AGP - What are integrated crop-livestock systems

What are integrated crop-livestock systems?


What is mixed farming? (From


Mixed farming exists in many forms depending on external and internal factors. External factors are weather patterns, market prices, political stability, technological developments, etc. Internal factors relate to local soil characteristics, composition of the family and farmers' ingenuity. Farmers can decide to opt for mixed enterprises when they want to save resources by interchanging them on the farm - because these permit wider crop rotations and thus reduce dependence on chemicals, because they consider mixed systems closer to nature, or because they allow diversification for better risk management.


There is wide variation in mixed systems. Even pastoralists practise a form of mixed farming since their livelihood depends on the management of different feed resources and animal species. At a higher level, a region can consist of individual specialized farms and service systems that together act as a mixed system. Other forms of mixed farming include cultivation of different crops on the same field, such as millet and cowpea or millet and sorghum, or several varieties of the same crop with different life cycles, which uses space more efficiently and spreads risks more uniformly

The study of a wide variety of mixed systems at different levels is beneficial to understanding the logic of mixed systems in general. Disciplines such as ecology, economics and complex system theory have tools and concepts that can help us to understand better the mixed blessings of mixed systems. One essential point here is that the principle of mixing occurs everywhere, also in society - domestic waste such as glass, bottles or paper is also recycled.


Another point is that in mixing the different functions of plants and animals can be observed: a cereal crop produces grain and straw, a legume provides grain, organic matter, fodder and nitrogen. A third point is that it tends to be more important to look for high yield of the combination of the components rather than for the (high) yield of one component. Mixed farms are systems that consist of different parts, which together should act as a whole. They thus need to be studied in their entirety and not as separate parts in order to understand the system and the factors that drive farmers and influence their decisions. That principle is here referred to as the "command ideotype"(Donald, 1981; Schiere et al., 1999). It may be the most important principle to achieve increased production in mixed systems, together with the awareness that crops and animals have multiple functions



Forms of mixed farming


Mixed farming systems can be classified in many ways - based on land size, type of crops and animals, geographical distribution, market orientation, etc. Three major categories, in four different modes of farming, are distinguished here. The categories are:


·         On-farm versus between-farm mixing  

·         Mixing within crops and/or animal systems

·         Diversified versus integrated systems


The modes of farming refer to different degrees of availability of land, labour and inputs, ranging from plenty of land to a shortage of land. The modes are characterized by Schiere and De Wit (1995) as expansion agriculture (EXPAGR, plenty of land), LEIA, HEIA and new conservation agriculture (NCA, a form of land use where shortages are overcome by more labour, more inputs and keen management).


On-farm versus between-farm mixing


On-farm mixing refers to mixing on the same farm, and between-farm mixing refers to exchanging resources between different farms. On-farm mixing occurs particularly in LEIA where individual farmers will be keen to recycle the resources they have on their own farm. Between-farm mixing occurs increasingly in HEIA systems - in countries such as the Netherlands it is used to mitigate the waste disposal problems of specialized farming. Crop farmers use dung from animal farms, a process that involves transport and negotiation between farmers and even politicians. Between-farm mixing also occurs at the regional level - in the store cattle systems of the United Kingdom and the United States, animals are raised in one area to be fattened in another area where plenty of grain is available. In tropical countries also, manure may be transported from livestock farms to farmers and vegetable cropping areas where manure is in short supply.


Pastoralists from such systems in West Africa and on the Indian subcontinent also exchange cattle and crop products with crop farmers. Cultivators receive manure, labour and, less important, milk in return for cash, grain and water rights traded to pastoralists. Entrustment of livestock from crop farmers to pastoralists follows more or less the same rules. In return for taking care of the herd, herders receive either cash, or cropland, or labour for the cropland or a share of the milk and the offspring.


Mixing between nearby farms is considered here as providing the same advantages as on-farm mixing, but it should be underlined that there are important differences in terms of social organization and transaction costs. For example, in West Africa the exchange between farms leads to tension and accidents as crop farmers start to use land that used to be pastoral only. The amount of grazing land is decreasing and dependence on the grazing of crop residues is increasing. When herders bring in the animals before the field is properly harvested serious incidents and conflicts can arise.


