also see: Long, S., McQuarrie, N., Tobgay, T., Grujic, D. and Hollister, L. (2011) Published Map.
In: Long, S., McQuarrie, N., Tobgay, T., Grujic, D. and Hollister, L. (2011) Geologic Map of Bhutan, Journal of Maps, v 2011, 184-192. 10.4113/jom.2011.1159.

Information on Bhutan’s soils is very scarce. The FAO/UNESCO soil map (FAO/UNESCO, 1977) classified about 27 percent of Bhutan as having either cambisols or fluvisols (cambisols are most common in the medium-altitude zone, while fluvisols mostly occur in the southern belt). Less fertile acrisols, ferrasols and podzols were estimated to cover 45 percent of the country. The same study also reports that 21 percent of the soil-covered area suffers from shallow depth with mostly lithosol occurring on steep slopes (Roder et al., 2001). Bhutan’s forest soils have been classified by Sargent et al. (1985) and Okazaki (1987) who delineated 5 major soil groups (yellow soils, yellow brown forest soils, brown forest soils, podzols and alpine meadow soils) based on 69 samples collected from sites between 150 and 5,300 m. Altitude and precipitation were the main factors used in the classification. Currently a Soil Survey Project has embarked on a systematic soil survey of Bhutan. For details of the National Soil Services Centre in Bhutan refer to < >.


According to UNEP (2009), Bhutan may be broadly divided into three geographic areas and corresponding climatic zones (Table 3): the southern foothills, inner Himalayas and higher Himalayas. The southern foothills, only 20km wide, rise from 100m above sea level to 1,500m.

Table 3. Climatic regions of Bhutan

Region Climate Elevation Precipitation
Southern foothills Subtropical, high humidity, heavy rainfall 100 to 1,500 m 2,500 to 5,550 mm
Inner Himalayas Cool winters, hot summers, moderate rainfall 1,500 to 3,000 m 1,000 to 2,500 mm
Higher Himalayas Alpine, cool summers, cold winters 3,000 to 7,550 m 500 to 1,000 mm

Source: DANIDA, 2008.


The climate is hot and humid in the southern foothills, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 30oC throughout the year and precipitation between 2,500 and 5,550mm. The inner Himalayas, which rise to 3000m, constitute, with their broad valleys, the economic and cultural heartland of the Kingdom. The central inner Himalayas are characterized by a cool temperate climate with an annual average precipitation of 1,000mm. The higher Himalayas constitute the northernmost and highest mountain ranges with elevations up to 7,550m. These northern regions, under perpetual snow, are sparsely populated and have an alpine climate with average annual precipitation of 400mm.

Bhutan is divided into six agro-ecological zones: alpine, cool temperate, warm temperate, dry sub-tropical, humid sub-tropical and wet sub-tropical (Table 4).

Table 4. Agro-ecological zones of Bhutan

Agro-ecological zone Altitude m. Temperature 0C
  Max Min Mean  
Alpine >3500 12.0 -1.0 5.5 <650
Cool temperate 2500-3500 22.0 1.0 10 650-850
Warm Temperate 1800-2500 26.0 1.0 13 650-850
Dry Sub-tropical 1200-1800 29.0 3.0 17 850-1200
Humid Sub-tropical 600-1200 33.0 5.0 20 1200-1500
Wet Sub-Tropical 150-600 35.0 12.0 24 2500-5500
Source: Dorji, 1995

Grierson and Long (1983) have classified Bhutan’s vegetation into 11 zones (see Table 5).

Table 5. Vegetation zones in Bhutan (after Grierson and Long (1983) from Roder et al. , 2001)

Dominant species Altitude (m) Rainfall (cm)
Subtropical forest 200-1,000 250-500
Warm broadleaf forest 1,000-2,000 230-400
Chir pine (Pinus roxhburgii) forest 900-1,800 100-130
Cool broadleaf forest 2,000-2,900 250-500
Evergreen oak (Quercus semecarpifolia) forest 2,000-2,600 200-300
Blue pine (Pinus wallichiana) forest 2,100-3,000 70-120
Spruce (Picea spinulosa) forest 2,700-3,100 50-100
Hemlock (Tsuga dumosa) forest 2,800-3,100 130-200
Fir (Abies densa) forest 3,300-3,800 >130
Juniper/rhododendron 3,700-4,200


Dry alpine scrub 4,000-4,600


1No rainfall estimate given.

