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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Range Management Research

Title: Impact of stocking rate and rainfall on sheep performance in a desert steppe

item Wang, Zhongwu
item Jiao, Shuying
item Han, Guodong
item Zhao, Mengli
item Willms, Walter
item Hao, Xiying
item Havstad, Kris

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/14/2011
Publication Date: 7/6/2011
Publication URL:
Citation: Wang, Z., Jiao, S., Han, G., Zhao, M., Willms, W.D., Hao, X., Havstad, K.M. 2011. Impact of stocking rate and rainfall on sheep performance in a desert steppe. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 64(3):249-256.

Interpretive Summary: The rangelands of China are extensive and have a very long history of use as grazinglands for livestock. These lands, and the forage they produce, are critical to animal based food supplies in China and within Asia. In recent decades these resources have been over used in many areas resulting inland degradation. U.S. Scientists have considerable experience in research based recommendations for the proper stocking rates of livestock for rangelands. This publication is one example of US, China, and Canadian scientists collaborating to develop proper guidelines for management of a portion of China’s desert rangelands. This 5-year study concluded that stocking rates of desert ranges in Inner Mongolia is very conservative – less than 1 sheep per hectare for a 5-month grazing season. This recommendation is lower than stocking rates typically observed in this region of China.

Technical Abstract: Livestock performance is a critical indicator of grassland production systems and is influenced strongly by precipitation and stocking rates. However, these relationships require further investigation in the arid Desert Steppe region of northeastern China. We employed a randomized complete block design with three replications and four grazing treatments (nongrazed exclosure [Control]), lightly grazed [LG], moderately grazed [MG], and heavily grazed [HG]) by sheep in a continuously grazed system (June to November), to test the effect of stocking rate on sheep performance. The planned stocking rates were 0, 0.15, 0.30, and 0.45 sheep-ha-1 mo-1, for the control, LG, MG, and HG treatments, respectively. However, actual stocking rates were calculated for each paddock in each year based on a 50-kg sheep equivalent (SE). Annual net primary production (ANPP) was determined at peak standing crop in August 2004 to 2008. Live weight gain was determined for the summer and fall periods, as well as the total grazing period, in each year. ANPP decreased with increasing stocking rate, and daily live weight gain per head decreased linearly with increasing stocking rates over the total grazing period but in a quadratic manner over the summer period with a plateau at the lower rates. Maximum sheep production per unit area over the total grazing season occurred at about 2 SE ha-1 for about a 5-mo grazing period, but individual gains per sheep were predicted to decline after about 1 SE ha-1 presumably because of forage limitations. However, in order to achieve stable annual production, we recommend that the Desert Steppe be grazed at about 0.77 SE ha-1 for a 5-mo period (0.15 SE ha -1 mo-1). This estimate is based on published grazing strategies that consider an average ANPP with a recommended utilization rate of 30%.

Last Modified: 07/25/2017
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