Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Case Study 8. Hay from natural pasture in Mongolia (The change from cooperative to private stock-rearing in a purely pastoral economy)

The following notes are from ongoing work supported by FAO and from mission reports covering, first, in 1989-90, the period when the entire livestock production of the Republic was managed by immense cooperatives (with a few State Farms), and, second, the final visit in 1995, when the centralized system had been disbanded and the private, family-group system was in the process of re-establishing itself.

The changeover has not been simple and there are many problems still to be resolved throughout the pastoral organization and economy. Insofar as haymaking is concerned, it has changed from a large, highly mechanized and subsidized, state-managed operation, to a return to old, hand and draught-animal systems managed at the level of the family group and smallest administrative unit.

Mongolia is one of the few countries where the economy is almost entirely pastoral; of a total land area of 1 500 000 km2, some 1 210 000 km2 (80%) is classed as natural pasture; 150 000 km2 is forest and, in 1989, 130 000 km2 was arable. The climate is severely continental, with a windy spring with variable weather (spring rain is especially valuable to get the pasture growth started before the summer rains); a warm summer, when rain falls in the earlier part; a cool autumn; and a cold winter, with temperatures as low as -30°C. Rainfall is low; the largest grazing area - the steppe and mountain-and-steppe - get between 200 mm and 300 mm annually, and only the northern zone gets over 300 mm. The growing season varies a little with altitude, but it is always short, of the general order of 90 - 100 days.

Haymaking in the cooperative era

In 1989 and 1990, near the end of the cooperative period, the situation was described as follows:

"Hay from natural pasture is by far the most important source of winter feed for Mongolia; it is estimated that some 20 000 km2 are cut annually for hay. Most of this is mechanized production by cooperatives and state farms. North Mongolia, the better-watered part of the country, is the most favoured for hay production. Methods of increasing production have been studied over many years, but results are not very encouraging: fertilizer has a highly positive effect, rain permitting, but because of unreliable rainfall and the high cost of fertilizer - all of which has to be imported - it is considered totally uneconomic. A gradual decrease in hay yields over time occurs when the same field is cut year after year: research indicates that a rotation of the cutting dates on the same plot will, after several years, lead to an improvement in hay yield, but so far the increase is only around 10%.

"Hay production on cooperatives is generally carried out by salaried staff. Special areas are set aside for hay production, which is mechanized (although families may make hay by hand for personal livestock). Each brigade has a store of hay allocated to it at harvest time and a central reserve is held by the cooperative; hay produced cooperatively is only for the feeding of cooperative stock and should not be given to family animals. Hay production is inadequate for the calculated needs to supplement the feed the stock get off the range, and is said to attain only 30% of the theoretical requirements. There is insufficient good hay land in much of the steppe and desert-and-steppe area, so cooperatives frequently travel to north Mongolia to make hay, paying those cooperatives from which they get the cutting rights. Hay is usually made in August/September; yields are of the order of 1.2 t/ha of made hay.

"While the livestock gain most of their feed from the pasture throughout the year, the grass dries off from mid-August and thereafter they have to survive on standing hay until mid-May. After October, feed is deficient in both quantity and quality, but the indigenous breeds survive: the sheep are all fat-tailed or fat-rumped breeds and this reserve helps them as a source of energy during winter. In order to avoid excessive winter losses, some hay is fed to weaker groups of stock to increase their chances of survival. Considerable weight loss occurs in winter and, although ensuing weight gain is said to be rapid in spring, especially in sheep, the improvement of winter feeding is one of the more likely ways to get an increase in production from the national herd.

"Snowfall in the steppe is generally light. Some snow is desirable as a source of winter water for stock and to encourage spring pasture growth. Deep falls do occur, and can have a disastrous effect on the livestock, since they cannot reach short grass through deep snow. Hay must be given to livestock in such conditions, sometimes having to be transported by air.

"Subsidized hay transport was still going on in 1990. It had been the wettest season for thirty or forty years, so grass growth was excellent, the almost daily rain and cloud throughout August, however, caused serious delays in haymaking and if it continued it might also affect the grain harvest. The South Gobi Aimak, with its headquarters at Dalandzagad, had a total area of 165 000 km2 and a human population of 41 000; the average precipitation is 70 - 132 mm/year and its distribution is very irregular. Animal husbandry is the main industry of the area and almost the only source of livelihood for the rural population. It is the first Aimak (» Province) in the country for goat and camel production and exports some 7 000 t of camel wool and 130 t of cashmere annually; livestock numbers are: goats 400 000, sheep 290 000, camels 130 000, horses 70 000, cattle 20 000, and some pigs and poultry. The dry season is long and severe, and droughts are common; although the livestock are well adapted to local conditions and the standard of husbandry skills high, spring and winter feeding of the herds is a serious problem. Annual imports of hay and fodder varied between 30 000 and 40 000 t/year, most of which had to be transported from 1 000 km away. Previously, the cost of transporting the fodder was borne by Central Government, but with the ongoing re-organization of the agricultural economy, this might not continue. In a region of 70 - 130 mm of rain there is very little potential for increasing the productivity of the natural pasture and even less of solving the seasonal feed deficit from the grazing lands."

