IAEA helps to improve the productivity of cattle, camels and yaks in Mongolia through better nutrition and reproductive management

The livestock sector is the main pillar of the economy in Mongolia which, in addition to providing export products, provides food, clothing and shelter. The livestock sector employs 30 percent of Mongolians and is a core survival strategy for nomadic families that rely entirely on pastureland livestock herding. In 2009 there were 43.4 million heads of livestock in Mongolia or 0.3 million camels, 2.2 million horses, 2.5 million cattle, 18.4 million sheep and 20 million goats. However, there is large variation in animal numbers from year to year because of the death of millions of animals each year due to harsh climatic conditions. For example, the Dzud of 2009/2010, with temperatures plunging to -50°C, resulted in huge livestock losses. By the end of April 2010, thick snow continued to blanket 60% of Mongolia making the animals unable to graze for months with a resultant 8 million head of livestock (20% of the animal population) reported to have died by mid June 2010. Furthermore, drought occurs in summer coupled with severe cold and snow in winter, both of which affect plant growth and feed availability as well as animal survival. The animals are raised primarily for their meat, although goats are valued for their hair which can be used to produce cashmere.

From the very first project implemented in 1986 i.e. “Uses of nuclear energy achievement in animal husbandry” to the latest project MON/5/016 “Improving productivity of cattle, camels and yaks through better nutrition and reproductive management” (2007-2008), with the assistance of IAEA, specialized laboratories on radioimmunology to monitor reproductive efficiency and isotopic nutrition tracing and labelling technologies to evaluate nutritive value of feed have been established at the Mongolian State University of Agriculture and Research Institute of Animal Husbandry.

IAEA helps to improve the productivity of cattle, camels and yaks in Mongolia through better nutrition and reproductive management Studies have been undertaken for the determination of the nutritional value of various feed resources, the use of urea-molasses blocks, and interspecies cross-breeding using semen from yak into cattle cows to increase beef and milk production. The main achievements to date include the production of Agency supported concentrated feeds (urea molasses, medicated and or nutrient and element concentrated block). Additionally, improved nutrition management has decreased the input costs for farmers by almost 67% and the production of adapted soil and water animal feed crops together with an animal feeding programme have increased the quality of animals during winter including protecting animal lives (this was demonstrated in selected farms and this practice should now be taken up by all farmers and herders). The host institute and the project team have also improved their knowledge and skills on the use of artificial insemination (AI) in yaks and cattle and in feed evaluation and use of alterative feeds including evaluation of the nutritional value of feed resources available in different zones of Mongolia, including identification of toxic plants and plants containing bioactive compounds of industrial applications. Below are a few examples of previous work:

1) The relationships between chemical constituents of plant materials and methane production: The relationships between chemical constituents of 17 plant materials and in vitro methane production were determined at 24 h of incubation using the Hohenheim gas method. The methane production reduction potential (MRP) was calculated by assuming net methane concentration for the control hay was 100%, the MRP of Bergenia crassifolia leaves and roots, and Peltiphyllum peltatum leaves, was >40%. Amongst the chemical constituents, neutral detergent fibre had a high correlation (r = 0.86) with methane concentration. There was a negative relationship between total phenol, total tannins or tannin activity and methane concentration. The results showed that leaves of Rheum undulatum, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, B. crassifolia, Rhus typhina and P. peltatum, and roots of B. crassifolia had considerable potential to decrease (i.e., >25%) enteric methane production from ruminants (Animal Feed Science and Technology, (2009) 150: 230-237).

2) IAEA helps to improve the productivity of cattle, camels and yaks in Mongolia through better nutrition and reproductive management Use of indigenous plants for treatment of animals infected with helminth parasites: Herbal infusions of prairie sagewort (Artemisia frigida, family Asteraceae), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and garlic (Allium sativum) were tested against ovine internal parasites Nematodirus and Haemonchus spp with the objective to evaluate their antihelminthic activity against common helminths of ruminants. Twenty five local Mongolian sheep, infected naturally with Nematodirus oiratianus and Haemonchus contortus, were grazed on pasture in Taryalan soum county of Khuvsgul aimag province for the duration of the experiment. The efficiency of the infusions (30%) was measured by the percentage reduction in the number of eggs produced by N. oiratianus.