The climate is dominated by the monsoon, with a dry winter and high precipitation during June-September. Bhutan has a wide variety of climatic conditions influenced by topography, elevation and rainfall patterns. The great variation in rainfall within a relatively short distance is due to the effect of rain shadow but precipitation generally diminishes significantly from south to north (Table 4).

Land use and agricultural enterprises are influenced by the diverse climate and topography related to altitude. In the higher altitudes, farming is dependent on livestock, temperate fruit crops and crops such as potato, buckwheat, wheat and barley. Further south, towards the sub-tropical areas, rice and maize dominate the farming system. Cash crops such as cardamom and citrus also find an important niche with livestock as an integral component in the overall farming system.


Data from FAOSTAT for livestock numbers, meat and milk production and meat and milk imports for the period 1995-2010 are given in Table 6. There has been a decline in cattle and buffalo numbers in this period and particularly in numbers of sheep and horses. Goats have recently increased in number. It should be noted that these data for livestock numbers are close to those reported in Livestock Statistics (2009) by the Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Thimphu, Bhutan: Cattle 307,013, Yak 38,690, Buffalo 955, Horses 18,237, (Pigs 22,184), sheep 12,296, goats 38,618 and poultry 248,118, although the sum of yak and cattle are higher. As mentioned in section 1 above the meat and milk production data in Livestock Statistics (2009) are much lower than the FAO data, even though livestock numbers broadly agree. In 2008 and 2009 total meat imports (especially chicken meat) rose sharply and then increased dramatically in 2010, as did milk equivalent imports.

Table 6. Bhutan statistics for livestock numbers, beef + veal and milk production and imports for the period 1995-2010 (FAOSTAT, Accessed 3 March 2012)
  1995 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Cattle*, nos ('000) 372.1 355.4 325.9 326.0 332.7 337.6 384.4 365.0 371.4** 326.0 307.2 303.0
Buffaloes, nos ('000) 1206 2200 2000 1800 1900 1800 1750 1683 1551 1500 1500 1450
Goats, nos ('000) 35.1 31.3 23.0 24.1 23.0 23.9 20.5 22.2 28.3 39.1 38.6 39.5
Sheep, nos ('000) 34.4 22.9 22.2 20.1 24.5 20.8 17.6 15.1 12.4 13.1 12.3 12.0
Horses ('000) 29.9 27.9 21.6 21.5 23.5 24.7 24.6 20.1 21.0 20.0 19.0 18.5
Beef & veal Mt ('000) 6.0 4.9 4.9 4.7 5.1 5.1 5.1 5.1 5.1 5.1 5.1 5.1
Cow milk fresh Mt ('000) 43.0 41.1 42.5 41.1 42.4 42.8 43.5 42.4 43.6 44.9 45.2 51.0
Cattle (live animal) imports (,000 head) 16.1 - - - - - - - - - - -
Total meat imports
29 49 49 49 29 31 29 29 29 174 192 4807
Milk equivalent imports
(,000 mt)
2.2 7.7 7.7 7.0 4.0 5.2 4.0 2.7 2.1 2.1 3.2 19.6
*Includes yak; ** Thus in 2007 the total of 371,400 comprised 319,989 cattle and 51,500 yaks (Anon., 2009), but SYB (2011) suggests that yak numbers were much lower at only 4,082 in 2010 ; however, according to Livestock Statistics (2009) yak numbers were  38,690;

The traditional farming system evolved over centuries in Bhutan with the integration of crop production, grazing animals and forest areas into a mutually supportive system. Within this multi-composite farming system, large ruminant livestock plays a critical role by providing draught power, manure and livestock products for sale or home consumption.

There are three distinct types of large ruminant production systems in Bhutan. The transhumant Yak system (Photo 2) is limited to the alpine-cool temperate areas; the migratory cattle in the temperate-sub-tropical area. These two systems take advantage of the variations in climate and vegetation as herders migrate with their animals according to the seasons. The third is the sedentary livestock rearing system in semi- urban and other rural settlement areas.

Transhumance is associated with nomadic herders in the alpine-cool temperate areas who keep yaks and sheep as their sole source of livelihood. This system is mainly prevalent in the Dzongkhags of Haa, Thimphu, Paro, Gasa, Wangdue Phodrang, Bumthang and Trashigang. The migration takes place, depending on the number of pastures owned by the herders and their location, within village, within geog (sub-unit of a district), within Dzongkhag (district) or between Dzongkhags (Gyamtsho, 1996; MOA, 2001). This production system is also influenced by the in-born nature of the yaks which keep on moving in response to temperature changes.

