Livestock Research for Rural Development 27 (6) 2015 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Typology of cattle farming systems in the semi-arid region of Setif: diversity of productive directions?

Z Far and H Yakhler1

Department of Agronomic Sciences, University of Sétif, 19000, Algeria
1 Department of Animal Productions, ENSA El-Harrach, 16200 Algiers, Algeria


This study, conducted on 148 cattle farms in semi-arid region of Setif, aims to determine through a typology, the diversity of cattle farms and productive orientation. The Principal Components Analysis (PCA) identified six cattle farming systems that differ regarding herd size and its racial composition, in addition to food supply, fodder system and economic performance.

More than 70% of farmers prefer preserving the mixed nature of their breeding and consider specialization as a risk without guarantee in the future. Thus, the average size herds are dairy strict or beef mixed and large herds are rather dairy mixed. In contrast, small herds are especially beef fattening. This last type is zero grazing or with poor fodder areas. Local breeds are conducted also in grazing dairy system. Finally, the association of cattle to small ruminants follows the following logic in the area management; the more important is the size of grazing area the more diversified are farms.

Keywords: Algeria, beef, dairy, forage areas, mixed, productive orientation


Considerable development of cattle breeding is taking place in the semi-arid region of Setif. With 135 thousand heads of cattle representing 9.3% of the national herd (MARD 2003), this province ranks in the first position in cattle production. Although sheep breeding is a basic speculation in this region (Abbas et al 2002), cattle gradually integrated into production systems resulting in significant animal diversity. We note, with the strong presence of cereal breeding association, the existence of several sub orientations: cultivation of cereals and strict sheep farming, small ruminants and rangelands, truck farming and cattle breeding, poly-culture and sheep and cattle breeding and also a strong presence of dairy cattle (Abbas and Madani 2005). Several studies confirm that the diversity of production systems result from the combination of physical and climatic conditions and structural factors of agricultural units that lead into various forms of organization (Madani and Abbas 2000; Benniou and Aubry 2009; Far 2007; Bir 2008).

What are the production strategies adopted by farmers in an unfavorable climate and facing several socio-economic and agro-ecological constraints? Do breeders choose to specialize in dairy production supported for a long time by the government through various development programs (MARD 2012) or engage in beef production with regard to the attractiveness of an ambitious market or even prefer to preserve the mixed nature of activities (beef _ dairy system) and diversify their product, a path that shows according Far and Yakhlef (2012) considerable flexibility to climate and economic hazards? To answer these questions, this work attempts relying on a typology of cattle farming systems that have emerged in the semi-arid region of Setif, to identify the relationship between food resource especially fodder availability, forage system adopted and the degree of specialization in dairy or beef of each breeding type.

Materials and methods

Presentation of the study area

Located in Algerian high plains region the Setif province occupies a central position and is a crossroad linking the regions of East and South East to the Centre of the country (CENEAP 2011). It is characterized by a semi-arid climate and receives between 200 and 600 mm of rainfall per year. This region for cereal and sheep farming vocation has in recent years a considerable development of mixed farming including marked crops, cattle and poultry. Today, the agricultural sector is characterized by a wide diversity of production systems.

Data collection and methodology analysis

Investigations were conducted on 148 farms in the semi-arid region of Setif to gather information about cattle farming activities. Then, a typology of cattle farming systems has been performed with the data collected. It considered the elements defining a farming system namely farm size (AL, LU and cattle herd), the structure of cattle herd (dairy cows, beef and racial composition), food resource (forage area, grassland, fodder crops and grazed area) and economic performances of cattle activities (sale of milk and livestock). Statistical analyzes were performed by SPSS 18.0 software [2010]. A principal component analysis (PCA) of a set of ten (10) discriminating quantitative variables (Table 01) was applied to the data. Finally, a hierarchical clustering (HCA) was performed to identify classes of livestock farming systems to synthesize the diversity of situations and trends observed.

