The aims of the project are to demonstrate the production benefits of improved mineral nutrition of livestock in TAR and to build local capacity to address these problems in future. These aims will be addressed by the following objectives and activities:
Objective 1: To refine information on the mineral nutrition status of livestock in the 4 major livestock production regions of TAR. (About 30% of the field program)
Activity 1: Extend the mineral survey by Tashi et al., (2005) 3 in yaks and sheep into the summer and autumn growing period.
Objective 2: To determine the response to selenium, copper and iodine supplementation in sheep and to selenium and copper in yaks. (About 70% of the field program)
Activity 1: Design and implement supplement response trials on well-controlled sites accessible from Lhasa.
Objective 3: To build the research capacity and extension capability of TAAAS personnel.
Activity 1: Train TAAAS and CAAS scientists in animal mineral, energy and protein nutrition and feed nutritive value at workshop in Tibet.
Activity 2: Train scientists and research assistants from the TAAAS in Beijing and at Murdoch University in mineral assay and instrumentation.
Activity 3: Determine the local availability, quality and efficacy of appropriate supplements for use by smallholder farmers.
Activity 4: Consolidate project outputs into extension material suitable for farmer communication.
Activity 5: Disseminate information about the mineral responses and potential application of results.
A survey undertaken in 2005 determined the mineral nutrition status of pregnant sheep, lactating cattle and yaks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. The survey team found that livestock were at risk from a number of mineral deficiencies, especially sodium, phosphorus, copper and selenium, with selenium status being particularly low. These mineral deficiencies could be contributing to the poor to moderate condition of the livestock in TAR, with marginal deficiencies resulting in reductions in growth rate, wool production, fertility and milk production, while severe deficiencies resulted in rapid weight loss and increased mortality. The economic and social costs of these disorders are difficult to assess, particularly since marginal disorders are not readily identified in the field and in addition, there is a dearth of information on the response to supplementation.
Research capacity development and the ability to analyse biological samples for all minerals is an important component of this project. Survey and mineral response trials will involve field work with the most important livestock species in Tibet, i.e. yaks and sheep, using methods developed by Tashi et al., (2005). Dr Geoff Tudor will lead the ACIAR study in Tibet, in conjunction with scientist from TAAAS/TLRI and the Mineral Nutrition Group of CAAS led by Professor Xugang Luo. Mr Jiu Bu, together with Dr Geoff Tudor, will plan adoption pathways for farmers in Tibet. These will centre on direct demonstrations and talks to farmers, interim and final reports for ACIAR, and publication of results in international refereed journals.
This project LPS-2005-129 extends and follows-up the recommendations of the survey of the mineral nutrition of pregnant sheep, lactating cattle and yaks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. As a first step, Dr Geoff Tudor, who had been the Senior Beef Research Officer in the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia, was appointed to the project in February 2007 as a research fellow with the role and responsibilities to link operations between Perth, Beijing and Lhasa while located in Lhasa. Dr Tudor arrived in Lhasa in April 2007, and immediately began organising the staff and operations to complete the mineral survey the summer and autumn of 2007. Meanwhile, Dr Bill Winter, as manager of the Livestock Production Systems Program, coordinated a workshop involving the researchers and staff from the major ACIAR livestock projects in Tibet. The workshop took place in Lhasa from 21st May to 1st of June 2007. For LPS-2005-129 in particular, Professor Costa and Dr Tashi led a four-day workshop where all the personnel in the project established the project’s scope and operations for 2007 and beyond.
At the workshop, TAAAS staff agreed to coordinate the daily operations of the mineral survey, and mineral response trials for the project, while CAAS staff agreed to conduct the mineral analyses on all samples. Dr Geoff Judson acted as a consultant to the workshop and research team and was instrumental in developing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that will form the basis of sample collection, handling, processing, mineral analysis and data collection, collation and statistical analysis. A mineral survey strategy was developed for 440 farms across 10 counties. The equipment and consumables for these surveys were purchased in Australia and shipped to Lhasa ready for the survey to commence. However, progress on the mineral survey was totally disrupted by the severe illness and subsequent withdrawal of Dr Geoff Tudor from the project. Without Dr Tudor’s linking and on-ground coordinating role, and delays in obtaining visas for Mr Allan Clark, [formerly senior technician at Hamilton Research Station] who was initially contracted to assume leadership of the sample collection training role in Lhasa, meant that little progress was achieved in 2007.
