of China Australia Food Security Cooperation Initiative (CAFSCI)

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Increasing milk production from cattle in Tibet

Overview of Project

The project major objective was to improve cattle nutrition and thus increase milk production, leading to better income from mixed crop/livestock farms of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

Dairy products, notably milk and butter, are traditionally important foods in the Tibetan diet. Demand for these products, particularly milk, continues to rise, driven by changing consumption patterns and, secondly, population growth. Local supply has fallen well behind demand, with increasing reliance on imports. Milk production has traditionally relied on yaks grazed in pastoral lands outside central Tibet Autonomous Region. Recently yak numbers have begun to decline, with cow’s milk making up much of the production gap. Production in pastoral areas has also declined, with an increased expectation that central Tibet Autonomous Region’s crop-livestock zone will make up for this shortfall.

A specialist dairy sector would help boost production by an estimated minimum of 20 per cent. This can be achieved by improved feeds with greater nutritional value being made available to cattle. Livestock are largely fed crop residues (straw) and crop by-products and grazed on grasses and weeds, along with crop regrowth. This is poor nutrition and limits milk production. Improved feeding systems based around the effective utilisation of crop residues and by-products, better silage management practices, information on yearly feed availability and knowledge of responses to different feeds should achieve the 20 per cent boost in dairy production needed to meet supply and establish a specialist dairy sector."

Key Outcomes of Project

To identify constraints, a benchmark study was undertaken as the major activity of the project. Feed resources were characterised (type and availability) and data were collected to describe milk production and key parameters of reproduction. The most consistent and relevant finding of the benchmark study was the high reliance on cereal straws as the basis of most diets, and this was rarely supplemented sufficiently to provide adequate feed quality in total dietary intake. Associated with the generally poor nutritional status was depressed performance in all production parameters.

Although inadequate nutrition had been implicated as a major problem prior to this project, the research team gained a firm basis on which strategies for improvement (feed budgeting, forage production, diet composition, etc) could be developed. Apart from providing the benchmark data, the project has had significant immediate impact in promoting awareness of the nutritional scenario restricting current production and the principles to be applied in designing remedial strategies. In this regard, an unexpected outcome of great importance was the potential to influence local policy makers and funding agencies in deciding the best way(s) to improve production and alleviate farm family poverty. It appeared that previous and current decisions were often based on little or inappropriate advice on aspects of animal nutrition and production, and therefore unlikely to be biologically or economically effective. The feedback suggests that this project has already had considerable impact in this direction within a short time frame, a significant benefit from the ACIAR investment.

The project built on the local capacity to improve agricultural production by improving the skills of the scientists and field staff and provision of infrastructure. The upgrading of capacity for feed quality evaluation (including staff training and expansion of techniques) is vital for future research, as animal nutrition is without doubt the most important immediate area to be addressed in removing constraints to production. The animal house built at TLRI with ACIAR and local funds is the first and only facility of its kind in Tibet and of a global standard for conducting nutrition experiments. This will be pivotal to the key research required to evaluate feed quality, animal responses to varying feed regimes, examining responses of different genotypes and many other components required in the process of developing efficient and sustainable feeding and production systems. The facility will be available for use in many other projects and thus is a major asset for Tibetan animal research into the future."

Project Dates

01 Jul 2004 - 31 Dec 2007


Tibet Academy of Agricultural and Animal Sciences - China
Tibet Livestock Research Institute - China
NSW Department of Primary Industries - Australia


Dr John Wilkins



02 6938 1837

Launch Website