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TitleAnimal Products From The Mediterranean Area
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LanguageEnglish
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Page 1

Animal products from
the Mediterranean area

EAAP publication No. 119, 2006
Santarém, Portugal

25-27 September 2005

Page 208

193

A well managed pasture shall provide feed to cover the great majority of the animal requirements,
and this implies that the stocking rate shall be adjusted to average pasture production. However,
there are some periods in the year, particularly in the transition from summer to autumn, and
sometimes also during winter, where suplemental feed may be required. The irregularity of rain
distribution in Mediterranean climate also introduces frequent inter-annual variations in the pasture
growth, which may create some abnormal short pasture supply problems. To solve these situations,
feed reserves of conserved forage (hay, silage, haylage) should be produced on the farm, otherwise
they have to be bought from the market at a higher cost (straw, industrial by-products, concentrates,
etc.). Taking in consideration that the cost of one FU in conserved forage is normally twice or
thrice of that in the grazed pasture, and 4 to 6 times more expensive in straw and concentrates,
attention should be paid to the quantity and quality of forage to be conserved on the farm. Indeed,
conserved forage should be considered as an insurance which must cover not only normal periods
of feed scarcicity, but preferably also some more irregular climatic accidents affecting pasture
production. As the “montado” can assist in covering some more difficult or irregular periods of
pasture availability, by providing twigs and leaves of the oak branches, grazed in situ after being
cut down, annual needs for forage conservation may be limited to 1 FU per kilogram of animal
live weight grazing in the “montado”, that is circa 1/6 of the total annual feed requirements. Also
the yield of acorns, if not used by pigs, can assist ruminant nutrition in eventual prolonged autumn
droughts but this shall be taken with care as in dry autumns the acorns may delay their maturing
period, falling down green and with a high tanin content, able to block protein in the rumen, thus
affecting the N nutrition of the grazing animals. Pigs are not affected by this problem.

8. Manager, the driver.
Man is the most important element. Indeed he must take every decision concerning the “montado”,
pastures, animals, trees, fodder crops, bees, etc. Taking in consideration the complexity of the
system he may need a holistic approach for his decisions. Particularly, he has to pay attention to
pasture establishment and management, deciding on soil preparation, sowing time, seed mixture
and sowing rate, sowing method, fertilizers and soil ammendments, weed control, type and
productive function of the grazing animals, stocking rates and grazing management, conservation
of fences and water points, fertilizers topdressing, areas for forage conservation, method of forage
conservation, animal management, animal health, accounting and sales of products, etc.. He has
also to decide on the complex management of the trees such as prunning, cork stripping, using the
acorns, etc..

Results of pasture improvement in “montado/dehesa” farms

Many examples of results obtained through this model of pasture improvement in “montado/dehesa”
farms could be presented. However, there is one, whose evolution has been oriented and accompanied
by the author for more than 30 years, that deserves particular attention. This is the farm “Herdade
dos Esquerdos” (in Vaiamonte, Monforte, Alentejo, Portugal), a 285 ha cork/holm oak “montado”
at 30-40 trees/ha, in a region of 550 mm annual rainfall, soils acid (pH 5.3- 6.2) and shallow derived
from granite and gneiss, originally very poor in P (less than 2 ppm), and soil fertility (organic matter
0.7-1.2%).

Until 1973 the farm was exploited through a traditional 9 years rotation, including a ploughed
(with mules) bare fallow-wheat-oats-6 years natural pasture, which was progressively invaded by
Cistus salvifolius and C. crispus. The yields of cereals were very low (400-800 kg/ha) and were
only justified by the need to control the invasive shrubs.

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The acorns were grazed every year by an average 120 fattening pigs, from October to
January/February, and the natural pastures by 350 merino sheep, arriving in the farm by late February
and remaining on pastures until late June, when they were moved to the 60 ha of wheat and oats
stubbles, being fed there until early August. By this time they have finished the stubbles and were
moved out to another farm of the same proprietor. In total (including the grazing pigs fed on acorns)
the stocking rate of the farm was estimated in 0.87 sheep equivalent/ha/year.

In 1973, following the crisis of the African Swine fever, and the fall in wheat prices, aggravated by
difficulties in finding labourers to continue with the traditional system, it was decided to initiate a
programme of pasture improvement and intensification of sheep production, which included the
sowing of biodiverse legume-rich pastures, on one well fertilized (superphosphate 18% P2O5 at
500 kg/ha) paddock per year, accompanied by fencing and provision of water points. At the same
time the rotation with cereals was progressively discontinued and from 1987 onwards 88% of the
agricultural area was occupied with permanent improved pastures, the remaining 12% (the best
soils) being continuously cropped with annual legume-rich forages for hay.

Today the farm is an organic farm involved in sheep milk production for organic cheese, keeps a
stocking rate of 8 sheep equivalent/ha/year, including 40 Iberian sows and 4 males to produce pigs
for fattening on the acorns (50-80 organic fat pigs /year) and young pigs for the market. Apart from
that, some recent demonstration trials carried out on the farm has shown a good potential for developing
the production of high quality poultry meat on pastures.

On the other hand, the effects on the soil were remarkable. Soil organic matter raised considerably
to 1.5-4.4%, and a similar situation occurred with the levels of P, which raised to 12-40 ppm, the
lowest values being only found on the continuously cropped land for hay. The elevation of the soil
organic matter, apart representing a considerable sequestration of carbon from the atmospheric
CO2, has also improved the water holding capacity of the soils, which reflects in a further increase of
pasture productivity. Soil erosion, in the past a matter of great concern, has been totally arrested.
The difficult and costly control of shrubs in the past, is now completely and naturally resolved, as the
improvement in pasture productivity and the correspondent high grazing pressure on the land, have
contributed to the total eradication of the shrubs, today only found outside the fences, along the road
sides. The trees have an excelent vegetative aspect, the yields of acorns are more regular, and the
cork thickness seem also to have improved, although some more time is required to conclude on this
matter. As a final result, landscape has improved and fire risks are much smaller and easier to control.

On the other hand the farm management is much facilitated and the income has increased
considerably. Apart from the annual forage hay crop which requires sowing, fertilizing, cutting and
haymaking operations every year, the remaining area is now just topdressed whith rock phosphate
26,5% P2O5, at the rate of 250 kg/ha every second year. The sheep and pigs are kept on the
paddocks during the entire year, although receiving some concentrate feed during lactating and late
pregnancy periods. The management of the sheep flock is facilitated through individual electronic
chip identification, associated with an adequate soft-ware programme (Ovigest) specially developed
in cooperation with an electronic-informatic engineer.

Today, the farm receives a great number of interested people, including farmers, researchers,
students, congress participants, etc., and the author and his sons, as well as a dedicated team of
collaborators are all proud of the results achieved.

References

Bennett, S.J. & P.S. Cocks (Editors), 1999. Genetic Resources of Mediterranean Pasture and
Forage Legumes. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht/Boston/London, pp. 241.

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