Haymaking after de-collectivization

A visit in 1995 to Ikh Tamir sum (» District) in Arkhangai Aimak (in the mountain-and-steppe zone) showed a very changed situation: the cooperatives had been dissolved; the traditional family group system was re-emerging; centrally managed haymaking had ceased; and the herders were sorting the situation out gradually. The re-organization of the pastoral industry privatized the livestock but did not tackle the problem of land rights, so Mongolia has the unfortunate combination of private herds on public land. Arkhangai Aimak is in the central area of the Khangai mountains, the aimak headquarters, Tsetserleg, is about 500 km west of Ulan Bator. Half of the route is an unstructured track which is impassable after rain. Its latitude is roughly 47°30N at 103°15E. It covers a range of ecological zones, including high mountain, mountain steppe and steppe zones (See Table 24). The elevation is 1 700-1 850 m; mean precipitation 363 mm, of which 80% falls in the period May to August; mean maximum temperature in August is around 16.0°C falling to -16.0°C in the December to February period, with absolute maximum and minimum temperatures of +34.5°C and -36.5°C. The Province covers 55 300 km², of which 41 000 km² is pasture, 540 km² hay and 8 645 km² forest. The steppe zone, in the east of the province, has the mildest climate: mean January temperature is -16°C (absolute minimum -38°C) and July mean is 17.5°C (absolute maximum 35°), with 98 - 125 frost-free days. The main ecological zones are shown in Table 24.

Table 24. The ecological zones of Arkhangai grazing lands

Ecological zone

Altitude range (m)

Rainfall (mm)

Frost-free days

Steppe and mountain steppe

1 300 - 1 700

315 - 360

130 - 165

Mountain steppe

1 700 - 1 900

370 - 480

90 - 150


1 900 -2 350

440 - 470

70 - 140

High mountain

2 350 - 2 500

450 - 550

50 - 120

The high mountains are summer yak pasture, which is not really accessible to other species, although it can be used for horses. Because of the more humid conditions in the high zone, small ruminants suffer from foot rot if herded there. The area is well watered by mountain streams and rivers; water for livestock is not generally a problem in the warmer months, although it may be locally. In winter, stock must be watered by cutting through ice to water, or by eating snow, with a consequent extra energy requirement. Forests are common in the mountain and mountain-and-steppe zones: Larix, Betula and aspen in mountain forests; poplar and willow in riparian forests. Timber and firewood are readily available in much of the aimak. Generally the sward is dominated by grasses, but in areas of favoured moisture status, broad-leaved species, including legumes, are common. In the higher areas, Cyperaceae are frequent: the dominant pasture in the high mountains is a Carex-Kobresia community.

Hay from natural pasture will remain the main, probably the only, conserved fodder throughout the aimak. At present, hay lands are not allocated to herders, so cutting is unregulated and competitive; maintenance or improvement of hay land is therefore possible. The area of hay land is inadequate for the aimak's needs, and yields are very low. The growing season is short throughout the project area and scarcity of winter and spring feed is a major constraint to intensification of livestock production. Winter feed, in addition to being scarce, is of low quality. In spring the stock graze the young growth before the plants have had time to gather strength, and probably further weaken the vegetation. Herders are loath to give supplementary feed except to special classes of stock (milking and pregnant animals, riding horses) because fed animals tend to graze less and come home early to wait for feed.

Prior to collectivization, herders followed well-tried, traditional grazing patterns and were well aware of the principles of seasonal grazing according to pasture suitability. Traditional, informal grazing rights to specific areas throughout the transhumance system were recognized: the lords intervened to regulate grazing systems to ensure sustainability. The collective period led to an artificial concentration of animals.

The work in Arkhangai was situated in Ihk Tamir sum, at the High Mountain Research Station, which concentrates on montane pasture and livestock management questions, including yaks in some areas, and there were some ill-conceived attempts at specialization and establishment of monospecific units. The inherent flaws in such systems were recognized and considerable changes to rationalize grazing practices were made in the 1980s. At the same time, large investments in infrastructure (communications, schools, health care) drew herders to concentrate close by sum and negdel headquarters, leaving the further grazing lands under-used. To palliate this, mobile butter-making units were organized to facilitate seasonal utilization of the high pastures. Haymaking and crop production were undertaken by specialized brigades and élite breeding herds provided sires (and a monitoring service) to upgrade the local landraces. In the early 1990s, the negdels were disbanded, along with the specialized production brigades, and livestock were allocated to private individuals, but without any parallel allocation of responsibility for grazing and hay land.

