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Case Study 1. Haymaking in Ethiopia


Agriculture has always been, and remains, the cornerstone of the Ethiopian economy, and small-scale farm farming is the backbone of the sector. Small-scale production accounts for 96% of the cropped area and 90-94 % of the cereals, pulses and oilseeds produced. Agriculture employs 80-85% of the population. About 60% of agricultural output come from crops, with livestock and forestry producing 30% and 7%, respectively. According to the 1995/96 agriculture survey, cereals cover the largest share of the cropped land (84.55%), followed by pulses (11.13%) and others (4.32%).

Subsistence sector technology is largely traditional and rainfed, with very limited areas of irrigation. Cereal yields are 0.8-1.0 t/ha for teff, 1.2-1.4 t/ha for wheat, 1.1-1.5 t/ha for barley and 1.6-2.0 t/ha for maize, as estimated by the Central Statistic Authority. Livestock production is an integral part of the country's agricultural system. The various ecological zones allow the production of several species of livestock, which represent a major national resource. Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa: 30 million head of cattle, 23 million sheep, 18 million goats, 7 million equines, 1 million camels and 53 million fowls. Cattle play the most important role in the farming economy, followed by sheep and goats.

Livestock production systems in Ethiopia are determined by climate, vegetation, the types of crop grown, livestock species reared, and their economic importance to the producer. In the highlands, livestock are subordinate but economically complementary to crop production, the main agricultural activity of the farmers. In this zone, livestock, especially cattle, provide traction, which is vital to the overall farm labour supply. Livestock also provide milk, meat, cash, manure and serve as a hedge against risk. In the semi-arid lowlands cattle, again, are the most important species because they provide milk for the subsistence of the pastoral family. In the more arid areas, however, goats and camels are the dominant species. The former provide milk, meat and cash, while the latter are kept by nomadic pastoralists for milk, transport, and, to a limited extent, meat.

1. Based on material provided by Alemayehu Mengistu.

Productivity levels are low; yields per animal slaughtered or milked are estimated to be 110 kg of beef, 10 kg of mutton and 213 kg of cows' milk. Egg production from indigenous poultry is between 55 to 80, with an average egg weight of 45 g. Livestock growth rates are very slow and lag behind population growth; there has therefore been a net decline in per caput consumption of livestock products. At present, annual per caput consumptions of milk and meat are estimated to be 16 kg and 10 kg respectively. This classes Ethiopia as having the lowest consumption of meat and milk, even among neighbouring countries, although it has Africa's largest national herd.

Numerous constraints face the development of the subsector, including inadequate animal nutrition, high prevalence of diseases, low genetic potential, poor management of stock, inadequate livestock services and infrastructure (such as marketing and credit facilities), uncoordinated development programmes and absence of appropriate policies. Lack of knowledge about forage conservation and improvement of low quality feed is a major area of concern. In the highlands, cereal straw and natural hay are the most important roughages. In the mixed farming (crop-livestock) system, haymaking is traditional. In most parts of the highlands of Ethiopia, forage is usually in good supply during the rainy season, but there is an extreme shortage in the dry season. Off-season requirements can be met by preserving wet-season herbage and residues of crops. Inadequate nutrition is compounded by lack of proper technology for haymaking and storing residues.

Hay making - natural pasture

Most hay is produced from natural pasture and crop residues. Sometimes it is made from sown forage like oats and vetch. In the highlands there is bottom-land, vertisols unsuited to cropping, and up-hill land - natural pasture that could be used for hay. In the traditional management system, animals are not allowed to graze the bottom-land, which is reserved for haymaking. Bottom-land management is commonest in the northern part of the country. On the up-hill land, the animals are grazed for a short period and the area then closed and mown for hay. Hay from both sources is used during the dry period. Most of the hay in the country is from mature native grass from natural pasture, and its quality is very low (see Table 15).

The most important grasses used for hay making are Andropogon spp., Festuca spp., Eragrostis spp., Hyparrhenia spp., Themeda spp., Setaria spp., Brachiaria spp., Pennisetum spp., Cynodon spp., Sporobolus spp. and Phalaris arundinacea. The commonest perennial legumes in mixture with native pasture and used for haymaking are Trifolium semipilosum and Trifolium burchellianum. Farmers harvest late (November to December) once the weather is clear and dry. In pastoral areas, where livestock herding is the dominant activity, animal feeding is based on free range. Hay and the use of crop residues are not common.

