Overview Objectives

The project major objective was to improve cattle nutrition and thus increase milk production, leading to better income from mixed crop/livestock farms of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Project Background and Objectives

Dairy products, notably milk and butter, are traditionally important foods in the Tibetan diet. Demand for these products, particularly milk, continues to rise, driven by changing consumption patterns and, secondly, population growth. Local supply has fallen well behind demand, with increasing reliance on imports. Milk production has traditionally relied on yaks grazed in pastoral lands outside central Tibet Autonomous Region. Recently yak numbers have begun to decline, with cow’s milk making up much of the production gap. Production in pastoral areas has also declined, with an increased expectation that central Tibet Autonomous Region’s crop-livestock zone will make up for this shortfall.
A specialist dairy sector would help boost production by an estimated minimum of 20 per cent. This can be achieved by improved feeds with greater nutritional value being made available to cattle. Livestock are largely fed crop residues (straw) and crop by-products and grazed on grasses and weeds, along with crop regrowth. This is poor nutrition and limits milk production. Improved feeding systems based around the effective utilisation of crop residues and by-products, better silage management practices, information on yearly feed availability and knowledge of responses to different feeds should achieve the 20 per cent boost in dairy production needed to meet supply and establish a specialist dairy sector.

Progress Reports (Year 1, 2, 3 etc)

Project activities commenced in November 2004 following a successful project planning visit to Tibet (Tibet Autonomous Region, PRC) in October 2004. The focus during the early stages of the project in Tibet has been on the on-farm research component. Milk production and feed inputs during a complete 12 month production cycle are being monitored on 37 small holder milk enterprises (approximately 200 cattle) in the valleys of central Tibet. In addition, reproductive performance of the cows will be monitored over 2 years. The study will allow us to develop the relationships between feed offered (quantity and quality), milk production and reproduction. The subsequent research program can then concentrate on the most important nutritional constraints on production. The participatory research approach adopted - involving researchers, extension staff and farmers - will facilitate technology transfer.

A set of comprehensive spreadsheets has been developed to collect information on :-
Farm inventory - livestock, farm size, labour force, machinery
Farm enterprises - milk sales, crop production and sales, other enterprises
Cattle inventory - age, genotype, reproductive status, sales
Reproduction - mating and calving records for cows (including details of AI)
Feed and milk - milk production and associated feed inputs at 2-weekly intervals
Sale of milk and dairy products (yoghurt, butter, cheese)
Other cattle - male stock and replacement females, feed input, heart girth measurements
Data collection in the above format commenced in March 2005.

The Australian component of the project is aimed at optimising animal production from conserved (silage) cereal and cereal/legume silages. Crops were sown in June 2005, at the end of the current reporting period. A field experiment is comparing the forage quality from seven cereals (3 wheat, 2 barley, 2 oats) grown alone or with vetch. Each crop is to be harvested in spring at four stages of growth - boot, ear emergence, milk and dough. Silages are being produced from barley and oat crops, each harvested in spring and at three stages of growth (ear emergence, milk and dough). The six silages will be fed to steers in an animal house experiment in 2006

This period saw the start of the on-farm data collection for the benchmarking of feeding, milk production and reproduction for the smallholder dairy producers in a sample of the livestock/cropping areas of Tibet. There are currently 36 family operated on-farm sites participating in this monitoring phase. This information is vital to establishing the current state of production - to identify the constraints and thereby the opportunities to improve productivity and household income. Following the benchmarking phase, it is proposed to devise annual feed budgets and the strategies to supply the forages and other feeds to meet the animal production requirements.

A visit was made to the project site in March 2006 by Colin Griffiths and John Wilkins to assess progress with the project. Considerable modifications to the information collection and storage processes were necessary to improve the field operations and entry of the data to computer files. While it is far too early to report any data or recommendations, there were clear indications in the field records of nutritional restrictions as reflected by low birth weights of calves and low milk production. This visit was timed to coincide with the final stages of the AYAD (Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development) mission of Amanda Mather (NSW DPI, District Agronomist, Berry), who spent 5 months at Lhasa working with many of the ACIAR project team at TLRI, other TAAAS staff and NGO’s in examining the structure and function of extension in Tibet. Amanda made valuable contributions to the ACIAR project during her time in Lhasa, and kept in frequent contact with the Australian team throughout her stay. She also provided the visiting Australians with many contacts through the network she had established during her investigations into extension. This led to specific extension oriented meetings and discussions with various people from TAAAS and other organisations involved in current and future development of extension services.

