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Replicating the practice of willow silage as winter fodder to reduce the need for grazing livestock, and lead to forest regeneration

Nov 18, 2009

The following query was received from Mr Christoph Klebelsberg, Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in Gorno Badakhshan, Tajikistan on November 18, 2009

We (the GTZ - German Technical Cooperation and the DED - German Development Service) are working in the Tajik Pamirs on the project "Sustainable Management of Natural resources in Gorno-Badakhshan", which tries to reduce the consumption of biomass by developing, adapting and distributing more energy efficient technologies at the household level on one hand, and on the other hand, introduction of a forest management system (Joint Forest Management), which brings together forest administration and forest users to help in regenerating and developing forest resources.

A major problem in the local forests is the constant grazing of livestock which makes forest regeneration difficult. We read through the Good Practice Note titled “Willow Silage: An Alternative to Winter Fodder – a Potential GP Note”, with much interest and decided to try out the practice of producing willow silage to help keep livestock out of the forests during winter..

We seek more information on the following aspects:

  1.  What is a good time to harvest the leaves? Should they be harvested when they are still green or shortly before the leaves start falling in autumn?
  2. Are the leaves dried up in the pits to be converted to the silage later or is it a real time ensiling process to yield edible silage. If it is the second option, what control measures should be taken to ensure that good silage is produced?
  3. How much of silage is needed by one head of cattle?
  4. How many kg of leaves turn into how many kg of silage?
  5. Is there already good experience, how do locals like this concept? Can they get their livestock through the winter (maybe in connection with alfalfa) with this? How much of silage is needed for an average cow?
  6. We want to check if it is possible to keep livestock completely out of the forest during winter time with such methods.
  7. Is the winter in that region very cold? In Badakhshan region in Tajikistan it is, I wonder if the silage will be freezing solid at the time you need it.

Response (in the same order)

  1. The best time to harvest the leaves is between October-November under Bhutanese conditions. It would be better to harvest the leaves before they start falling in autumn.
  2. The leaves are not dried rather the fresh green leaves are ensiled, just the way grass silage is prepared. The best control measure that should be taken to ensure good silage preparation is the “Compaction of materials” right from the filling of the pit until it is closed tightly by putting heavy stones on the top. The process of ensiling should be completed within a day.
  3. The Cattle can consume 10-15 kg of silage per day depending upon the availability of other roughage sources at the household level. For example in Bhutan, cattle are also fed on grass (any local grass species) or oat hay, and also some paddy straw along with the concentrated feed. In general the quantity of willow silage required per day by the cattle is 10% of its body weight.
  4. 1500 kg of fresh willow leaves can yield 4.5 cu meters of silage.
  5. The use of willow silage as a winter fodder is a very recent effort in Bhutan initiated in the year 2005. Earlier there were 25 households involved in this practice however it is estimated that the number has doubled to 50 households by the autumn 2009. A large number of farmers are further willing to develop this practice and are already in the process of planting willow trees as live fences around their lands to yield leaves to prepare willow silage.
  6. Willow silage can take the livestock through the winter provided some concentrate feed is also provided to the livestock. Unlike alfalfa, willow silage is not rich in protein content and therefore does not form a complete fodder base for the livestock.
  7. Under Bhutanese conditions willow silage is especially valuable during the dry winter season when fodder from other sources becomes limited in quantity and quality. Willow silage is mostly fed to improved cattle and milking livestock owing to their increased nutrient requirements. Local cattle or non-milking livestock are left to graze in the forests only.

Presently the practice of making willow silage in Bhutan is prevalent only in the temperate region where the average minimum temperature during the winter season does not go below -20C. The silage does not freeze at this temperature. In the alpine region of Bhutan, where the minimum temperature drops down to -100C, planting of willow trees has been recently initiated to test and try out the making of willow silage in times to come.