Table 15. Quality of hay harvested at different times in Debre Libanos, Central Highlands, Ethiopia

Properties of natural pasture hay

Harvest time



Average DM yield (t/ha)



CP content (%)



CP yield (kg)



Proportion of legumes (%)



Natural detergent fibre (%)



Rumen degradable CP (RPD/MJME)(1)



Notes: (1) RDP/MJME = Rumen Degradable Protein per Megajoule Metabolizable Energy Source: Unpublished feed resource report, 1990. ILCA, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Hay crops are mown by sickle or scythe (locally called falch). Almost all farmers have sickles. Farmers squat while using the sickle, which is cheap but time consuming and laborious, causing back pain. The scythe is used by a few highland farmers. Farmers wield the scythe using both hands in a standing position. It mows quickly and safely, but costs much more than a sickle. The mown hay, whether by sickle or scythe, is spread or left on the ground for 2-3 days to sun dry, a cheap and efficient method.

Once dried, the hay is collected and stacked in loose piles raised off the ground on a platform of wood or stone to avoid soil contact and spoilage. In a few areas, hay is stored in the shade. Peri-urban small-scale dairy holders store hay and straw in bales. The average weight of a bale from natural pasture or crop residues is 15-20 and 8-15 kg, respectively. The price of a bale varies depending on the season and the distance between the production area and the major livestock areas. Thus, in peri-urban areas, a bale of hay from natural pasture costs 5-6 birr during harvest time, and rises to 10-15 birr during the dry season. The price of a bale of straw is lower by half compared to that of a bale of hay.

Hay yield from natural pasture varies from place to place. Bottom-land yield is 4-5 t/ha of dry matter, while the up-hill-land pasture yield is 2-2.5 t/ha. The quality of hay from these pastures is very low, mainly due to late harvesting. A study carried out by the International Livestock Centre for Africa (ILCA) indicates that early harvesting improves the crude protein content (Table 16). Hay is fed mainly to milking animals, calves, and oxen, and to some extent to small ruminants.

Crop residues

Crop residues, especially cereal straws and maize or sorghum stover are the major feed source for prolonged dry-period feeding in Ethiopia. According to the 1995 agricultural crop yield survey, a total of 4.5 million tonnes of dry matter of crop residue are produced. Crop residues are available from cereals such as teff, wheat, barley, maize and sorghum, as well as pulses like peas, beans and chick-pea. Crop residues are collected and stacked in field in the same way as hay from the natural pasture.

Figure 48. Sorghum stover protected by thorns (near Jijiga, Ethiopia)

Table 16. Analyses of some Ethiopian crop residues







Barley straw






Teff straw






Wheat straw






Fava bean residue






Field peas residue






Natural pasture hay






Key to columns: DM = dry matter; EE = ether extract; CP = crude protein; NDF = neutral detergent fibre

The feeding of crop residue to livestock is highly considered in the highland mixed farming system. Farmers give most of the straw to oxen and milking cows; any surplus will be given to sheep. Goats are not usually given crop residues. Residues are fed without treatment. In addition to being fodder, residues are used for house construction and fuel.

Sown forage

This is a new concept for Ethiopia. Attention to forage development increased after the Fourth Livestock Development Project of the Ministry of Agriculture. Forage is used by dairy development and fattening programmes. Most is used for cut-and-carry feed or haymaking. The common forage crops in Ethiopia are oats/vetch, and Rhodes grass. Tree legumes like Sesbania, tree-lucerne (Chamaecytisus (syn. Cytisus) palmensis), and Leucaena are grown and used for cut-and-carry. The DM yield ranges between 5-10 t/ha, with crude CP about 15-30%. Seeds of forages are produced under contract by farmers, and also on government ranches and nurseries. Forages for cut-and-carry feeding and haymaking are produced in backyards, undersown on cereal crop land, from soil and water conservation structure areas, livestock exclusion areas and established pasture areas (i.e., small-scale dairy farmer areas). Forage from improved lands is used for feeding about half the cross-bred milking cows, calves and young bulls in fattening programmes.

Suggestions for interventions

To improve the quantity and quality of hay from different feed resources, the following should be considered for future intervention programmes.

- Encouraging farmers to harvest hay early, i.e., before the plant matures.

- Proper drying and storage of hay (i.e., stacking and storing) off the ground on a platform made of wood or stone to avoid spoilage. Preparing shade for protection of the hay from heavy sunlight is also very useful.

- Improving utilization of crop residues and poor quality natural pasture hay. This can be done by adding or mixing the feed with herbaceous and tree legumes to improve the quality.

- Establishing improved herbaceous forage tree legumes, so that leaves and branches can be used as a protein source in small-scale dairy farm development.

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