The farm typology is a useful tool to provide an initial assessment of cattle farms management in a context dominated by the lack of reliable and updated references (no databases of cow performance). Furthermore, this tool also provides a means to target future interventions in agricultural development by adapting measures for each type of farming duly identified (Sraïri 2004).

Table 1. Variables used for Principal Component Analysis (PCA)
Variables Designation
TLH Total livestock herd (LU)
CH Cattle herd (LU)
DC Dairy cows (LU)
PC Part of cattle (%)
TFA Total fodder area (Ha)
PG Part grass (%)
OF Offer feed (Ha/LU)
DNC Duration of nursing calves (month)
QMS Quantity of milk sold per cow per year (liters)
SAC Sale of animals per cow (%)

The preceding variables have been defined as follows:

Results and discussion

Characteristics of farms

The variables describing the farms in our sample are shown in Table 02. The Used Arable Area (UAA) of farms varies from 0 to 45 ha with an average of 22 ha. The small farms predominate as 60% of them have less than 20 ha. Farm size is also strongly linked to legal status. According to the last agricultural census (GAC), more than 72% of farms are privately owned and 84% of them hold less than 20 ha (MARD 2003). Cultivated areas average is 12 ha against nearly 3 reserved to fallow. In the Mediterranean regions, usually provided with poor water potential, fallow still remains; it represents 9% of the fodder supply (Abbas and Abdelguerfi 2005) and plays a significant role in food complementarity especially for sheep. Finally, the part of the fodder area average is 7 ha representing 32% of the UAA. Farmers rely increasingly on fodder crops (69% of the SFP) while natural grasslands are used for grazing much more and represents 31% of the principal fodder area.

Herd size, mainly consisting of 83% of cattle, nearly 16% of sheep and only 1% of goats is about 20 LU. Farms are characterized by the combination cattle - sheep in 98% of cases. The traditional character of the association cereal - livestock (sheep and cattle) in the high plains region of Setif is seen as the result of farms sustainability strategies combining a structural and climatic adaptation which is interpreted according to Benniou (2008) by the extensive nature of cereal and fodder little mechanized system. Goat for its part is only present in 28 farms with a small herd (0.18 LU) equivalent to less than 2 animals per farm. That is generally farmed in silvopastoral grazing in north region and marginal grazing in the south of the high cereal plains region of Setif.

Cattle herd was composed in majority (44%) of dairy cows with 10 cows on average and varied between 3 cows in small farms and 19 cows in large herd. Other cattle categories (heifers, beef and calves) seem to have the same size within studied farms with average of 3 heads (14% of total cattle each). However, the standard deviations are high (Table 02), the fact that shows a significant heterogeneity and diversity in possible orientations from farm to another. This tendency is similar to the results obtained by Far (2007) who reported that dairy cows represent 43% of cattle herd and replacement heifers and beef are comparable with an average of 10%. The author explains this herd structure by the mixed vocation of cattle activities in this region.

Economic results relating to the sale of milk shows a small amount of milk sold per cow per year; it is an average of about 1760 ± 1029 liters. Indeed, eight farms of them do not sell milk and the others sell amount ranging from 305 to 3434 liters of milk per cow per year.

Sale of fattening animals concerns mainly beef calves, and to a lesser extent cull cows and heifers especially during periods of high consumption of meat (month of Ramadan, the sacred feasts and weddings). The average sales per studied farm are to 51 ± 30%. These sales ranged from 0% in dairy farms to 100% in some beef farms.

