Considerations of feed demand and supply for the evolution and expansion of beef cattle farming in Sabah, East Malaysia : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Agronomy, Massey University, Institute of Agriculture and Environment, College of Sciences, Palmerston North, New Zealand
To develop a plan for the expansion and evolution of the beef industry in Sabah, it was decided to apply
relevant farming information and technology from New Zealand pastoral systems. Based on expert
recommendation in New Zealand, metabolic energy budgeting (MEB) was chosen as the vehicle for
technology transfer, rather than a direct translocation of elements of farm practice between these two
countries of vastly different climate. In Phase 1 of the study, farm system evolution in New Zealand over the
last two and half decades was evaluated by modelling past systems from historic records for the author to
gain experience of New Zealand pastoral systems and to develop MEB spreadsheet tools to identify
principles of system improvement; and in Phase 2, the tools developed in New Zealand were applied for
evaluation of opportunities for farm system improvement in Sabah.
In Phase 1, an evaluation was carried out of cumulative changes on New Zealand lower North
Island sheep and beef cattle farms from 1980–81/1985–86 to 2010–2011. Herbage harvested on the farms
studied, as determined by MEB, was 7.43 t DM ha–1 yr–1 in 1980–81 and only 5.76 t DM ha–1 yr–1 in 2010–
11. Also herbage supply (based on GROW model calculations using weather data) had decreased from 9.64 t
DM ha–1 yr–1 to 8.70 t DM ha–1 yr–1 (partly due to an apparent climate change effect). However, with the
evolution of farm system configurations over the past quarter century focusing on efficiency gain, the feed
conversion efficiency (based on national data) improved from 25 kg feed consumed per kg lamb weaned in
1980–81/1985–86 to 19 kg feed consumed per kg lamb weaned in 2010/2011 and the corresponding
increases in meat production from 1980–81/1985–86 to 2010/2011 were a rise from 137 kg to 147 kg total
beef and lamb carcass per ha per year. Two major drivers of the higher meat production were an increase in
lambing percentage, and an increase in weight of lambs and bulls at sale.
In Phase 2, a first study in Sabah using the MEB tools developed in New Zealand involved three
cut-and-carry feedlots (Brahman, Bali and Droughtmaster cattle), and utilised 5,981 monthly liveweight
records of 485 cattle farmed in this system for the period 2008–2013. A second study in Sabah involved five
grazing units (Brahman cow-calf, Bali cow-calf, Droughtmaster cow-calf, and Heifer and Brahman bull
Units), and included 30,166 monthly liveweight records for 1353 cattle farmed in this system during the
same period. A third study involved three oil-palm-integrated cattle (OPIC) farms (two in 9 yr old
plantations and one in a 12 yr old plantation) and 600–700 cattle farmed in this system in 2013 and 2014. In
this study, animal growth rates were assumed based on records from the nearest government farm with animals of similar breed. For the three systems, herbage-cutting experiments were carried out in August–October 2014 to estimate herbage growth and nutritive value (metabolisable energy and protein contents), and soil samples collected to describe the soil nutrient content. In the cut-and-carry feedlot and grazing cattle farming systems, the herbage harvested, as indicated by the modelling in these systems, was lower (3.74–7.16 t DM ha–1 yr–1 herbage eaten) than the potential yield of the herbage extrapolated from the cutting experiments (6.9–21.3 t DM ha–1 yr–1). In the OPIC farming system, the modelled herbage harvested in 9 yr old plantations was 2.0–2.4 t DM ha–1 yr–1 and that of 12 yr old plantation was 1.4–1.7 t DM ha–1 yr–1. These values are higher than values for potential herbage supply (0.4–0.8 t DM ha–1 yr–1) reported in literature for plantations of similar ages. In all three systems, herbage nutritive value was low (7.0–8.9 MJ ME kg DM–1; 9%–14% CP), calving percentage was low (33%–47%); soil was acidic and soil nutrient content was low; while invasion of non-sown species (native grass) was high. The best average feed conversion efficiencies (FCE) for these systems were 21.3 kg DM kg LWG–1 (cut-and-carry feedlot), 40.2 kg DM kg LWG–1 (grazing), and 32.2 kg DM kg LWG–1 (OPIC). FCE was found to improve with application of N fertiliser and was not necessarily high when feed consumption was intensified (or at high system feed demand). A key statistic defining the stock-configuration in an efficient system for the cut-and-carry feedlot cattle farming system was 994 kg animal LWT ha–1, or a comparative stocking rate (CSR) of 96 kg animal liveweight per tonne feed consumed. For the grazing cattle farming system, the observed optimum was 506 kg animal LWT ha–1, or a CSR of 94 kg LWT t DM–1. The identification of an optimal CSR for the OPIC farming system was limited (by the data supplied by the farms), but the available data indicated that for 9OP1 the CSR was 89 kg LWT t DM–1, or approximately 231 kg animal LWT ha–1.
From the series of studies in Sabah, it is concluded that the future focus of the beef industry to expand and improve the productivity should be first to adjust the farm system configuration especially the stocking rate for optimal FCE under the present forage supply regime (and for that purpose a-CSR type of statistics would be useful to determine the appropriate stocking rate), and only then, to develop a pasture husbandry and fertiliser recommendations aimed at improving herbage dry matter harvested towards a target of 14–20 t DM ha–1 yr–1, with ME of 9–10 MJ kg DM–1, and CP of 14%–16% at harvesting or grazing. The herbage production target for the OPIC farming system, however, cannot be determined until the time trajectory of the decreasing system herbage productivity with decreasing oil palm age is fully understood. The use of supplement in the three systems is optional, but if it is used, it should be targeted tactically to reduce liveweight loss and enhance cow reproductive performance.