Notwithstanding these setbacks, there have been some achievements for 2007: all of the project team are familiar with each other, everyone has agreed priorities and process for the project, and the basic infrastructure for conducting the mineral survey has been purchased in Australia and is in place in Lhasa and Beijing. Most importantly all of the consumables and equipment are in place, and the standard operating procedures confirmed which are the prerequisites to completing the survey work. Once a replacement for Dr Tudor has been confirmed, then the project is ready to continue and meet its objectives. Each collaborating institution remains committed to the success of the project.
This project LPS-2005-129 extends and follows-up the recommendations of the survey of the mineral nutrition of pregnant sheep, lactating cattle and yaks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. There were a number of factors that delayed progress during 2008. Firstly, in 2007, Dr Geoff Tudor, who had been appointed to the project in February 2007 as a research fellow with the role and responsibilities to link operations between Perth, Beijing and Lhasa suffered a heart attack while located in Lhasa. Dr Tudor subsequently resigned from the project in August 2007.
The workshop that took place in Lhasa from 21st May to 1st of June 2007 established the project’s scope and operations for 2007 and beyond. At this workshop, TAAAS staff agreed to coordinate the daily operations of the mineral survey, and mineral response trials for the project, while CAAS staff agreed to conduct the mineral analyses on all samples. Dr Geoff Judson acted as a consultant to the workshop and research team and was instrumental in developing the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that will form the basis of sample collection, handling, processing, mineral analysis and data collection, collation and statistical analysis. These SOPs are now in place and will underpin the mineral survey.
Dr Lu Lin was chosen to gain experience with new equipment such as ICP-MS and techniques for selenium and iodine assay at Murdoch University because of her aptitude and contribution to the conduct of the field assay program. This component was support in part by an ATSE Crawford Fund traineeship for Dr Lu. Dr Lin established that the argon carrier gas (MW 90) used in ICP-MS significantly disrupted the signal for the most commonly occurring isotope of selenium (MW 79). One solution was to validate assay of Se-82 which occurs at 5% relative abundance and is detected with 25% efficiency.
Notwithstanding these setbacks, there have been some achievements for 2008: all of the project team are familiar with each other, everyone has agreed priorities and process for the project, and the basic infrastructure for conducting the mineral survey has been purchased in Australia and is in place in Lhasa and Beijing. Now that a replacement for Dr Tudor has been confirmed through the appointment of Nicole Spiegel, the project is ready to resume and meet its objectives. Each collaborating institution remains committed to the success of the project.
The overall objective of the present project is to gain a better understanding of the mineral nutrition of sheep, cattle and yaks in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. Once this is achieved the next step will be to demonstrate the production benefits of improved mineral nutrition and to build local capacity to address these problems in the future. The project builds on an earlier project in Tibet: LPS/2005/018 ‘Mineral nutrition of livestock in Tibet (I & II)’ where survey of nutrients in feed and mineral status of livestock in six counties near Lhasa showed that livestock during winter and late autumn were in moderate to poor condition and pastures were of poor quality, as indicated by low protein content. The survey also was reported that low levels of some major and trace minerals may be key factors limiting livestock productivity. The first objective of the current project was to extend the survey work to the summer and early autumn seasons which are the periods of rapid growth of pastures.
Significant progress was made during the year of 2009, due to the commitment of staff from the Tibetan Livestock Research Institute (TLRI) of TAAAS and Dr Nicole Spiegel, ACIAR Research Fellow who coordinated project work while living in Lhasa for 7 months during 2009. Special credit is due to Professor Madame Sze Zhu whose leadership was central to progress and Dr Nyima Tashi, Deputy Director of TAAAS whose guidance ensured that we achieved our objectives for the field studies. We also commend the Mineral Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) for its rapid turn around time for mineral analysis of all samples presented.
