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Faik Bahhady


The livestock sector plays an important role in the economics of the Near East countries, especially sheep, goats and cattle. They account for 30–40 percent of the value of agriculture output in these countries. Demand for meat and milk products has increased in the last two decades and will continue to rise in the region due to the high rate of population growth and increases in the standard of living, especially in oil producing countries. These factors together are leading to a rapid expansion in demand for meat and milk products which far exceeds the small annual increase in the livestock population. The gap between production and demand is becoming wider and imports are already considerable.

Range land and pastures are the main feed resources for ruminant livestock. However, cereal stubbles and supplements are becoming more important sources of feed for livestock. All these resources are becoming limited. Most of the livestock of the region are managed under transhumant and village production systems. These systems need to be studied carefully in order to find possible ways of improving small ruminant production and numbers.

The human population of the Near East countries has grown at an average rate of 3.3percent per annum in the last 20 years. It was estimated at about 231 million in 1983. In 1982 the agricultural population represented about 50 percent of the total population but it is decreasing at one percent per annum (Table 1).


The total surface area of the Near East countries is about 12 millions km. About 7% of the area is arable land, 22% is permanent pasture, 8% is forest, and the remainder is rangeland and desert. Most of it lies within the low rainfall region (Table 2). The deserts are considered as rangeland because they produce some forage which is utilized by Bedouin livestock.


The climate of these countries is characterised by low rainfall in most parts of the area, large yearly fluctuations and poor distribution throughout the year. In some areas the annual rainfall ranges from 200 mm to above 1000 mm in the mountains of Syria, Iraq and Yemen Arab Republic. About 85% of the total area of the Gulf and Arabian peninsula receives annually less than 100 mm, 12% of the area receives between 100–400 mm, and 3% over 400 mm. The rain occurs mainly in winter from November till April. In some parts of Yemen Arab Republic, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, there are two rainy seasons in the year, April – May and July – September.

ICARDA, P.O. Box 3626, Aleppo, Syria.

The temperature in summer is high which leads to high evaporation and transpiration. In some parts of Syria, Iraq and Jordan, the minimum temperature can fall to -8 C in January, And maximum summer temperature can reach 50 C in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. In the high altitude areas of Turkey and Afghanistan the climate is characterised by long cold winters.

Annual evaporation rate varies with location. In some areas of United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, it is very high and the annual potential evapotranspiration exceeds average annual precipitation.

The average relative humidity in the plains of Syria, Iraq and Jordan is about 65 percent in winter and 16 percent in summer. It is higher along the coastal areas of Kuwait and it ranges from 75 percent in January to 18 percent in July. In the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen relative humidity in the coastal areas can reach 80–85 percent in summer but in winter it is less than 50 percent.


In 1982 there were 297 million livestock in the region. About 86 percent are managed under transhumant and village systems. The nomadic system accounts for about 10 percent of the total animal population and the intensive and semi-intensive systems of husbandry account for about 4 percent. During the last decade livestock numbers have been growing at about 2.4percent per annum in the case of cattle and at 1.8percent and less than one percent in the case of sheep and goats, respectively (Table 3).

Numbers of slaughtered animals has increased at an annual rate of 5.5 percent for sheep, 0.7percent for goats and 3 percent for cattle (Table 4). Sheep contribute 31 percent to the total meat production from slaughtered animals.

Fresh and frozen meat imports to some Near East countries are increasing to meet the rising demand for meat, especially in oil producting countries. The numbers of cattle, sheep, and goats imported from outside the region are increasing (Table 5). The number of animals and fresh meat imported by oil producing countries for 1979 are shown in Table 6.

Milk production has increased in the last seven years at an annual rate of 3.2percent in sheep, 3.2percent in cows, 1.3percent in goats and 1.4 percent in buffalo milk (Table 7).

Livestock Systems

The climate of the region, which is characterised by seasonal and low rainfall, high temperatures in summer and low temperatures in winter, makes the growing season of range plants very short. This has led pastoralists to develop migratory systems which allow them to utilize natural herbage at different times of the year and at different locations. Accordingly, three main systems of livestock management can be recognized in the region.