For the movement of their animals, the herders depend on the vast native grasslands between altitudes of 2,600 to 5,000 m. to feed their animals. Yak production in these areas (Photo 3) and especially above the tree line (4,000 m.) is recognized as the only viable enterprise where the high altitude grasslands are efficiently converted into sources of energy for human use at no opportunity cost (Gyamtsho, 1996; Ura, 1993). In the summers the herders take their animals to pastures as high as 5,000 m. and come down in the winters to 2,600 m. Herders respect and follow their age-old traditional migratory routes to respective designated pastures in the various elevations for which they have traditionally grazing rights. In recent years fodder oats have been grown at various altitudes as supplementary feed for yak (Photos 4, 5 and 6).

Photo 2. Winter grazing for yak (and also summer grazing for cattle) at 3,500 m near Pelela Pass in Bhutan. Ground cover is dominated by dwarf bamboo (Yushania microphylla). (Source: S.G. Reynolds).

Photo 3. Yak used as pack animals (Source: Tsering Gyeltshen).

Photo 4. Oat fodder at high elevation (4,000m) (Source: Tsering Gyeltshen).

Photo 5. Harvesting oat fodder for making hay for yaks (Source: Tsering Gyeltshen).

The annual migration to the summer pastures generally starts from late April to May and back to winter pastures in October. Gyamtsho (1996) notes that the migratory yak herds of Dhur village in Bumthang are moved and rotated very meticulously among pastures based on years of experience. The number of days grazed in each pasture are carefully worked out for the whole of the summer (Gyamtsho, 1996). The exception is where the yak have to stay in a particular pasture all summer because the herder owns only that pasture.

Sheep are grazed along with yaks and may belong to a number of owners who pay the herders in kind under a contract for rearing them. These sheep are usually handed back to their respective owners on migrating back to the valleys in winter. Although sheep supplement the family with wool that can be processed into household items, it is not considered important.

Photo 6. Traditional method of drying oat hay at high elevations (yak systems) (Source: Tsering Gyeltshen).

The butter and cheese from yaks are generally bartered for grain from the lower areas on a seasonal basis. Important cheese products that find a ready market are ‘chugo’ (dried cubes of cheese) from the west and central Bhutan and ‘zoetey’ (fermented cheese) from eastern Bhutan.

Migratory cattle in the temperate areas (see Photos 7 and 8) are local animals; herd size could range from 18 to over 100. Sometimes small herds are pooled for logistical and economic reasons. Movement of animals to the lower sub-tropical area starts in November – December and they only come back in April.

Photo 7. Local cattle in one of the migration transit camps in west Bhutan (Source: Tsering Gyeltshen).

Photo 8. Transhumant cattle (mithun crosses and siri) on summer pastures at 3,200 m in August in Naja geog, Paro, Bhutan, just before the downward trek, when cattle will be handed over to partners for the winter 8-month period, under the nothoue system  (Source S.G. Reynolds).

Despite the government’s efforts in discouraging migration in this agro-ecological zone through supply of improved exotic cattle breeds like Jerseys and Brown Swiss, migration is likely to be there for years to come. The following reasons encourage migration (MOA, 2001):

  • Strategy to address feed shortage in the winter
  • There are other income opportunities for herders (e.g. Porterage)
  • Social factors (retain ownership of pastures-crop land in the sub-tropical areas; display of wealth and status; unproductive animals cannot be culled for religious reasons)
  • To prevent registered grazing land from reverting to forests
  • Cultivation of crops in lower areas (Baumgartner, 1984)

A survey carried out by Muller-Jaag in 1983 (Muller-Jaag, 1984) indicated a decline in migration by 19 percent, and it has further declined since, although a complete ban on migration will not be possible in the immediate future. It can however, be mitigated through providing alternative sources of feed. The herders and the people’s representatives at the National Grazing Policy Workshop (MOA, 2001) also suggested that migration could be alleviated if rules and regulations governing Tsadrog (registered grazing land) ownership and management be modified and redefined. The resolution of legalities surrounding ownership of these grazing lands has been recognized as a prerequisite for developing the Bhutanese grasslands (Gyamtsho, 1996; RGOB, 1997; Roder, 1981a; Roder et al., 2001).