The major project work in 2009 was completion of two major mineral survey collections that took place across eight different counties (including the six counties from the earlier survey) in TAR during the summer and early autumn seasons. The counties selected were representative of 3 pastoral regions, 4 cropping regions and one agro-pastoral region, and covered 3 of the four main livestock production systems in Tibet. The livestock included in the survey were sheep and cattle in Bailang, Gangba, Jiangzi and Naidong counties, sheep and yaks in Damxiong, Linzhou and Naqu counties, and yaks in Jiali county. A preliminary survey of minerals in goats also took place in Naidong. Mineral nutritional status through analyses of the blood, urine, faeces and milk samples was conducted at the Mineral Nutrition Research Division of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, lead by Professor Luo Xugang. The mineral content in the feed on offer to these animals was assessed using pasture samples, feed supplements, drinking water and soil samples that were collected at the same time that the animals were sampled. Our survey results confirm that yaks in Jiali and Diamxiong counties, cattle in Naidong and Jiangzi counties, and sheep in Naqu are at risk of selenium deficiency during summer and in Jiangzi during autumn in Tibet. These findings confirm and extend the earlier survey work carried out in 2003/04. However, this risk from selenium deficiency during summer and autumn appeared to be greater in yaks and cattle compared with sheep. In fact, the vast majority of sheep in the counties surveyed are marginal to adequate for selenium status. Moreover, the survey results also indicate that the levels of deficiency in yaks and cattle are a function of location within county and season. Further to this, the mineral status in both feed and livestock varied between counties and according to species, and sometimes between households within a county. Of particular significance were the whole blood selenium results for yaks in Jiali [collection of samples from yaks in Jiali is shown below] where values were some of the lowest recorded (eg 7 to 18 ng Se/ml) in comparison to published values from other livestock production systems. Consequently, yaks in the Jiali pastoral grazing system would offer the best opportunity to assess responses to selenium supplementation.
For dairy cattle, blood selenium concentrations in Naidong were also in the deficient range. Since dairy production is a rapidly emerging industry in Tibet to supply the growing tourist trade with cow’s milk, it is important to establish the extent of selenium deficiency in Naidong and the possible benefits of selenium supplementation.
Livestock in several counties were at risk of copper deficiency. Copper status of livestock is not easy to assess when relying on the conveniently obtained blood copper and TCA-soluble copper as the criteria rather than liver copper which is a better indicator but very difficult to obtain by biopsy without excessive risk to the animal. Nevertheless dairy cattle in Naidong County presented with blood values (< 3 micromolar) indicative of low copper status as did yaks in Jiali. Thus livestock in these counties presented with multiple mineral deficiencies.
The concentrations of thyroxine (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3) found in all livesotck, yaks, cattle and sheep in all counties were extremely, indicative of low iodine status. However, the ELISA assay used for these analyses is new and has not been used in other studies to validate the procedure fully. Moreover, we are still in the process of developing the ICP-MS assay for plasma iodine, so confirmatory plasma iodine concentrations are not available at this stage. Nevertheless if the low T4 and T3 values are correct, then iodine should also be included in any supplementary treatment to assess mineral response.
As a result of the progress made in 2009, strong working relationships have been established between Dr Nicole Spiegel (ACIAR Research Fellow) and the scientists at the Tibetan Livestock Research Institute (TLRI), the Tibet Academy of Agricultural and Animal Sciences (TAAAS), and at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS). The Tibetan Government is focussed on establishing nutritional standards for livestock in TAR. Participation in conducting the mineral surveys has already contributed to increasing the awareness of TAAAS/TLRI staff about the importance of meeting and matching the mineral needs of livestock at pasture with the demands for increased livestock productivity. The next phase of the project will be to test for mineral responses in livestock from key counties where mineral deficiencies have been indicated. If economically significant responses to mineral supplementation can be demonstrated in Tibetan livestock during 2010, then this information will form the basis of our future extension program and the transfer of technical information on assessing and correcting of mineral disorders in grazing animals.
By living full-time for the seven months of survey work in 2009, Dr Spiegel has not only forged strong links with the TLRI team but has also increased her appreciation of the potential social and economic impacts that resolving the mineral status of livestock and confirming the need for supplementation will have, especially if production responses are evident. Given the language difficulties, cultural norms, and economic differences, Dr Spiegel is already mindful of the need for clear and cost-effective messages that communicate the benefits of mineral supplementation, and develop the practical means whereby supplementation can be achieved to sustain the well-being and wealth, particularly of traditional, nomadic yak herders on the high plateau in Jiali county.