Training of the Tibetan scientists as part of the capacity building aims of the project was provided by 2 exercises. Three of the Tibetan scientists (Dr Tsamyu, Mr Aosiman, and Mr Basang) visited Australia in September/October 2005 for 2 weeks, on a brief study tour covering dairy production systems, forage production, silage production, animal house design, laboratory methods for feed evaluation, ultrasound scanning for monitoring reproductive status and methods for determining digestibility of feeds in sheep and cattle. During April-June 2006, Dr Tsamyu (nutrition specialist) returned to Australia for 9 weeks at NSW DPI Agricultural Institute at Wagga Wagga. The purpose of this mission was to further her experience in nutrition research, and in particular the design, management, operation and analysis of animal house experimentation, as well as the associated laboratory procedures for assessment of feed quality. The visit was timed for Dr Tsamyu to participate in the experiment to evaluate silages in the Australian research component (described below). These skills will be vital to the ongoing research within this project and beyond, that will be possible with the provision of an animal house facility at TLRI, Lhasa, as part of the project. The animal house at TLRI was nearing completion at the end of this reporting period and will soon be ready to be tested for functionality and to commence the first experiments.

The Australian research component of the project is aimed at optimising animal production from conserved (silage) cereal and cereal/legume crops. The crops were sown in June 2005 - 7 cereals (3 wheat, 2 barley, 2 oats), grown alone or with vetch. They were harvested in spring 2005 at various stages of development, and silage made. The silages were then fed to steers in the animal house in an experiment during April-June 2006 to evaluate their quality, and samples were analysed for routine nutritional parameters. The results and analyses of the animal performance data and the laboratory measures of feed quality were not available at the time of reporting.

An extension of this project beyond the original termination date (June 2007) to December 2007 was forecast in late 2006, and was subsequently approved by ACIAR. Thus, this report is for the year ending June 2007 only, with the final report for the project now due following the extension. A summary of the benchmark study and other project achievements, as presented to the review meeting, is given below but will be more fully discussed in the final report at a later date.

1. During this reporting period an external review of the project was conducted at a meeting held in Lhasa in May 2007.

2. The review meeting in May 2007 was timed to coincide with a visit by the Australian scientists from the Agronomy (CIM/2002/093) and Minerals (LPS/2005/129) ACIAR projects so that all could participate in discussions about future ACIAR funded research in Tibet.

3. A benchmark study was conducted on 36 smallholder family farms in 4 regions - Lhasa, Shigatse, Bailang and Naidong, collecting data on feeding, milk production, reproduction, growth and survival rates. Additionally, feed samples were collected from the sites over several seasons and analysed for nutritive value to benchmark local feed quality. Controlled experiments were conducted at TLRI on improving the nutritive value of straw, in the newly established animal house, and on silage production and digestibility at DPI research facilities, Wagga Wagga.

Findings summary - field benchmark data and research experiments
Feed availability
Large dependence on straw at all sites and in all seasons
Proportions of grain in the diet (DM basis) very constant within sites in all seasons - considerable variation between sites
Lhasa site had opportunistic access to green feed (mainly as vegetable waste) in all seasons
Milk production
Low milk production overall - well below potential (average ~ 5 litres/day)
Lhasa site much higher production than all others - likely due to greater proportion of green feed
Bailang site - considerable variation between farms, one much higher
Shigatse lowest performance
Naidong consistently around average of all sites
No difference between cow genotypes
Reproduction, growth and survival
Low birth weights in calves (15-30% lower than expected in Australian cattle)
Poor survival rates of calves (~60%), and 5 -15% death rates in cows
Reduced fertility in the cows
Delayed maturity and age at first calving
Extended calving periods
Poor growth rates in young cattle
Wagga experiments
Trial severely affected by drought - large variation between plots
Very little grain development
Quality data (digestibility) variable
Protein content increased with vetch component, decreased with increased grain yield - overall lower than expected owing to drought
Animal house experiment results atypical - severely drought affected silage
Experiments need repeating
TLRI animal house experiment
Higher DMI, liveweight gain and dry matter digestibility by processing (chop length) of wheat straw.
Fine chopping significantly increased nutrient utilization (DMD%)

