The increased human population in the CNMI requires that research in feed production and utilization must be intensified to ensure an adequate supply of food of animal origin. Island ruminant producers currently graze their animals on poor and undeveloped pastures and for producers without pasturelands, gather feed daily in a “cut and carry” system that requires driving 5 to 10 miles a day, which increases production costs and reduces efficiency. They are often discouraged by the low productivity of herds raised on poor quality pasture, resulting in overgrazing, invasive weeds, soil erosion and water contamination.
Correcting these inefficiencies, and improving island self-sufficiency, this project researched ways to demonstrate sustainable forage production and improved management systems for animal production through improved pasture-based rations and creation of portable chicken tractors.
The overall objective is to develop environmentally sustainable and economically feasible forage-livestock systems that will assure the viability of agricultural activities in the Pacific islands while protecting its natural resources and putting this knowledge into practice. The specific objectives are:
1. Conduct forage evaluation and demonstration trials that incorporate adaptable forage grass and legume species into a pasture improvement management plan for ruminant and poultry producers
2. Raise the level of technical knowledge and management skills for beef producers and provide agricultural professionals with information on pasture and cattle management
3. Develop a goat industry as an additional source of income for small farmers and provide options for improved goat production
4. Develop awareness of using legumes to enhance soil fertility and encourage manure disposal on pastures
5. Explore methods for improving pasture and extending the grazing season in ways that are economical and efficient
v Conduct workshops with the assistance of USDA NRCS specialist among farmers about grazing management techniques and agronomy
v Hold a pasture demonstration on the Island of Tinian to display sustainable forages and pasture grazing techniques
v Demonstrate at least two designs for portable chicken tractors showcasing affordability and efficiency
v Conduct farm/field tours with USDA-NRCS personnel and other agricultural professionals and agricultural producers about pasture management
v Develop a training event, extension materials, and information to be posted in the CREES web site
In the CNMI, Marianas Public Land Authority (MPLA) manages and distributes pastoral leases to local farmers to promote and revitalize the livestock industry. However, island farmers are reluctant to invest their time and money in economic ranching, because of the low productivity of cattle raised on poor quality pasture, animal health problems, lack or limited irrigation system, and the lack of government educational/technical support.
Grass and legumes exist in abundance in the tropics; however, no definitive study on forage conservation and utilization has been performed locally to establish its efficacy on growth or performance, or its potential toxicity to livestock. Emphasis on pasture management and farming techniques must be done in order to maximize the usefulness of this local natural resource. In addition, it will promote and facilitate the efficient adoption of forage-livestock systems and introduce the concepts of sustainable agriculture among Pacific farmers. Several studies have been performed in the U.S., Europe, and Asia regarding ideal grass/legumes efficacy as staple feed in livestock, but no documented work of this kind has been conducted in the Micronesia.
The project will initiate sustainable feed production and utilization for small-holder livestock enterprises. It will also establish and increase prevalence of safe, economical, and sustainable grazing management systems based on farm integration of goats, poultry, and cattle to increase profits, to elevate food supplies, enhance long-term land productivity, and preserve and restore native plant species and biodiversity. It will also maximize the use of the locally available natural resources such as grass and legumes and awareness of the role of legumes in providing soil fertility in pasture areas. Farmers will be equipped with up-to-date grazing technology and pasture management at the least farm input cost. The project will provide options and alternatives to ruminant producers in improving cattle/goat production and encourage pasture development to be an option for disposal of manure from farms.
A pasture improvement plan and rotational grazing system were established on the 35-hectare Tinian ranch of Sam Palacios. The land was subdivided into eight paddocks for 35 cattle and planted with several combinations of these grasses and legumes: Local grasses: Guinea grass and signal grass; introduced grasses: buffel grass, whittet kikuyu and Guinea grass (drought resistant); and legumes: leucaena, mimosa and sunn hemp.