In both the migratory systems described above, the herders follow a prescribed route (tsalam) to their respective grasslands. It is not uncommon to find more than one herd using a route. All herds then would have the right to use the route as well as the grazing rights to the grasslands of a specified night camp irrespective of whoever may own the particular grassland. This is called the "Lamjo Tsadrog" – roughly translated to "transit pasture". In the grasslands of upper Chokhor leading to the summer grasslands at Domjen, in Bumthang, there is an unwritten rule that no herd is allowed to pasture for more than three days in the lamjo tsadrog either way. It is noticed that because so many herds camp and pasture, the lamjo tsadrog are badly deteriorated and colonized by Rumex nepalensis.

The migratory habits of the herders also bring disadvantages:

  • Animal health services cannot be guaranteed
  • There is a risk of carrying diseases from one area to another
  • Services of cross bred bulls cannot be used since they cannot go on migration
  • There is heavy demand on family for manpower and time during migration
  • Migration depends on fodder trees along the route to supplement the fodder from the grasslands, resulting in indiscriminate lopping and sometimes felling of trees.

The sedentary livestock production system involves rearing of improved breeds of cattle like Jersey and Brown Swiss. In certain parts of eastern Bhutan, the large local migratory herds of cattle have been replaced with a few improved animals. This has been accompanied by planting fodder. These animals are stall fed at night and graze in the fodder paddocks during the day. Such enterprises have yielded a multifold increase in milk production with less demand on time and manpower compared to having a large herd of local cattle. As well as improved pastures, a fodder crop of increasing importance at various altitudes is fodder oats.

The benefit from such a switch over is raising interest especially in semi-urban areas where there is a ready market for fresh milk. The Ministry of Agriculture gave major emphasis in the 9th Five Year Plan (2002-2007) to such enterprises. For details of the 9th and 10th (2008-2013) Five Year Plans see < >. Sherpa (2010) looked at the potential for establishing a dairy co-operative in Bumthang, a district in east-central Bhutan with considerable dairy potential and existing dairy farmer groups and milk processing units.


The book by Roder et al. (2001) provides substantial information on grassland and fodder resources in Bhutan and their management.

The fodder resources available to livestock vary with the climate, the farming system and the season. The important fodder resources are forest grazing; natural grassland; improved pasture; shifting cultivation and fallow land; fodder trees; fodder oats, crop residues and others (like arable fodder crops grown in croplands). Estimates by RGOB/ISDB (1995) and Roder (1990) indicate that forest grazing and natural grassland grazing contribute about 22.5 percent and 30 percent respectively to the total fodder requirement (see Table7). These two fodder sources have also been highlighted as the most important sources of fodder in an assessment of fodder resources in five livestock rearing Dzongkhags (Roder et al., 2001). The survey also showed that grazing fields after harvest was the most important source of winter fodder. A number of improved grasses and legumes have been introduced and are used especially with dairy cattle (Photos 9 and 10).

Photo 9. Dairy cows grazing on improved pasture in Norgang, Bumthang, 2008 (Source: <  >. Used with permission of Dawa L. Sherpa of RNR RDC Jakar).

Photo 10. Grazing on improved temperate pasture in Bumthang (Source: RC Jakar).


Table 7. Contribution of fodder resources towards national fodder requirement (modified from Roder, undated)

Fodder Source Relative Contribution (%)
Forest grazing 22 23 22.5
Natural grassland 22 38 30
Improved pasture 1 9 5
Shifting cultivation and fallow land 15 - 7.5
Fodder trees 20 15 17.5
Crop residues 20 13 16.5
Source: Roder 1990 RGOB/ISDB 1995 Mean


5.1 Fodder from Tsadrog (registered grazing land)

There are over 400,000 ha of registered grazing land (Tsadrog) in Bhutan (Table 8). Most of these are located above the tree line at elevations between 4,000 to 5,000 m. The area of registered grazing land available to cattle and yak is about 1.4 ha per animal. It is assumed that not all natural grasslands are registered. From this assumption, the total area of natural grasslands will be more than the tsadrog, contrary to what is given in the table below. This has happened probably because the natural grasslands estimated from aerial photographs were classified as forests because of substantial tree cover in some tsadrog areas (Roder et al. 2001).