Concluding overview :-
All production clearly constrained by poor nutrition - low quality diets
This project has established benchmark data previously unknown to the Tibetan dairy industry (diet composition, milk production, reproduction parameters, survival and growth rates etc)
This now provides a basis for future directions in R,D & E to improve the production and income of Tibetan dairy farms.
The provision of the animal house facility will be pivotal to the key research required to develop sustainable feeding systems.
Current feeding systems, heavily reliant on cereal straw, will not allow the animals to express their genetic potential and are therefore constraining farm and industry production.
Current systems are also likely to be making very inefficient use of the nutrients offered.
Sources of high quality green feed need to be investigated before annual feed budgets can be formulated.
Sources of protein supplements (eg NPN) need to be evaluated.

Project Outcomes

To identify constraints, a benchmark study was undertaken as the major activity of the project. Feed resources were characterised (type and availability) and data were collected to describe milk production and key parameters of reproduction. The most consistent and relevant finding of the benchmark study was the high reliance on cereal straws as the basis of most diets, and this was rarely supplemented sufficiently to provide adequate feed quality in total dietary intake. Associated with the generally poor nutritional status was depressed performance in all production parameters - low milk production (average ~ 5-6 kg/cow/day), low fertility (average 69% calving rate), low birthweights of calves (average 20-25 kg) associated with poor survival rates (average 64%) and followed by low growth rates (average 0.2-0.3 kg/day).
Although inadequate nutrition had been implicated as a major problem prior to this project, the research team gained a firm basis on which strategies for improvement (feed budgeting, forage production, diet composition, etc) could be developed. Apart from providing the benchmark data, the project has had significant immediate impact in promoting awareness of the nutritional scenario restricting current production and the principles to be applied in designing remedial strategies. In this regard, an unexpected outcome of great importance was the potential to influence local policy makers and funding agencies in deciding the best way(s) to improve production and alleviate farm family poverty. It appeared that previous and current decisions were often based on little or inappropriate advice on aspects of animal nutrition and production, and therefore unlikely to be biologically or economically effective. The feedback suggests that this project has already had considerable impact in this direction within a short time frame, a significant benefit from the ACIAR investment.
The project built on the local capacity to improve agricultural production by improving the skills of the scientists and field staff and provision of infrastructure. The upgrading of capacity for feed quality evaluation (including staff training and expansion of techniques) is vital for future research, as animal nutrition is without doubt the most important immediate area to be addressed in removing constraints to production. The animal house built at TLRI with ACIAR and local funds is the first and only facility of its kind in Tibet and of a global standard for conducting nutrition experiments. This will be pivotal to the key research required to evaluate feed quality, animal responses to varying feed regimes, examining responses of different genotypes and many other components required in the process of developing efficient and sustainable feeding and production systems. The facility will be available for use in many other projects and thus is a major asset for Tibetan animal research into the future.
Following the external review of the project, it was recommended that ACIAR fund a further project to build on the outcomes here, as well as those of the contemporary ACIAR agronomy project (CIM/2002/093), in a systems approach to improving livestock and agronomic production. The follow-on project (LPS/2006/119 - Integrated crop and dairy systems in Tibet Autonomous Region, PR China) commenced in April 2008.

Project ID
Project Country
Inactive project countries
Commissioned Organisation
NSW Department of Primary Industries, Australia
Project Leader
Dr John Wilkins
02 6938 1837
02 6938 1809
Collaborating Institutions
Tibet Academy of Agricultural and Animal Sciences, China
Tibet Livestock Research Institute, China
Project Budget
Start Date
Finish Date
Extension Start Date
Extension Finish Date
ACIAR Research Program Manager
Dr Jon Tanner