Table 2. General Characteristics of Studied Farms
Parameters Minimum Mean
(Standard deviation)
Maximum %
Land UAA (Ha) 0 22.08 (19.53) 145 -
Irrigated Area (Ha) 0 5.22 (4.94) 25 23.64a
Cultivated Area (Ha) 0 12.19 (13.94) 90 55.21a
PFA (Ha) 0 7.06 (4.28) 19 31.97a
Fallow (Ha) 0 2.84 (4.52) 46 12.86a
Exploited species TLH (LU) 8.95 19.84 (6.90) 37.75 -
Cattle herd (LU) 5.20 16.54 (6.39) 33.25 83.37b
Sheep (LU) 0 3.11 (2.15) 12 15.67b
Goats (LU) 0 0.18 (0.49) 3.15 0.95b
Bovine workshop Cattle herd (LU) 5.2 16.54 (6.39) 33.25 -
Dairy cows (Heads) 3 9.71 (3.79) 19 43.89c
Heifers (Heads) 0 2.99 (2.13) 9 13.52c
Calf female (Heads) 0 3.26 (2.02) 9 14.74c
Calf male (Heads) 0 3.29 (1.86) 8 14.87c
Beefs (Heads) 0 2.87 (1.72) 7 12.97c
Economic results QMS (L/cow/year) 0 1760 (1029) 3434 -
SAC (%) 0 50.67 (29.66) 166.67 -
UAA: Used Arable Area; PFA: Principal fodder area; TLH: Total Livestock herd; QMS: Quantity of milk sold per cow per year (liters); SAC: Sale of animals per cow (%).a: % to UAA; b: % to TLH; c: % to Cattle herd
Results of principal component analysis (PCA)

The first three factorial axes accumulate 87% of total variability. The F1 axis alone explains 58% of information; the F2 and F3 axes explain respectively 20 and 10% (Table 03). The projection of variables on the principal axis F1xF2 is reported in Figure 01.

Table 3. Contribution of Variables to Axes F1 and F2 of PCA
Axe Definition of axis Proportion (%) Cumulative variation (%)
Variable Corrélation to axis
DC 0.81
PC 0.63
PFA 0.95
F1 OF 0.78
DN - 0.70
QMS 0.88
SAC - 0.82 57.66
F2 TLH 0.73
CH 0.59 19.68 77.33
F3 PG 0.83 10.16 87.49
TLH: Total Livestock herd (LU); CH: cattle herd (LU); DC: dairy cows (LU); PC: part of cattle (%); PFA: principal fodder area (ha); OF: Offer feed (ha/LU); PG: Part of grass (%); DN: Duration of nursing calves (Month); QMS: Quantity of milk sold per cow per year (liters); SAC: Sale of animals per cow (%)

Figure 1. Projection of variables on F1xF2 Principal Plan of PCA
TLH: Total Livestock herd (LU); CH: cattle herd (LU); DC: dairy cows (LU); PC: part of cattle (%); PFA: principal fodder area (ha); OF: Offer feed (ha/LU);
PG: Part of grass (%); DN: Duration of nursing calves (Month); QMS: Quantity of milk sold per cow per year (liters); SAC: Sale of animals per cow (%)

The first axis (F1) is positively correlated with variables reflecting specialization in dairy production (DC: r = 0.81 and QMS: r = 0.87) and negatively with variables reflecting the beef production (DA: - 0.70 and AVV r = - 0.81). It is also positively correlated with variables expressing fodder area and management (SFP: r = 0.95 and OF: r = 0.78) as well as those revealing the level of animal species diversity (PC: r = 0.63). This axis opposes dairy farms to farms practicing beef production. It can thus be regarded as the axis determining productive orientation of cattle farms. In addition, it illustrates the level of diversification and farm feed autonomy.

The second axis (F2) is positively correlated with variables related to herd size (TLH: r = 0.73 and CH: r = 0.59).

The third axis is correlated with the F3 variable expressing the forage system practiced by farmers (PG: r = 0.83). This axis can be considered as the axis distinguishing farms with grassland system from those with crops fodder system (Figure 01).

Identified farm types

The principal components analysis (PCA) followed by hierarchical clustering (AHC) has identified six (06) types of cattle farms with mainly mixed orientation (dairy - beef) but specialized more according to herd size, structure and racial composition and according to food supply including areas reserved to fodder, the level of milk production and the importance of beef unit (Table 04, Figure 02).