The natural grasslands of Bhutan were first described by Singh (1978) into five types as: Saccharum reed dominant cover, 800-2,000 m; Chrysopogon-Themeda cover, 2,500-2,800 m; thin and short (dwarf) bamboo [Yushania microphylla] (Photo 2) dominant cover, 2,500-3,000 m; high altitude scrub cover, above 2,800 m; alpine and sub-alpine cover, 3,500-5,000 m. A more useful classification of the natural grasslands has been provided by Miller (1988) in an unpublished report (quoted by Noltie, 2000, Table 9). Grassland surveys were undertaken by FAO in 1987 to provide objective information on the status and development possibilities of the grazing lands of Bhutan. Under project TCP/BHU/4505 detailed surveys of three representative areas were completed (the sites were at Soi Yaksa (north Paro), Chele La (west Paro) and Pele La (between Wangdi Phodrang and Tongsa). The work was detailed in two publications: FAO (1987) and FAO (2000).


Table 8. Grassland Resources for individual Dzongkhags
Dzongkhag Tsadrog1 (‘000 ha) Natural Grassland2 (‘000 ha) Ha. per animal3
























































S. Jongkhar








Trashi Yangtse




Pema Gatshel
















1Registered grazing land; 2grassland estimated from aerial photos or satellite imagery; 3area of tsadrog per number of cattle and yak combined. Source: Roder et al., 2001

Table 9. Grass Communities after Miller (1988) from Noltie 2000  
Grassland Type Altitude (m)
Cymbopogon grassland 700-2,100
Schizachyrium grassland 2,000-3,100
Danthonia grassland 3,000-4,000
Kobresia/Carex alpine meadow 3,900-4,800

Grassland communities are influenced by cultivation, fire and grazing. Grasslands between 700 to 2,100 m are dominated by Cymbopogon khasianus, Cymbopogon gryllus, Cymbopogon sp., Apluda mutica, Arundinella nepalensis, and Heteropogon contortus (Miller 1989). The important grasses and other vegetation above these elevations are Themeda sp., Schizachyrium delavayi, Eragrostis sp., Carex sp., Agrostis sp., Festuca sp., Poa sp., Rhododendron, Potentilla sp., Primula sp., and Danthonia sp.

Reliable production figures from the natural grasslands are scanty. The dry matter production based on visual estimates ranged from 0.7 to 3.0 t/ha for temperate grasslands at elevations of less than 3,000 m. and 0.3 to 3.5 t/ha for alpine grasslands at elevations over 3,000 m. (Singh, 1978; Harris, 1987; Rumball, 1988; Miller 1989; Gyamtsho, 1996).

Based on Dorjee’s (1986) carrying capacity for different agro-ecological zones and assuming that the average production per hectare from registered grasslands is 0.7 t/ha, the total annual dry matter production from tsadrog is 289,000 tonnes, enough to feed 30 percent (8 kg dry matter per day) of the Bhutanese livestock population (Roder et al., 2001).

The productivity of the natural grassland is further decreased when community pastures are grazed indiscriminately on a free-for-all basis (Dorjee, 1993; Gyamtsho, 1996). It is also not uncommon for two parties, such as a transhumant yak herder and a family from a nearby settlement, to have grazing rights over the same area putting extra pressure on the grasslands (Roder et al., 2001).

Deterioration of these grazing resources (the natural grasslands) have also been caused by the presence of poisonous and toxic plants; damage to grazing sites in Laya have also been caused by increased number of blue sheep (Pseudovis nayaur) and the burrowing habit of marmots (Gyamtsho, 1996).

5.2 Forest Grazing

In a survey of five Dzongkhags, forest grazing has been rated as an important resource for ruminants (Roder, 1998).

Environmentalists and forest ecologists have tended to blame forest degradation and destruction on grazing. However, there is no quantitative information to prove that livestock grazing in forests causes degeneration (Roder et al., 2001). Studies by Gibson, (1991); RNR-RC Jakar, (1997); and Tegbaru, (1991) have indicated that forest grazing is not a major problem for forest regeneration and health. An assessment of forest grazing in Zhemgang Dzongkhag has actually concluded that grazing can be an efficient use of available resources (RGOB/ISDP, 1995).

While grazing may not have serious effects on the regeneration and health of well managed forests, it is a serious problem in forest ecosystems that have been disturbed by mechanical logging or by poor silvicultural management. These effects may be harmful especially in the sub-tropical broadleaf forests (Roder et al., 2001). Whether we like it or not, forest grazing will be there as long as migration takes place; so long as alternative feed sources are not provided and the legal issues on ownership and management of natural grasslands are not looked into.

