This blog comes from David Roberts, Farmer-to-Farmer (F2F) volunteer, a Grazing Land Specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, United States Department of Agriculture.
Traveling to Mongolia has been a great experience for me. It was an opportunity to visit with many nomadic herders and their families to discuss raising livestock.
It also gave me a decent overview of the condition of the rangeland and its management. Since the rangeland is "Open Range" (undivided by fences and ownership) similar to how the American West was one hundred years ago. There could be much to be learned from how America changed from open range to managed rangeland. Education on how rangeland is managed and incorporating the livestock needs would be a better approach than government regulation. I made presentations of livestock in America and Ranch and Farming practices for feeding livestock and pasture/rangeland management.
Forage production was another reason for the assignment and we visited several potential sites to produce forage for hay. In the US, federal government established the Homestead Act allowing farms to be established in the West. The best land was homestead by farmers displacing the livestock herders. I gave a presentation on the types of forages that could be produced in the region.
Raising livestock in America, the issues and challenges are similar to issues in Mongolia. One difference between the two countries is how livestock is sold. In Mongolia livestock is sold by the head and/or by weight where as in America livestock is sold by quality grades. Quality animals need good forage which would have herders shift towards improving forage production on the rangeland. Changes in the market system would help improve both the quality and quantity of the forage the rangeland produces.
Chimgee.D, Professor at National University of Mongolia, and I discussed developing a handbook describing techniques to improve rangeland through management. We will be working on this together during the next several months.
Another concern is with irrigation and the groundwater table. As the amount of land used for forage production increases, the demand for irrigation water increases resulting in the groundwater table lowering. Uvurkhangai aimag where the assignment took place is prone to soil wind erosion and good conservation practices are needed to prevent the loss to wind erosion. Perennial forage species are more suited than annuals species for this reason.
I enjoyed working with herders and farmers in Mongolia. I shared with them how I used to live when I worked on cattle ranches. Moving up into the Rocky Mountains in the summer and then back down onto the Desert for the winters and there were many similarities in our lifestyles. These people have such a great outlook on life, happy with their lifestyle and proud of who they are. After I returned home and back at my work; I am reflecting on my experiences in Mongolia and sorting through what is really important in life.
Rangeland Management with Focus on Nutrition