Nomadic system : This system developed mainly in areas where the annual rainfall is below 100 mm. The nomads move with their flocks all the year round looking for water and range for their animals. They depend on livestock for their basic food and other requirements.

Transhumant system : This system is widely used in areas where the annual rainfall is between 100–200 mm. The livestock are moved on an annual basis following certain routes to utilize natural vegetation. In Syria, migration takes place towards the steppe in the east and towards the cultivated area in the west (Tashreeq and Taghreeb migration). More than 60 percent of the Syrian sheep are managed under this sytem. The flock size ranges between 100–700 head.

Communal village system : The flock size in this sytem is very small (10–15 head of sheep and goats). It is mainly found in areas where the annual rainfall is more than 200 mm. Each village has a communal grazing area and a shepherd collects animals in the morning and takes the flock to graze natural pasture and brings it back in the evening. After harvest in summer, village flocks graze the stubble and crop residues.

Rangeland of the Near East

Before the beginning of this century there was a balance between pasture resources and stocking rate in the Near East region. This balance has changed and now requires some improvement in the management system. Rangelands of the region have been misused for hundreds of years. Destructive utilization has only recently become acute and widespread. In Syria, for example, this problem started in late 1940's and early 1950's. The livestock system was affected by the introduction of farm machinery. Marginal lands receiving 200 mm annual rainfall were brought under cultivation and tribal chiefs contracted farmers and tractor owners to till the marginal land that had been traditionally used for grazing. Cultivated areas started to spread rapidly in all directions at the expense of pasture and rangeland, even in areas receiving between 200–600 mm. of annual rainfall. Recently, cultivation has penetrated the driest areas where the annual rainfall is between 100–200 mm. This led to the expansion of sandy land and enlarged the desertification problem.

The pastoralists who had become farmers began to live in the marginal and cultivated areas of the steppe in settlements that acquired the character of administrative units. Settlements extended around depressions (Faydat) that are scattered throughout the drier areas of the steppe. Surrounding pastures were overgrazed. These depressions formerly provided a large supply of feed for animals during drought.

Transportation by cars and tractors has facilitated the quick movement of flocks in the steppe. Sheep owners are now able to find good pastures and to move their livestock quickly to take advantage of them. Water is also transported to the grazing sites in tanks pulled behind tractors or mounted on trailors. Considerable damage to the ecosystem is caused by trucks and tractor, which compact the soil and create dust wherever they are used.

Early grazing and overgrazing are common and are considerably accelerating the decline of the steppe. Undesirable plants such as Noaea mucronata, Alhagi maurorum, Peganum harmala, Anabasis spp. have replaced the palatable species e.g. Salsola vermiculata, Artemisia herbaalba, Atriplex leucoclada, Stipa spp. as well as many other perennial and annual grasses and legumes.

The pastoralists use bushes in the steppe as a source of fuel for bread baking, cooking and heating. They pull out the roots and leave the ground almost bare of arborescent shrubs. This practice contributes to range deterioriation. Trees such as Pistacia atlantica and Rhamnus palistina also grew in the mountainous parts of the Syrian steppe, but they have disappeared because they were used as fuel for cooking and heating. This caused severe erosion and range deterioration.

The pastoralists originally relied on natural range for all their feed supplies. During the drought in 1958–60, supplementary feeding was introduced to sheep owners in the steppe. This caused an increase in sheep numbers from 3 million in 1953 to 10.3million in 1982 and consequently even more overgrazing of the range.

As a result of range deterioration, increasing sheep numbers and a reduced grazing area, the feeding of the livestock has become an annual necessity. Table 8 shows the duration of supplementation and total winter consumption of supplments in a north western part of the Syrian steppe.

It is estimated that nearly 60 percent of the total dry matter consumed by the region's livestock comes from the natural grazing areas (Hardison & Fox, 1973). The livestock preparatory mission to Syria in 1974 estimated that 65 percent of the annual feed requirements of the national sheep flock came from steppe and non-steppe grazing. This figure is now estimated by a second mission in 1984 at about 33 percent.

