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Evolution of research on mulberry as cattle and sheep feed in central Italy

A. Angeloni
Ph.D. student
University of Udine, Italy

Studies on the use of shrubs to overcome the summer gap of forage availability in central Italy started in the middle of the 1980s with comparisons among different species in artificial plantations. In trials carried out at different sites, 14 shrub species were compared. These species were some of those commonly used in traditional animal rearing (Acer campestre, Almus cordata, Corylus avellana, Fraxinus ornus, Morus alba, Ostrya carpinifolia, Robinia pseudoacacia, Ulmus carpinifolia, Vitis rupestris, Medicago arborea, Coronilla emerus) and new introductions (Acer negundo, Amorpha fruticosa). The local M. alba was included in all the trials (Pardini, 1990; Talamucci, Pardini and Piemontese, 1990).

Characteristics considered were rapidity and rate of establishment, growth rate, productivity, effects of cutting heights, chemical composition and palatability. Most of the results were published in specialized journals.

Acer negundo, A. fruticosa, M. alba and R. pseudoacacia resulted to be the most productive and had the highest protein contents. M. alba was preferred to the first two species because of its better palatability. Work on R. pseudacacia was halted because of its excessive amount of thorns, even though the variety tested was a Greek selection with reduced spines.

Promising results encouraged the repetition of some of the trial focusing on a selected cultivar of mulberry. The Japanese variety "Kokuso" was chosen because of its higher productivity (Talamucci and Pardini, 1993; Argenti et al., 1999). However, A. negundo was also kept for further studies in one of the trials (Pardini, 1991). It was then abandoned because, despite its high productivity, it did not show good palatability and a high proportion of its leaves fell during the last part of the driest summers.

Once mulberry had been chosen as the most promising species for the sites studied, research on its possible integration into various grazing systems started.

No species of shrubs can be considered to be the only feed source for animals. Pastures composed of different species of grasses and legumes have proved to be much more productive. Thus, shrubs are considered "strategic" plants to be used only in critical seasons.

The use of mulberry was considered in different rotations with other resources (Pardini and Rossini, 1997; Talamucci et al., 1996; Talamucci and Pardini, 1999).

This stage of the research on the integration of the individual shrub and herbaceous species into organized pastoral systems was coordinated also at an interregional level by the FAO/International Centre for Advanced Medigterranean Agronomic Stuedies (CIHEAM) network on the "Mediterranean pastoral system" with the participation of scientists from Europe, the Near East and North Africa and from the Mediterranean areas of other continents.

This network includes a project on "Forage and grazing systems", that coordinates some of the activities developed at the national level (Argenti et al., 1999). The recent trends into Italian research, deriving from studies on the integration of different resources in complex pastoral systems, are now concerned with the diversification of land use and multifunctionality of territory. Due to recent modification in Italian agriculture, more traditional farms are becoming a support to new emerging economic sectors such as ecotourism and tourism in natural reserve areas (Piano and Talamucci, 1996).

Within this new perspective, forage resource productivity has become secondary to extraproductive functions (such as protection of the territory, including landscape beauty and the sustainability of production). These are receiving major attention in large areas of Italy as well as in other southern European countries.

Mulberry, together with other shrubby species, might play an important role in maintaining resource variety and, in turn, contribute to land use diversification.


Argenti, G., Bianchetto, E., Lombardi, P., Sabatini, S. & Staglianò, N. 1999. Some examples of Mediterranean pastoral systems. Florence, University of Florence. DISAT, 62 pp.

Argenti, G., Pardini, A. & Talamucci, P. 1999. Productivity and growing rhythm of forage shrubs. Georgia Kthnohrofia, 54-62.

Pardini, A. 1990. Possibilità di utilizzazione di alcune specie arboree e arbustive con il pascolamento bovino durante la stagione estiva. Agricoltura Toscana, 6: 33-34.

Pardini, A. 1991. Utilisation combinée de Acer negundo L. et trèfle souterrain par les bovins et les ovins en Toscane (Italie du centre). Herba, 4: 41-45.

Pardini, A. & Rossini, F. 1997. Sistemi pascolivi nell'Italia centro-meridionale. Relazione inviata al congresso conclusivo del progetto MAF "Foraggicoltura Prativa", Lodi 22-24 May 1996. Riv. Di Agron., 1: 89-100.

Piano, E. & Talamucci, P. 1996. Annual self-reseeding legumes in Mediterranean areas. Proc. XVI European Grassland Federation meeting, Grado (I), 1996.

Talamucci, P. & Pardini, A. 1993. Possibility of combined utilization of Morus alba and Trifolium subterraneum in Tuscan Maremma (Italy). REUR Technical Series No. 28. VII meeting FAO Subnetwork on Mediterranean Pastures and Fodder Crops, 21-23 April 1993, Chania, Greece.

Talamucci, P. & Pardini, A. 1999. Pastoral systems which integrate woody plants. Invited paper at the Occasional Symposium of the European Grassland Federation, Thessaloniki, Greece, 24-30 May, 1999.

Talamucci, P. Pardini, A. Argenti, G. & Staglianò, N. 1996. Theoretical sylvo-pastoral systems based on seasonal distribution of diversified resources in an Italian Mediterranean environment. FAO Congress on Sylvo-pstoral systems in Avignon (F), 29-30 June 1995. Publiched in Western European Silvopastoral Systems, INRA. p. 183-193.

Talamucci, P., Pardini, A. & Piemontese, S. 1990. Primi risultati sul comportamento di alberi ed arbusti da foraggio in Toscana. Agricoltura Ricerca, 106: 135-144.

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