Previously, haymaking, on both farms and natural hay-fields, was done collectively and mechanized. The equipment was distributed on de-collectivization, and functioning sets of haymaking machinery are now rare. The large machinery would not have been suitable for present conditions. Now almost all of the hay is hand-mown from natural stands. Yields are very low, 600 - 700 kg/ha with 18% moisture, and haymaking is slow and laborious. Although yields are very strongly affected by rainfall, it is likely that most hay fields are declining in yield and quality since they have been mown yearly over a long period without rest, manure or fertilizer. The High Mountain Research Station has been working on improvement of hay yields from natural stands, looking at variation in cutting dates, dung and fertilizer application, irrigation, etc.). Traditional water-spreading methods practised in the mountain-and-steppe involve sporadic diversion of spring water in winter to develop ice-sheets over hay land. The ice sheets will then melt at the onset of the growing season.

Grazing on exposed and sheltered hills is reserved for the winter; autumn and spring grazing takes place on the slopes leading to the higher areas, and on tree covered areas which will be inaccessible in winter because of deeper snow. Haymaking "fields" (and potential sites), often meadows, lie in these areas in sheltered spots along streams and where natural drainage lines favour a concentration of moisture, one of the keys to good grass growth. These areas would be grazed early in spring and then left for haymaking (and later autumn and winter feed), as the livestock (horses, goats, sheep, cattle and yak) are moved down to lower elevations.

Haymaking has been carried out for a very long time. Historically each herder was entitled to use certain land, where hay had been cut for many years. After privatization, however, every hayfield has become a focus of disputes between individual herders and members within social groups, as well as people from neighbouring societies. Also, repeated cutting, which has been done for the past few decades, has led to a serious decline in the natural productivity of hay fields and there is no sign, at present, that herders will invest in their improvement.

Figure 56. Horses form a large part of Mongolia's livestock and are used for milk and meat, as well as transport. The short (3-4 months) growing season precludes sown fodder, and the livestock survive the long winters through foraging, with perhaps a little natural hay in emergencies (Kharhorin, Mongolia)

Natural hay fields have usually been mown for a long time, so stones and obstructions have largely been eliminated. Further study is required on sources of animal drawn equipment - mowers and trip-rakes (carts are available) - as well as on how to finance their acquisition and organize their management. Ways of raising yields will also have to be investigated if haymaking is to be improved. Haymaking costs, other than cartage and stacking, are proportional to the area dealt with rather than the quantity of hay made.

The botanical composition of the hayfields varies, of course, according to site. In the mountain steppe: Leymus chinensis, Stipa krilovii, Festuca leneni and Koeleria cristata are the main grasses; and Carex duriscula; Artemisia lacenata, A. glauca, A. commutata and Plantago adpressi are the main herbs. In a riparian meadow: Leymus chinensis, Koeleria cristata and Agropyron cristatum; Carex pediformis; Artemisia lacenata, Potentilla tanacetifolium, P. anserinum, Galium verum and Plantago adpressa. In a rainfed mountain meadow: Agropyron cristatum, Poa subfastigata, Festuca sp.; Carex pediformis; and Artemisia lacenata, A. dracunculus, A. glauca, Thalictrum simplex and Galium verum. A mountain meadow on a north slope: Bromus inermis, Calamagrostis epidois, Elymus turczanovii and Stipa baicalensis; and Carex pediformis, Artemisia lacenata, Geranium pratensis and Galium boreale. The overall proportion of plant types in hay is herbs (considered to have poor feeding value), 39 - 58%; Carex, 11 - 22%; grasses, 20 - 37%; and legumes, 6 - 18%.

Haymaking trials and demonstrations were established in Ikhtamir district in 1996. Initial trials focused on different rates of dung and their effects, with 50 t/ha being selected as the rate to be used in trials with ice irrigation and mineral fertilizer (80-90 kg/ha of NP fertilizer). Ice irrigation, dung and mineral fertilizer all increased the number of plants per square metre, the length of vegetative shoots and dry matter production. Differences were particularly significant in 1996, but less so in the dry year 1997: in 1997, percentage increases ranged from 253% with ice irrigation to 407% with ice irrigation plus dung, and 707% with ice irrigation and mineral fertilizer. The percentage of grass plants increased on the treated plots while the percentage of sedges fell. A simple dung-spreading cart was constructed in an effort to make dung spreading less arduous. Land ownership (all land was currently state owned) and continued access to land remained key questions. Although families had traditional grazing rights (but not ownership) any move to invest time and resources to increase soil fertility and hay production brings with it the need for some security of access to that area of land for a reasonable period of time.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page