Between 1978 and 1981 a diagnostic survey was conducted by ICARDA's Farming System Programme on sheep husbandry systems in the driest areas of Aleppo province in NW Syria. It has been estimated that supplementary feeding contributed 54% of the total annual food consumed, whereas stubbles and crop residues provided 28% and the rangeland only 18%, This proves the statement made by Pearce (1971) “The present situation in the region is striking. Over vast areas there is literally nothing left to graze. Erosion scars are everywhere. Microclimates have deteriorated. Soils have lost their tilth, their structure, their very life. Scarce rainfall is lost through overland flow”. The situation is becoming worse, and the range area turned into a large pen where pastoralist keep their sheep on supplements during winter time when they are not able to move toward cultivated land for grazing crop residues.


In order to develop small production, there should be an increase in feed production coupled to an increase in numbers, and productivity per head and per hectare. Increased animal production can be achieved in three ways: through improvement in rangeland, in cultivated pastures and in crop residue utilization.


The improvement of degraded pasture land in arid zones of the Near East is very difficult and slow because most of the countries of the region are neither eager nor prepared to tackle such problems. Therefore, any program for range management and improvement should be supported by the policy makers. There is a need to review existing laws and therefore to propose new policies designed to maintain and eventually to improve the arid zones of the region. Measures to halt the indiscriminate cultivation of the rangeland, to regulate grazing, limit flock size and sheep numbers and allow regeneration of the plant cover need to be studied and introduced. Programmes of range management and improvement, shrub plantation and the consideration of the Hema system, which are being implemented or ongoing in some countries of the region, should be evaluated carefully before introducing them to other countries in the region or elsewhere.

Any range management programme must be supported by fodder conservation and cultivated pastures. Cooperatives should be given priority. They provide the institutional framework by which grazing can be regulated, and the supply of feedstuffs, the marketing of sheep products, and the development of other services, improved. Important services that should be made available to the pastoralists include veterinary and animal nutrition services, which are keys to increasing animal productivity and milk yield.

Replacement of fallow by pasture or forage

Replacement of the fallow in the traditional fallow-cereal-fallow rotation under rainfed condition with forage legume crops is another area for improving small ruminant productivity and increasing numbers. An integrated crop-livestock system has been used for years in southern and western Australia. This system has been successfully used and resulted in increasing the carrying capacity in rainfed cultivated areas receiving 300 mm annual rainfall and above. The system also increased soil nitrogen content and cereal grain yield.

Annual forage cultivars, mainly medic varieties, are grown within the traditional fallow-cereal system. ICARDA started to examine this system under the prevailing Near East climate which is similar to that in Australia except the winters are colder in the region. A two course rotation experiment was started last year (1983–84). Some of the rotations were: wheat-medic, wheat-wheat, wheat-lentils. This experiment is being used to select adapted medics which is very important to developing such a system and to introducing sheep at a rate of eight ewes per hectare. The results were very encouraging despite the drought which affected herbage and seed production. Sheep spent 3.5 months grazing medic residues and medic seed. During this period sheep gained weight. Later sheep moved to graze stubbles for 1.5months. Their liveweight declined slowly.

Another aspect of fallow replacement by pasture was tested on shallow soil in areas receiving above 300 mm annual rainfall. Two year rotations, barley-vetch pasture compared with barley-fallow, were started in 1979/1980 and continued for four years. The major aspect of this experiment was to assess the increase in livestock production. Performance of lambs grazing vetch pasture was measured. The results are presented in Table 9. A maximum grazing season of 70 days was achieved using an average stocking rate of 20 lambs per hectare. About 310 kg of liveweight gain per hectare was achieved in the last year.

Legumes (peas or vetch) combined with cereals (wheat, oats or barley) is another option to replacing fallow in areas receiving 300–600 mm annual rainfall. The main objective of this system is to produce hay to provide winter feed for sheep. Farmers face feed shortage during this period when small ruminant are usually pregnant and lactating and their nutrient demands reach a maximum. This system proved efficient in good years. The dry matter yields reached 3.5 tons of dry matter per hectare when rain exceeded 300 mm. In addition aftermath provided good grazing (450 sheep/ha/day). At the state farms in North East of Syria and at ICARDA research station, this system was practiced and faced some difficulties e.g. the high cost of conservation which includes labour, specialized machinery and covered storage; a high probability of rainfall during the hay making period delays hay making, increases plant losses and produces low quality hay. In drought years production will drop to 1.2 – 1.5tons per hectare. Other methods of fodder conservation should be tried and tested to avoid these problems.