Mixing within crop and/or animal systems


Mixing within crop and/or within animal systems refers to conditions where multiple cropping is practised, often over time, or where different types of animals are kept together, mostly on-farm. Both these systems occur frequently though they are not always apparent. Within-crop mixing takes place where crop rotations are practised over and within years. For example, a farmer has a grain-legume rotation to provide the grain with nitrogen or a potato-beet-grain rotation to avoid disease in the potatoes. Plants can also be intercropped to take maximum advantage of light and moisture, to suppress weeds or prevent leaching of nutrients through the use of catch crops. Examples of mixing between animals are found in chicken-fish pond systems where chicken dung fertilizes the fish pond; in beef-pork systems where pigs eat the undigested grains from the beef cattle dung; or in mixed grazing such as cow-sheep mixes to maximize biomass utilization or to suppress disease occurrence.


Diversified versus integrated systems


The distinction between diversified and integrated systems is perhaps the most relevant one for this report. Diversified systems consist of components such as crops and livestock that co-exist independently from each other. In particular, HEIA farmers can have pigs, dairy and crops as quite independent units. In this case the mixing of crops and livestock primarily serves to minimize risk and not to recycle resources.


Integration is done to recycle resources efficiently. It occurs in mixed ecological farms of temperate countries (here called the mode of new conservation agriculture, NCA), but also in mixed, relatively low input farms of southern and south-western Australia with grain-legume-sheep mixtures. Integration occurs most often, however, in LEIA farming systems that exist in many tropical countries where products or by-products of one component serve as a resource for the other - dung goes to the crops and straw to the animals. In this case the integration serves to make maximum use of the resources. Unfortunately, these systems tend to become more vulnerable to disturbance because mixing of resource flows makes the system internally more complex and interdependent.


In Asia, the integration of livestock, fish and crops has proved to be a sustainable system through centuries of experience. In China, for example, the integration of fishpond production with ducks, geese, chickens, sheep, cattle or pigs increased fish production by 2 to 3.9 times (Chen, 1996), while there were added ecological and economic benefits of fish utilizing animal wastes. Environmentally sound integration is ensured where livestock droppings and feed waste can be poured directly into the pond to constitute feed for fish and zooplankton. Livestock manure can be used to fertilize grass or other plant growth that can also constitute feed for fish. Vegetables can be irrigated from the fishponds, and their residues and by-products can be used for feeding livestock.


Grazing of livestock under plantation trees such as rubber, oil palm or coconut is a form of crop-livestock integration that is often found in Southeast Asia. Experiments in Malaysia with cattle and goats under oil palm showed better oil palm bunch harvest and comparable results were found where goats fed under rubber trees. In rubber and oil palm plantations in Malaysia, the integration of livestock to utilize the vegetative ground cover under the tree canopy increased overall production and saved up to 40 percent of the cost of weed control. Similarly, sheep helped to control weeds in sugar cane fields in Colombia. This suppressed the costs of herbicides, reduced the cost of weed control by half and provided additional income from meat production (FAO, 1995a). This also occurs where cows graze under coconuts.


The best known type of integrated mixed farming is probably the case of mixed crop-livestock systems. Cropping in this case provides animals with fodder from grass and nitrogen-binding legumes, leys (improved fallow with sown legumes, grasses or trees), weeds and crop residues. Animals graze under trees or on stubble, they provide draught and manure for crops, while they also serve as a savings account.



Types of technology


Several different technologies exist in relation to mixed farming and the following distinctions are made in this report:


·         versus management-based technology

·         Accelerating versus defusing technology

·         Exogenous versus indigenous technologies

·         Technologies for national and local problems

·         Technologies for individual farmers and for society

·         Exploitative and regenerative technologies.


As in any other classification there is always another way to distinguish between types of technology. The purpose of this classification is to show major differences. The interventions discussed later will, in practice, always be a mixture of those mentioned above.


Input- and management-based technologies


Input- and mechanization-oriented technologies in increase the output of a particular animal or farm by using more inputs (feed, fertilizer, pesticides), by using a machine to save labour, or by digging wells if there is not enough water. Management-based technologies are focused on trying to understand the farm as a combination of soil, plants or animals; the region as a combination of farms, people, mountains, underground water reservoirs, etc. Proper management can help to avoid losses where possible. For example:


·         The cow when it stands up in the morning takes some time to stretch and to urinate/defecate. Knowing this, the farmer waits for fifteen minutes before letting the cow out so that the dung and urine are collected in the animal shed.

·         When building the sheds, the housing can be oriented either to let the sun shine in unnecessarily and at the wrong moment, or the sun enters at times when it suits the management.

·         Much effort can be spent on collection and preservation of animal manure but appropriate management is required to apply it at the appropriate moment to serve its purpose.

