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Extensification of grassland in sheep farming in a mountainous region. Results of a 5-year survey in the northern Massif Central region of France

INRA Prod. Anim., 10(2), 141-152


1 INRA Laboratoire Adaptation des Herbivores aux Milieux, Theix 63122 St Genès Champanelle

2 INRA Laboratoire Economie de l’Elevage, Theix 63122 St Genès Champanelle
3 INRA Laboratoire Fonctionnement et Gestion de l’Ecosystème Prairial, 63039 Clermont-Ferrand


The European Union encourages the extensification of grassland on beef and sheep farms to better master production and to avoid reduced land use. Good conditions, however, are necessary to realise extensification in order to maintain a flock’s productivity and particularly its economical results, while maintaining control of the natural vegetation.

A long term trial (5 years) was undertaken on an INRA experimental farm located in unfavourised area (800 m altitude). On the farm, two identical sheep flocks were managed with a 30% stocking rate (cattle equivalent/ha) difference. The experimental procedures were adapted every year to achieve optimum grass utilisation under both systems. Extensification did not reduce the ewes’ performance and it improved the lambs’ carcass weight by 6% in spite of a 26% reduction in the consumption of concentrate and a 50% decrease in grass production cost per ewe.

The economical balance, over the whole experimental period, favoured the extensive system. The overall gross margin surplus, 3/4 of which was due to input reduction, was sufficient to cover the structural changes induced by extension. The extensive system results were, however, more irregular and required better long-term planning over several years, particularly for resource management and for stock carry-over. The technical skill required is at least equal to that required for intensive production. This experiment represented a potential means for improving farming methods. Nevertheless, this potential will not be attained unless the farmers receive technical and economic support for the extensive systems such as the "grass subsidy" that was established in France in 1993.

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