Cereal stubble and straw

Cereal stubble and straw are major components of the sheep and goat diets in the Near East countries. ICARDA studies on sheep systems in NW Syria found that the duration of grazing cereal stubbles by sheep in the summer time ranged from 90 to 120 days. This grazing contributed at least 24 percent of the total annual requirement of the sheep. Cereal straw contributed 26 percent to the total supplementary feeding in winter or 14 percent of the total annual requirements of the sheep. This means that the total contribution of cereal stubbles and straw to the total diet of small ruminant is 38 percent.

The grazing period on cereal stubbles coincides with the mating season and to ensure maximum fertility ewes must remain in good condition. Low levels of supplementation with energy or protein will help ewes to maintain body condition. It is known that small amounts of protein supplement such as cotton-seed-cake increase intake of low quality roughages and improves their digestibility. An energy supplement is another alternative, but is unlikely to have the same beneficial effect on straw intake and utilization.

Experiments were conducted in 1984 to investigate the effect of protein and energy supplements on liveweight gains of ewes grazing cereal stubbles for 91 days. Ninety six Awassi ewes were allocated to three treatments: stubble grazing alone (SO), stubble grazing with 100g per day of cotton-seed-cake per ewe (SP) and stubble grazing with 300g per day of barley grain per ewe (SE). All flocks grazed the same stubbles which was cleared of surplus straw by racking and baling. All flocks lost weight at the start of the experiment (Fig. 1) but supplemented flocks started to gain weight after three weeks. After 91 days flock SP and SE were significantly heavier than flock SO (Table 10). Differences in daily gain across treatments were significant. Ewes in treatment SO lost 35g per day, ewes in treatment SE gained 38g per day while those on treatment SP gained 33g per day. The difference between the value of the weight change per hectare and cost of feeding was greatest in treatment SO (-SL 136.8 per ha) and least in treatment SP (-SL 21.3per ha). Thus feeding cotton-seed-cake was the most economical way of maintaining the flock.

The value of stubbles for maintaining sheep during one phase of the breeding cycle was clearly demonstrated. These results were achieved in a very dry year after much of the loose straw had been collected and removed. Such research is a clear demonstration of a cheap summer feeding strategy for drought years.

In order to demonstrate that increased straw intake resulted from the energy and protein supplement of these sheep grazing stubble, an experiment was conducted to measure ad libitum straw intake of Awassi castrates offered either chopped local barley straw alone or the same straw plus 2.85g cotton-seedcake per kg liveweight per day. Digestibility and voluntary intake were measured. Sheep eating straw alone lost 82g per day while sheep eating extra protein gained 35g per day (Fig. 2). Voluntary intake of sheep eating straw alone was 626g per day, and for sheep eating straw plus protein supplements was 905g straw per day in addition to 150g of cotton-seed-cake per day (Fig. 3). It is clear that supplementing a straw diet with protein has a strong effect on dry matter intake and probably improved dry matter digestibility of the straw.

The total area of cereal crops harvested in the Near East countries (38 million ha) can carry the sheep and goats (163 + 70 million) for about 120 days in the year. Using small amounts of protein supplements can keep animals in good condition and increase lambing rate.


The author thanks Dr. E. F. Thomson for his editorial assistance during preparation of this paper.


Hardison, W. A., Fox, C. W., Present Livestock Situation in the Near East and the possibility of developing integrated crop livestock farming systems, The Ford Foundation. Beirut, Lebanon 1973

Pearse, K. C. 1971. J. Range Management 24: 13–16.

TABLE 1. Population of the Near East Countries1 (millions)

Total population160184212224231
Agricultural population95102110113115
Percent engaged in agriculture59.455.451.950.449.8

1 Egypt, Lybian Arab Jamahiriya, Sudan, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza strip (Palestine), Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Yemen Arab Republic, Democratic Yemen.