·         Veterinarians can be called in to cure disease but proper management (hygiene, timely feeding) and a keen eye (noticing the onset of a disorder) can help to prevent the need for a cure.



Selection of animal species


Animals serve numerous functions in mixed farming besides providing products such as meat, milk, eggs, wool and hides. They also serve sociocultural functions, e.g. as a bride price or as gifts and loans that strengthen social bonds. Quite often they are a form of saving, and sometimes they just serve as ceremonial animals or pets. More than 60 animal species are directly useful to humans, but most attention tends to be given to cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, donkeys and poultry. There are also more unconventional animals such as llamas, yaks, guinea fowl, ducks, bees and pigeons that can adapt to many conditions. Often these unconventional animal species consist of small animals that have the advantage of fast reproduction, i.e. a herd or flock of these species is quickly replaced after a calamity such as drought, a flood or disease outbreak. Large unconventional livestock such as camels, llamas, alpacas, yaks, bantengs and deer are adapted to specific ecological niches, often in mixed systems.


Unconventional animals


The term "unconventional" can be confusing because the animals may not be common in general, but they can be quite "normal" in particular niches. For example, the yak and the two-humped camel have an undercoat which enables them to tolerate low temperatures and wide variations in temperature, while the one-humped camel can live in hot arid environments because it has an efficient water conservation mechanism, long limbs and a heat-reflecting coat. These rather unconventional animals can live in marginal areas to produce meat, manure and milk (camels and yaks) and fibres (camels, llamas, alpacas and yaks). In addition, the camel is used for draught and transport in dry areas, llama and alpaca for transport in the Andes, the yak as a riding and pack animal in mountainous central Asia and the banteng as a source of farm power in Southeast Asia. Multipurpose animals such as these are important to sustain economic activity in harsh environments and are generally associated with mixed farming (based on Reijntjes, Haverkort and Waters-Bayer, 1992).


Dairy animals


Milking must have started after people had associated with animals for other purposes, such as for meat production based on hunting, keeping of live animals for sacrifice, or even use of animals for draught or transport. Milk is an important product from animals in mixed systems, but not the only one. Moreover, the feed quality in many of the mixed systems does not allow high production levels. The major dairy animals are goats, sheep, cattle and buffaloes; each of these has a place in mixed crop-livestock systems and they share a digestive system that allows them to utilize coarse feeds like straws, grasses and tree leaves.


The advantage of the small animals such as goats and sheep is that they are suitable for poor people, among others, to start from scratch. Where feed supplies permit, small farmers have started with a goat, a sheep or even a chicken, and have gone on to build a herd and eventually to shift into large animals like cattle and buffaloes. Goats and sheep have different grazing behaviour than cattle and buffaloes, and a mix of these animals can serve to use the variation of feed on and around the farm better. Cattle and buffaloes also come in a variety of sizes and with different characteristics. Apart from the traditional attachment that people have to their traditional breeds, it is the bodyweight, orientation to milk production and tolerance to diseases that determine their suitability to a particular situation.


These levels are determined by body size, genetic background, farm management, health, feeding level, etc. An animal of 600 kg that is well fed and that belongs to a large breed can easily produce twice as much milk and meat as a small animal of 200-300 kg, simply because of the difference in body size. Goats and sheep produce much less milk and meat per animal than cattle but they also eat less, so roughly speaking one can say that the production per kilogram of feed is quite similar for small and large animals. Local tradition also determines the choice for a particular dairy breed based on the shape of the horns, the colour of the skin, the fat content of the milk (higher in buffaloes than in cows), the colour of the butterfat (from dark yellow to pure white), etc. Some types of milk are even believed to have special medicinal value, e.g. goat milk is generally thought to be good for asthma patients, and the finer distribution of the fat in goat milk makes it easier to digest.


Animals for draught and transportation


The number of animals used worldwide for work is estimated at 250 million and it may well be over 300 million. A wide variety of work animals exists, including cattle, buffaloes, donkeys, mules, horses, camels and elephants. They provide the means by which millions of families make a living; they can also contribute to the establishment of ecologically and socially acceptable production systems. The use of work animals can reduce drudgery, it can intensify agricultural production and it can help to raise living standards throughout rural communities. Animals provide transport and mobility by helping in water lifting for irrigation, milling, logging, land levelling, road construction and local marketing (FAO, 1996; Starkey, 1996). Females are often incorrectly believed to be unsuitable for draught as they are lighter and can pull the plough only at the expense of some milk production. As feed becomes scarce, however, there is a trend towards the use of female animals, albeit with a drop in milk yield.