Paddocks were prepared as follows:
v Guinea grass plus Mimosa (70:30) (2 paddocks)
v Guinea grass plus signal grass plus Luecaena (40:30:30)
v Guinea grass plus signal grass plus mimosa (40:30:30)
v Signal grass plus buffel grass plus leucaena (40:30:30)
v Guinea grass plus signal grass plus perennial peanuts (40:30:30)
v Guinea grass plus signal grass plus sunnhemp (40:30:30) for goats
v Guinea grass plus Whittet kikuyu grass plus mimosa (40:30:30)
Based on advice from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Palacios rotated his cattle every seven days, providing an eight-week rest period for the pasture in each paddock. A qualitative evaluation of the system will be based on cattle performance, rancher observations and the palatability of the grasses. In addition to the rotation trials, the project team set up two types of portable chicken pens to demonstrate pastured poultry, featuring turkeys and chickens grazing grass and perennial peanuts. The portable pens, each built with different materials based on needs and purpose, were moved every week.
The introduced grasses and legumes were planted and demonstrated at the NMC-CREES Experimental field area and selected ranch producers in the islands of Tinian (Ssm Palacios), Saipan (Larry Cabrera) and Rota (Jack Manglona). The stocking rate for planting per acre was followed as prescribed by Koolau Seeds and Company in Hawaii. The first batch was planted May of 2007. Signal, guinea, and buffel grass performed well under continuous irrigation while grasses in the ranch never survived at all. The second batch, August 2007, the selected grasses were all broadcasted in Mr. Sam Palacios paddocks following the prescribed ration mix. Guinea grass, signal grass, sunn hemp, and perennial peanuts grew well. Following, NRCS rotation grazing schedules, the 35 cattle benefited from the pasture improvement plan. With the introduction of new grasses, we observed that cattle tend to eat signal grass first and later eat guinea grass. There was not much significant preference given by the animals to sunn hemp. Perhaps, this can be attributed to palatability. However, improved grass mass were observed in the location where sunn hemp was planted. Differences in growth performance of grasses in first and second batch could be attributed to the germination rate of the seeds, season during seeds were broadcasted, the availability of water for irrigation, soil quality, location, and the survival rate over some grass and weeds.
Perennial peanuts are great source of proteins for chicken and turkey browsers as observed in chicken tractors. They tend to finish everything up to the roots. That’s why most of the perennial peanuts planted within the chicken tractor demo were overgrazed. Currently, we are distributing more perennial peanuts seeds to producers as a pasture mix with guinea grass. It is advised that they create a mass of the legumes before they start to include it in the pasture rotation scheme. Perennial peanuts planted and left out in the field without irrigation survived however, slow growth is observed. Therefore, to utilize perennial peanuts in the pasture plan, good irrigation, location, soil quality, and the right season have to be considered.
Based on farmer’s observation, as seen on cattle growth and performance, if the new ration will continue, this will improve his production. Less cut and carry system were applied within the duration as compared to the previous system. Perennial peanuts performed better than mimosa and sunn hemp as seen on cattle’s behavior toward consumption. Guinea grass and Signal grass in combination with young leucaena and perennial peanuts are good rations for cattle and goats. Perennial peanuts and buffel grass are best for chickens and turkeys. Chicken tractors are best during growing stage of any poultry, however, it is not advised during laying stage because movement from one place to another affect the hatching performance. Most of the time, eggs were infertile and never hatched and there were high levels of egg breakage. More improvement must be done if intended for laying and brooding stage.
Growth rate, weight, and body conditions scores will be used as parameters to evaluate cattle performance. However, more time is needed to fully evaluate the cattle productivity in terms of ADG, FCE, and meat quality. The project is too dependent on the planting season and funding release affects the projects.