This system represents 16% of study farms (23 dairy farms). These farms are grouped into positive values on the F1 axis (Figure 02). The average herd size (nearly 17 LU) is almost exclusively cattle. They are composed of 62% of dairy cows and dominated by exotic Holstein and Montbeliard breeds. Both races are recognized to be higher milk producing cows. In France, the reference lactation of Holstein and Montbeliard are respectively 10751 kg and 7924 kg (Institut d’élevage / FCEL., 2011). Feed supply is high. Nearly 60% of the UAA is devoted to fodder (11 ha or 0.65 ha of FA / LU) supported by a feed system based on irrigated forage; permanent grassland is only 24% of the FA. These farms achieve a level of milk production, expressed in quantity of milk sold per cow per year of about 3234 liters. This is a much higher level of production in comparison with the average level (1760 liters) and with that obtained by Mouffok (2007) in the same region (2800 liters / cow / year). However, it is relatively low if compared to the level of races exploited and to the importance of available fodder area. According to Sraïri (2004), similar dairy farms in the region of Rabat-Salé in Morocco, record milk yields between 3310 and 4231 kg of milk / cow. In the same country, Boujenane and Aïssa (2008) reported a reference lactation of 6239 kg for Holsteins and 5617 kg of milk for the Montbeliard breed.

Totaling 36 farms (24% of the sample) projected on the F1 x F2 plan with mainly positive values on both axes, this type is, compared to other groups, large herds averaging 26 LU including 23LU of cattle. The part of dairy cows was 55% dominated by the Montbeliard breed. This breed is most used in mixed farms and small dairy farms, whereas it is associated with the Friesian and Holstein in farms more oriented towards milk production (Mouffok 2007). The average of the principal fodder area was 11.42 ha (34% of UAA) offered nearly 0.5 ha FA / LU. These herds were oriented for dairy production and sold annually equivalent 2676 liters of milk per cow. In parallel, we note the presence of a beef production unit (17% of the total cattle population) associated with a small sheep herd (17.53 heads in average). Sales of animals are around 31%.

This type of farms represents 11.5% of the whole studied farms (17 farms). With scattered values around the center of F1xF2 plan between the two mixed systems, farms of this type are closer to the beef mixed system than to the dairy mixed system. They are marked by the diversity of species (cattle, sheep and goats) and of farmed cattle breeds, and by the importance of sheep herd (over 40 heads) and fallow (5.12 ha). Herds total 19 LU in average with 12 LU of cattle (62%) including 8 dairy cows. The fodder area average is 5 ha and offers 0.44 ha / LU of cattle. Breeders in this system give more importance to pasture. In addition to fallow grazed by small ruminants, feed system is defined by a grassing system with more than 41% of natural grassland areas reserved for pasture and, within eight farms in a silvopastoral system met the foothills of the mountains in the northern region. Finally, the economic performance of this farms class is on the average compared to other classes; the average amount of milk sold per cow is 1812 liters and the sale of animals is approximately 49%. However, milk production of this type is more variable and more dependent on climatic conditions. During rainy years, the surfaces of pasture are good and contribute to increase produced milk; milk sales then extend over 8 months a year. Conversely, in years of low rainfall, milk production drops and ranchers invest more in beef production.

The beef mixed orientation is most marked in the region of Setif. This type of farming characterizes 52 farms (35% of total farms number) with medium herd size (20 LU). They are near the center of the principal plan F1xF2 with negative values on the F2 axis. Herds consist of 80 % of cattle associated to 25 head of sheep in average. Dairy cows dominate with 58% and beef unit accounted for 25% of total cattle. Therefore, these farms dominated by Montbeliard breed, are of moderately low forage autonomy (0.3 ha FA / LU) assured at 69% by fodder crops against 31% of natural grasslands. The feed system is supported by the presence of fallow (nearly 3 ha or 17% of UAA) valued mainly by sheep but also used by cattle during food deficit periods. Farms are characterized by a mixed productive vocation (dairy - beef) rather oriented towards beef production. Sales of animals per cow reached 61% while milk production is limited to 1044 liters of milk sold per cow per year. In fact, milk is used for calf feeding for more than four months.