5.3 Fallow Grazing

Grazing fallow arable fields is an important fodder source (Roder, 1998; Roder et al. 2001). The most important fallow systems that contribute substantially to the livestock fodder especially in the dry winter months are a) the maize system, b) Tseri system and the c) pangshing system (Table 10). Animals are allowed to graze these fields right after the crops are harvested. The quantity and quality of fodder within fields will be dependent on the crop, the weed flora and the harvesting systems used as can be seen in Table 10 (Roder et al., 2001).

Table 10. Fodder from fallow land and selected characteristics of the major crop and fallow systems
Type Maize system Tseri1 Pangshing2
Area (ha) 55,000 40,000 10,000
Crops Maize Maize, millets, rice, buckwheat Buckwheat, wheat
Altitude range (m) 300-2,600 300-2500 2,500-4000
Major fallow vegetation Annual weeds Shrubs, trees Grasses, blue pine
Fallow period 4-8 months 2-8 years 6-20 years
Main feed Annual weeds, crop residues Annual weeds, shrubs Grasses
Dry matter (t/ha) 0.1-1.0 0.2-3.0 0.1-1.5
1 shrub-fallow shifting cultivation system used in subtropical areas;
2grass fallow shifting cultivation system used in temperate areas. Source: Roder et al., 2001.

5.4 Crop Residues

Crop residues after post harvest operations are another important source of winter fodder. Different authors have put estimates of the contribution of crop residues to Bhutan’s total feed requirement at 13 percent (RGOB, undated); 20 percent (Roder, 1982); and at 43 percent by Verma (1984). Verma’s estimation was probably an overestimation (Roder et al. 2001).

Among crop residues, the important sources are rice straw, maize stover and buckwheat straw. Other important crop residues fed to livestock are inferior and broken grains, husks and other chaff, residues from chang (any alcoholic drink, fermented from wheat, barley, maize or millet) and ara (home-made alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain of wheat, barley, maize, rice or millet) making and by-products of milling grain (Roder et al., 2001).

5.5 Annual Arable Crops

The important annual arable crops grown for livestock are turnip (Brassica rapa var. rapifera), radish (Raphanus sativus), pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), maize (Zea mays), wheat (Triticum aestivum), barley (Hordeum vulgare) and oats (Avena sativa). These are grown at elevations between 2,500 and 4,200 m. and are fed to milking cows, growing animals, draught animals and pigs throughout the winter. Farmers at higher elevations may cultivate turnips up to 0.3 ha annually (Roder et al., 2001). In two villages of Wangdue Dzongkhag, turnip was the main winter fodder for 87 percent of the households (Roder 1998). Roder and Rinzin (2002) mention that with a gradual increase in the milk production potential of crossbred cows, these annual arable crops are becoming an ever more important source of feed for lactating cows.

Maize is grown and fed to draught animals in sub-tropical areas like Zhemgang and Sarpang during the months of May and June. Wheat and barley are cultivated over a wide range of production systems including the rice systems of Paro and Thimphu and the wheat-barley systems found at higher elevations in Wangdue and Trongsa dzongkhags. Oats (especially multi-cut varieties) have partly replaced wheat and barley as winter forage in the rice growing areas of Paro, Thimphu, Wangdue and Trongsa (Roder et al., 2001) and variety introduction trials have been carried out (Photo 11) at Research Centres and on-farm. At lower elevations sugar cane is used for cattle feed (Gyeltshen, personal communication).

Photo 11. Oat seed multiplication (cv. Stampede) for on-farm trials, RNR Research Centre, Bhutan (Source: S.G. Reynolds).

5.6 Tree Fodder

Livestock production is also dependent on fodder trees. Fodder trees are mainly planted near houses, along fences and field boundaries (Tshering et al., 1997). A large variety of trees are used for fodder production (Roder, 1985). The trees used and management practices differ according to the altitude, the availability of other types of fodder and the existing land use practices (Roder et al., 2001).