NMC-CREES and NRCS extension personnel have greatly improved the working relationship. This project made good coordination and utilization of resources wisely for producers. Information on independent programs was shared and disseminated in coordinated a fashion. Increased knowledge and awareness of best management practices were gained through the publication of the SARE Calendar.
v Producers became more knowledgeable about sustainable grazing systems and management practices that resulted in
· Increased productivity
· Reduced input requirements
· Increased profitability
· Improved management of natural resources
About 6,800 hectares of pastureland with individual ranches generally range from 20 to 200 hectares per farmer, and with approximately 8,000 head of cattle, 5,000 goats, and hundreds of horses of the CNMI could potentially benefit from this pasture improvement project. Pacific island livestock farmers will decrease their feed costs, save time on farm operations, and improve general farm sustainability. The project will help Pacific farmers increase net profit by increasing yield of animal products per acre. At the same time, it can reduce cost of machinery, fuel, and facilities; reduce supplemental feeding and pasture waste; improve monthly distribution and pasture yield; improve animal waste distribution and use; improve pastures’ botanical composition; minimize daily fluctuations in intake and quality feed and allocate pasture to animals more efficiently, based on nutritional needs.
v The project helped in increasing collaboration and involvement between producers and agricultural professional from both local and federal organization. Close ties with NRCS and utilization of the EQIP grants were maximized. Information was fully disseminated that EQIP applicants are increasing and availing the Best Management Practices (BMPs).
v Two farmers applied for Farmer/Rancher Grants for 2008 adopting the chicken tractor and rotation grazing as BMPs. Increased use of SAN/SARE results and products as exhibited by increase numbers of farmers engaging in pasture rotation grazing, chicken tractor adoption, and Western SARE involvement
v A total of 25 farmers and more than 150 elementary and high school students viewed the demonstration in Tinian. There was increased participation of farmers/ranchers in an on-farm research through the extension of the project to Saipan and Rota producers.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Publications and outreach efforts were generated and extended to a broad audience.
Publication of the Sustainable Agriculture Calendar 2008. The project was featured in the month of February. A total of 1,500 copies of the calendar were distributed within the three islands and at the same time copies were sent to other land grant institutions in the region and nation. The electronic copy of the calendar was also featured in the www.crees.org web site.
Training sessions and workshops in collaboration with NRCS representatives were offered in the three islands. A total of four Western SARE workshops with NRCS were done, all of which were also advertised in the local newsprint, and were attended by 30 participants for 2007. Eight of the 30 participants submitted a proposal using the ideas presented in the workshops. Participants are well encouraged by the other producers, who were Western SARE grantees, because of their testimonials.
Fact sheets from Koolau Seed and Company detailing the grasses and legumes were distributed to the clients together with the seeds. Additional fact sheets about pasture management, courtesy of Mr. Glen Fukumoto of University of Hawaii, were disseminated. Educational materials in the form of brochures, flyers, compact disc, and posters were produced and showcased in the sub-regional conference held in Guam last October 2007.
A total of three articles published and posted in local newsprint (Saipan Tribune and Marianas Variety) and websites were made to advertise the project.
Regular farm visits were performed to strengthen the program to about 40 ranchers and community involvement was encouraged through the hosting of a Open House CREES Day. More than 150 participants witnessed the project from local department of agriculture, the college, high school, and elementary school.
Island livestock farmers decreased their feed costs, saved time on farm operations, and improved general farm sustainability. In the long run, the project will increase net profit by increasing yield of animal products per acre. At the same time, it can reduce cost of machinery, fuel, and facilities; reduce supplemental feeding. Additional funding and separate projects can be allocated and be developed for the system to construct budget farm optimization models. Irrigated and dryland forage production alternatives, including feasible livestock production possibilities within the forage production alternatives will be included in the optimization models.
With the help of the NRCS EQIP program, many farmers were able to avail the Best Management Practices in sustainable agriculture. Most producers in Tinian and Rota utilized the Pasture Management and in part collaborated with the Western SARE project. Western SARE and NRCS EQIP complement each other’s program. In fact, one producer wrote a proposal integrating the chicken tractor model in their integrated agriculture model.
Areas needing additional study
Because the project is limited as a planning grant, more time is needed to investigate the effect of pasture ration mix to animal performance, specifically the Average Daily Gain (ADG), Feed Conversion Efficiency (FCE), and effect to meat quality. Other factors affecting forage production should also be taken into consideration such as the soil quality, climatic condition, location, irrigation etc.