The egg count was reduced by 13.3% using prairie sagewort, 15.8% with tansy and 11.3% using garlic. The number of eggs produced by H. contortus was reduced by 22, 20.5 and 17.8%, respectively 5 days after administration of the plant infusions. In untreated (control) sheep infected with N. oiratianus and H. contortus there was little change in egg counts during this period, the levels remaining at 97.8 to 100% of the initial egg counts. The results indicated that infusions of 30% prairie sagewort, tansy or garlic to sheep had significant anthelminthic activity against N. oiratianus and H. contortus leading to a reduction in egg shedding.

3) Urea molasses multinutrient blocks have been found to be highly beneficial in several member states (MS). The use of solid urea-molasses blocks, i.e. solid blocks made with urea, molasses, vitamins and minerals, as a supplement for the nutrients deficient in the main feed, offers several advantages, namely, ease of transport, storage and use. It has reduced risks of toxicity compared with other approaches, such as giving a small amount of urea in the drinking water, or sprinkling a urea solution on fibrous feeds before they are fed to animals.

IAEA helps to improve the productivity of cattle, camels and yaks in Mongolia through better nutrition and reproductive management A mineral block feed production unit is functional in Ikh Tamir sum and Arkhangai aimag. A 1 kg mineral block contains 900 g of salt, 80 g of sodium sulphate, 10 g of wheat flour, 5 g of cement, 0.00409 mg of magnesium, 0.00186 mg of magnesium, 0.00153 mg of iron, 0.00145 mg of zinc, 0.0004 mg of iodine, 0.0003 mg of cobalt, 0.0002 mg of copper, 0.00017 mg of selenium. In order to promote the mineral blocks, initially they were distributed free of charge to 12 herders, in Khunui, Bort, Khokh nuur rivers and the lake basins. This resulted in decreased number of abortions in the local cattle population. A herder’s man from the Khan-Ondor community of Ikhtamir sum, Arkhangai aimag bought 70 kg of the blocks but although he concluded they were effective, he considered that the blocks were expensive. This station is planning to produce concentrated feed used with straw, urtica and other grains.

Some case histories: Farmer Tsogtbuyan, from Bayanchandmani sum of Tov aimag has about 200 cows. He has 35 hectares of improved pasture land which he has owned for 60 years. Half of the pasture was cultivated and planted with perennial grasses and legumes and the other half he drilled and spread seed for botanical composition improvement. A fenced-off area of the pasture is used for herding milking cows in spring and late autumn to stabilize milk production. This farm milks his cows twice daily and the average milk production is 14 L. Every year his cows are fed two tons of mineral blocks. In 2009 he obtained trace mineral cattle boluses from an FAO project and did not feed any mineral blocks. Tsogtbuyan prepares hay and silage and bought-in concentrate feed from the Altantaria Company for 350000 tugrik (I euro = 1680 tugrik). He also prepares his own concentrate which contains 70 percent wheat grain and 30 percent straw and costs 350000 tugrik. Milk production was stable after replacing the Altantaria company feed concentrate with a mixture of ground wheat grain and chopped straw. By using the cattle bolus and own feed concentrate, milk production was stable. Transportation and purchase of grain reduced the costs by 60000-70000 tugrik which is to the benefit of the farmer.

Erdenee has been farming dairy cattle for thee past two years. He has 30 milking cows and his farm uses hay and concentrated feed, purchased from a distributor working for a Russian company. He milks his cows twice daily with an average milk yield of 9.5 L. Last year, he started using mineral blocks and milk production increased to 10 L per day because of the blocks. Furthermore, when blocks were used, the cows’ fertility increased and the number of abortions was lower.

Attached are the results of the comparative economic efficiency survey carried out in 2009 amongst three farmers using different feeding conditions. Survey [pdf]

In future, in order to improve the productivity and sustainability of the farming systems it will be essential to ensure integration of crop and livestock systems. Owing to the harsh winters and the long and dry summer and autumn, inadequate nutrition will continue to be a major constraint to livestock production. Feed conservation and preservation and use of appropriate feeding practices, including feed supplementation strategies for increased animal productivity and enhanced reproductive performance, will continue to be a high priority for the sub-sector and should therefore continue to be supported under dedicated national projects, although some of the activities can also be delivered through RCA or regional projects. Expected outcomes include (i) increased capacity of the National Agriculture Research Systems to optimally use locally available fibrous feed resources, (ii) reduction in livestock losses due to increased availability of locally available feed resources for cold season feeding and (iii) improved survival rates, improved productive and reproductive efficiency, better growth rates, higher milk yields and improved farmer livelihood.