Depending on the altitude, the most popular fodder trees currently used are Ficus roxburghii, Ficus cunia, Salix babylonica and Quercus semecarpifolia (Photo 12).There are no area based yield data for the tree fodder in Bhutan. However, yield extrapolation for temperate species from single tree measurements have estimated the yield of different tree fodder at 4 t/ha/year for willow; 2t/ha/year for evergreen oak, 4 t/ha/yr for Populus robusta and 12 t/ha/year for Chinese pear (Roder, 1992). As far as the nutritional content of the tree fodders are concerned, most are inferior to herbaceous species except for willow which has excellent nutritional qualities and high palatability (Roder, 1992; Wangdi et al., 1997).

Photo 12. Collection of Quercus semecarpifolia leaves for winter feed supplementation in Haa (Source: Tsering Gyeltshen).

5.7 Improved Pasture and Fodder Species

While a number of species have been imported and established in research trials, few have been widely distributed. Roder (2002) indicated that from the mid 1970s, 75 grass species and 157 legume species have been introduced and evaluated. Under temperate conditions the highest yielding legume and grass species were: white clover (Trifolium repens), red clover (T. pratense), lucerne (Medicago sativa), and lotus (Lotus pedunculatus), cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), and Italian rye grass (Lolium multiflorum) As a result of the germplasm introduction and testing activities 2 annual, 13 herbaceous perennial and 3 tree fodder species were currently recommended (in 2002) through the extension programme. Gyeltshen (personal communication) indicates that the following are commonly used species:

Temperate areas:  White clover (Trifolium repens), Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum), Tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) used in mixtures. Oats (Avena sativa); 3 varieties have been released viz Fodder Oats Bhutan (FOB), Stampede and Naked. Oats are grown in the fallow period (after paddy) and as a hay crop in yak areas. For more details of oats in Bhutan see Gyaltsen (2002) and Gyeltshen et al. (2005).

Sub-tropical areas:  Ruzi grass (Brachiaria ruziziensis ),Molasses grass (Melinis minutiflora).

The availability of good quality seed is a major limitation when recommending species for distribution to farmers. Dorji (2002) described seed production in Bhutan for the above species.

There is little available information on the number of hectares of improved pasture.

[For full details of the pasture resources of Bhutan see Roder et al., 2001 and for details of fodder production in Bhutan see the Handbook for Extension Agents (January 2002) produced by RNR Research Centre Jakar/Bumthang (Livestock Research Program, 2002)].

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The concept of growing fodder (conventional fodder grasses and legumes) for livestock is relatively new in Bhutan. This has posed difficulties when farmers had to spare land for fodder development. It was usually the marginalized land not suited for any other crops that was put under fodder. However, this is changing as the inherent limitations of the country’s topography and climate for sustainable field crop production are becoming more obvious and accepted by the policy makers and planners (Roder et al. 2001).

There are fodder technologies suitable to the different agro-ecological zones. With the increase in cross bred animal numbers, demand for better quality and high producing fodder crops could only increase in the near future. Livestock enterprises involving dairying will assume a greater role where crop production is difficult. However a sustainable dairying enterprise will not be possible without adequate fodder resources, among other things. Existing opportunities to improve fodder availability in Bhutan will be enhanced if the following are considered:

  • The review of the draft pasture policy is expedited following the recommendations made during the National Grazing Policy Workshop held in Bumthang in 2001.
  • Amendment to the rules and regulations of natural grasslands regarding ownership, use and management. This will act as incentives to the livestock farmers to make investments in these grasslands to increase their productivity.
  • Fodder grown on crop land and fodder trees planted on registered land of any class should be accounted for in the Land Act and given importance at par with other arable crops.
  • Optimizing land use and fodder production from synergistic association of fodder crops with field crops, horticultural crops and tree crops will have to be increasingly emphasized to address the shortage of land made available to fodder development.

In 2007 a Land Act was passed with the main purpose of nationalizing tsamdro  (grazing land) and sokshing (woodlot for collection of leaf litters) in order to improve or enhance the equity base of resource use for the general public.

According to the Land Act 2007:

  1. All Tsamdros (grazing lands) have been nationalized and no individuals, communities and other institutions may own land in their own names. Collection of annual grazing licence fees will be discontinued from the year 2007.
  2. After 10 years from the date of enactment of the Act, grazing lands shall be leased only to a lessee who is a resident of the district where the grazing is situated. An individual household or community owning livestock shall be eligible to lease the reverted grazing lands which have been converted to Government Reserved Forests Land (GRFL) for use as grazing land. While leasing grazing land, preference shall be given to the previous rights holder and community.