TABLE 2. Land use of the Near East Countries (million hectares)

Total area12081208->
Land area11921192100.0
- Arable land81826.9
- Permanent crops560.5
- Permanent pastures26726822.5
- Forest and wood99978.1
- Other land (desert)73973962.1

TABLE 3. Livestock numbers of the Near East countries (millions)

 1974/76198019811982Annual increase
(% )

TABLE 4. Number of slaughtered animals in the Near East countries (,000)

 1974/76198019811982Annual increase (% )
Beef and veal70448170879091053.00
Mutton and lamb492346571773237775365.46

TABLE 5. Livestock Imports to the Near East Countries

 1977197819791980198119821983Annual Increase (%)
Fresh, chilled/frozen meat (1000 MT):        
- Bovine9912414519727233634514.5
- Sheep1331181452162662802788.0
- Poultry22327033050167361159213.0
Live imports (,000)        
- Cattle23935337434141763674911.5
- Sheep & goats814896369185120301405013406152937.0

TABLE 6. Meat, and live animal imports in 1979

(1000 MT)
(1000 MT)
(1000 MT)
Total Chilled/Frozen meat importsSheep & Goats
(million head)
Bovine cattle
(,000 head)
Saudi Arabia20301301823.280
Yemen AR--4040--
LR Emirates8.5325370.2-

TABLE 7. Milk production (1000 MT)

 1974/76198019811982Annual Increase (% )
Cow milk75629013948199123.2
Buffalo milk14831598162916781.4
Sheep milk25082986313932523.2
Goat milk16601801180418571.3

TABLE 8. Duration of supplementation, and total consumption of supplements by sheep flocks at the cultivated margin of the NW Syrian steppe1
(kg per head per winter)

 78/7979/8080/81Mean (78/81)
Duration of supplementation (days)196155139157
Total consumption225136168167
- Barley grain53265242
- Cereal straw113536470
- Cotton seed cake188810
- Cotton seed hulls11888
- Cotton seed2765
- Wheat bran7576
- Sugar beet pulp14201818
- Other components281158

1 Thomson and Bahhady (unpublished data).

2 Compound, wheat grain, bread flour, sorghum grain, lentil straw, bread and compound.

TABLE 9. The potential of vetch pasture for lamb fattening

Number of lambs30243831
Start of grazing22 Apr.1 Apr.8 Mar.7 Mar
End of grazing19 May1 June17 May1 May
Duration of grazing (days)27617056
Grazing days per hectare18414765
Stocking rate lambs/ha20162536
Initial liveweight (kg)27.228.823.217.9
Final liveweight (kg)34.143.333.726.6
Liveweight gains:    
- per hectare (kg)139232260310
- per lamb (g/day)255238151188
grazing pressure 236065611752327

1 Crop resown in January.

2 Grazing days per ha × stocking rate.

TABLE 10. Liveweight changes of ewes grazing cereal stubbles alone or when receiving energy or protein supplementation

Number of ewes313233-
Start liveweight (kg)4b.945.446.45.27
End liveweight (kg)42.7a48.8b47.5b4.83
Daily liveweight gain (g)-35383317.37
Grazing pressure (ewe per hectare per day)445445445-
Liveweight change (kg per ha)-
Value of liveweight (SL per ha)4-136.8136.846.6-
Cost of supplement (SL per ha)0.0203.767.9-
Difference (SL per ha)-136.8-66.7-21.3-

1 So = Stubble alone; Se = Stubble + energy supplement; Sp = Stubble + protein supplement.

2 S- = V Residual mean square

3 Means without the same superscript are significantly different (P<0.001)

4 SL is Syrian pounds

Figure 1. Effects of protein and energy supplements on liveweight changes of ewes grazing cereal stubble.

Figure 1

Figure 2. Liveweight changes of penned castrated rams receiving straw and straw with cotton-seed cake (CSC)

Figure 2

Figure 3. Straw intake of penned castrated rams receiving straw and straw with cotton seed cake (CSC)

Figure 3

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