Feed types in a country the size of China are of course diverse. However, the bulk of China’s cattle herd especially in the Central Plains and Northeast China are linked with the cropping sector. Cattle are fed crop residues, especially straw and silage, from intensive cropping systems. Attempts to introduce straw treatment practices (silage and ammoniation) were largely abandoned by small household because of the extra labour demands, but are widely practiced in feedlots. All cattle fattening units in agricultural areas feed grain supplements – especially corn – but limited by escalating grain prices – see Figure 9 for corn. By-products from local crop processing (grain brans, soybean/cotton/canola meal/cake/oil) is widely available but cattle producers have to compete with other livestock industries (pig, poultry) in competitive markets. It is rarely viable for small cow-calf households to feed grains except in small amounts for supplementary feeding (early lactation etc.).
China has a very large and developed manufactured feed sector, mainly to cater for the pig and poultry sectors, and also produce compound and concentrate feeds. Most large feedlots buy feed in bulk – crop residues, corn and especially brewery or distillers waste and bagasse. Animal by-products (feather, fish, bone meal etc.) are common.
China has in recent years rapidly expanded forage (especially lucerne) production, accompanied by forage companies and processors, variety and seed improvement and storage and silage technologies. These are produced mainly by or for the dairy industry that, again, beef producers struggle to compete with.
China has around 400 million hectares of grasslands – more than Australia – and accounts for 42% of the country’s land mass. There are several different classifications of grassland types, but the most fundamental is the distinction between the tropical and sub-tropical grasslands in the south, the temperate grasslands in the north, and the steppes on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau (see Brown et al., 2009). The (266) counties classed as pastoral or semi-pastoral (but that often also have cropping areas) held 29 million cattle in 2012 or 42% of China’s beef cattle (and 15 million productive cows and 57% of China’s sheep). Cattle are rarely grazed in extensive grazing systems, and even then are penned at night. Most cattle especially in the north are raised in transition zones to corn cropping areas (similar to cropping systems overviewed above). About 90% of China’s grasslands are classified as degraded to some extent which, together with policy to destock, limits numbers of cattle, including breeders that can be raised on grasslands.