This type is the least important of the identified systems. It includes eight farms which represent 5.4% of the sample and are concentrated with negative values on the two axes F1 and F2 of the principal plan. This system corresponds to farmers owning 16 LU herd on average. Cattle represent more than two thirds of ruminant species with about 7 suckler cows and 4-6 beeves either fattened or sold without fattening (farmers keep only 1 at 2 heifers for replacement, the rest is for the production of meat). For all farmers, cattle are associated with sheep with an average of 30 heads. Goats are present in 5 farms but their number is rather small (5 to 12 heads). Farms of this type are characterized by a grass food system more or less autonomous. These farms are characterized by the absence of milk sales, a product exceptionally reserved to feed calves for almost six months and home self-consumption. The level of milk production of the predominant race (Brown of Atlas) is very limited; it ranges between 900 and 1400 liters of milk for a lactation of 4 to 6 months (Yakhlef 1989). However, this breed is used for beef production. Finally, cows sales are around 70% per year.

This type consists of 12 farms (8.1%) of all study farms. They are projected with negatively high values on both axes F1 and F2 of the principal plan. The size of the cattle herd is low; 10.6 LU with only 4.7 dairy cows. The majority of cattle are Montbeliard or cross-breed. However, some farms used local breed. The area reserved to fodder is low; it averages only 1.23 ha that represent 0.12 ha / LU. We so note that six farms (50% of this type) do not have land (zero-grazing). Therefore, milk production remains low and its sale is secondary. It is mainly intended to feed calves (for about 5 months) and family consumption; the amounts of milk sold per cow per year directly especially to neighbors do not exceed 400 liters. This type is mainly based on fattening beef with a herd of 62% of total cattle. Sales of animals reach 120% per cow per year equivalent to an average of 5.58 heads.

These results agree with those obtained by Sraïri (2004) in the region of Sidi Allal Tazi (Scope of Gharb) in Morocco where landless farmers who operate small herds of local breed with less than 1 ha UAA benefit from the fattening of cattle destined for sale.

Table 4. Characteristics of types of cattle farms identified
Variable Dairy Farms Dairy mixed farms Diversified farms Beef mixed farms Beef suckling farms Small beef farms
Number 23 36 17 52 8 12
% 15.54 24.32 11.49 35.13 5.40 8.11
TLH 16.99 26.05 18.62 19.76 15.98 12.77
CH 16.73 23.40 11.56 15.81 11.44 10.58
DR H & M M M & BA M BA C & BA
DC 10.35 12.75 7.53 9.13 6.87 4.75
PC 98.81 89.88 62.09 79.95 71.66 82.87
UAA 23.22 39.38 23.03 17.29 18.91 6.87
FLW 1.02 3.18 5.12 2.95 3.25 1.19
PFA 10.92 11.42 5.04 4.81 3.78 1.23
PG 24.13 14.65 41.57 31.03 94.15 34.44
OF 0.65 0.48 0.44 0.30 0.333 0.12
DN 2.84 3.36 3.56 4.22 5.87 4.85
QMS 3234 2676 1813 1044 0.00 392
SAS 10.57 31.45 48.86 61.35 69.59 120
TLH: Total Livestock herd (LU); CH: cattle herd (LU); DR: dominant race; H: Holstein; M: Monbeliard; BA: Brown atlas; C: Cross breed; DC: dairy cows (LU); PC: part of cattle (%); PFA: principal fodder area (ha); OF: Offer feed (ha/LU); PG: Part of grass (%); DN: Duration of nursing calves (Month); QMS: Quantity of milk sold per cow per year (liters); SAC: Sale of animals per cow (%)

Figure 2. Projection of types of cattle breeding on principal plan of PCA



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Received 24 February 2015; Accepted 7 May 2015; Published 3 June 2015

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