The legislative reforms initiated under this Act have had various effects on the socio-economic development and environmental well-being of the population; some opinions have been positive while others have been less so. In order to assess the impacts Gyeltshen et al. (2010) carried out a number of geog (block)-based case studies and made a number of suggestions and recommendations.

It should be noted that progress in the improvement of fodder resources is achieved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests through the implementation of a series of Five Year Plans. The present 10th Five-Year plan (2008-2013) is being implemented with the basic objectives of: i) enhancing sustainable rural livelihood, ii) conserving and promoting sustainable utilization of forest and water resources, iii) promoting sustainable utilization of arable agriculture and pasture land resources, and enhancing food security (SYB, 2011 and Ministry of Agriculture and Forests).

The mission of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is to ensure sustainable social and economic well-being of the Bhutanese people through adequate access to food and natural resources.

The overall goal of the Royal Government of Bhutan is the achievement of Gross National Happiness for the people of Bhutan and achieving a sustainable, yet vibrant, Bhutanese economy at large [< >].



Research in Bhutan is carried out through the four national research centres which are charged with a national and a regional mandate. The Renewable Natural Resources Research Centre Jakar (RNR-RC Jakar) based in the east central region is the national coordinating centre for all types of livestock research in Bhutan.

The livestock research programme is structured into four broad sub-programmes viz. Livestock Breeding and Management, Feed and Fodder, Animal Health and Socio Economy. The priority area of research is in Feed and Fodder. Within the feed and fodder sub-programme, priority research areas are addressing winter fodder shortages and looking at synergistic and complementary effects of fodder production in combination with arable crops, horticulture and forestry systems (Roder 1998; Roder et al., 2001). For the ninth five year plan (2002-2007), emphasis for livestock research under different sub-programmes was as below:

1) Feed and Fodder 60 percent, 2) Breeding and Management, 30 percent and 3) Health, 10 percent. The low emphasis given to the last two sub-programme is because it is assumed that technologies pertaining to these two, could to a large extent be imported from outside Bhutan with little or no need for further adaptation (RNR-RC Jakar, 2002).

The mandate to implement the animal health sub-programme has been delegated to the Royal Veterinary Epidemiological Centre (RVEC), Serbithang Thimphu due to the existing expertise lying with the RVEC. It is however proposed to be brought back under the RNR-RC Jakar in the 9th five year plan as the Jakar Centre gradually builds its own expertise.

Livestock research in other regions is carried out through the Livestock sector based in the other three centres. The three other national research centres are RNR-RCs, Yusipang, based in western region (Forestry); Bajo based in the west central region (Field Crops) and Khangma based in the eastern region (Horticulture).

The key institutions working in livestock research and production based in the different organizations under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests are given below:

  • Department of Livestock
  • Renewable Natural Resources Research and Development Centre, Jakar
  • National Feed and Fodder Development Programme, Bumthang
  • Regional Livestock Development Centre, Chhukha
  • Regional Livestock Development Centre, Khangma
  • Regional Livestock  Development Centre, Zhemgang
  • Regional Livestock Development Centre, Wangdue
  • Renewable Natural Resources Research and Development Centre , Khangma
  • Renewable Natural Resources Research and Development Centre , Bajo
  • Renewable Natural Resources Research and Development Centre , Yusipang
  • Watershed Management Division, Thimphu
For details of Ministry of Agriculture and Forests objectives, activities and staff, refer to the Ministry website< >.


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The author was Programme Director of the RNR-RC Jakar. He was associated with fodder development in Bhutan from 1987 until he left the Ministry in 2005. He holds a Masters degree in Pasture Agronomy from Lincoln University, New Zealand.

The Programme Director of RNR Research Centre Jakar will be the custodian of the profile. The contact address is as follows:

Programme Director
RNR Research and Development Centre  Jakar
Department of Livestock
Ministry of Agriculture and Forests

Tel: 00975-03-631195/631224
Website: http//

[The profile was prepared in 2002, lightly edited by J.M. Suttie and S.G. Reynolds in May and November 2002 and livestock data were modified by S.G. Reynolds in October 2006. The profile was revised and updated in May 2012 by S.G. Reynolds with inputs from Tsering Gyeltshen, Head, Rangeland & Farming Systems Section, Watershed Management Division, Department of Forests & Park Services, Ministry of Agriculture & Forests, Thimphu, Tel. 323568, Fax. 323568, e-mail <>].