Climate change disturbs soils and shifts shoots. A headache for breeders, who must closely manage fodder in quantity and quality. Some have already started the winter reserves, and inevitably the price of round bales soars. Others, like Sébastien Barboteu, adapt to achieve food self-sufficiency for the herd. A successful challenge in the past, which he will not be able to meet this year, for lack of water in his meadows.
At 40, this expert in animal production, passionate about genetics, is in awe of his herd of cows, made up of 45 mothers, including 30 Limousines and 15 Aubracs. Besides, in a few days they will leave the mountain pasture of the Mitg (above Prats-de-Mollo), to reach the Mas Marill in Maureillas. A change in altitude which is also combined with a new diet.
From manure to fodder
Installed for 15 years, outside the family framework, Sébastien Barboteu deploys passion and know-how, to combine animal well-being, and in particular that of calves under the mother, with forage autonomy. A management that enters into the whole of a system: “to the base of natural irrigated grasslands, I gradually add areas under cultivation of annual fodder or temporary grasslands, thinking about the quantity and the food value of these grassland resources. In 2012, I built a thrifty and central building compared to pasture areas, which allows good grass management and a supply of manure to fertilize”.
Because if the ancients liked to say “that the wealth of a peasant was measured by the height of the heap of manure on his farm”, the breeder uses it but: “manure is not a fertilizer, it feeds the soil, which will then feed the plant through a virtuous system, it is a natural fertilization of a nourishing meadow. The trick is to spread it at the right period, it’s efficient and the cuts are adapted. Until last year, by taking care of my meadows, I was self-sufficient, proud to use a gravity irrigation system. But this year, for the first time, restrictions were imposed on us. I understand and I am even in favor of prioritizing vegetable production. What made me angry was to see that roundabouts, stadiums, swimming pools… were not impacted, it’s infuriating, unfair, desperate to see its meadows in agony, lifeless!”.
The water war
And inevitably the breeder of Vallespir did not bring in as much fodder as necessary, worse: “I’m missing 250 round bales (8,000 kg), I don’t know where I’m going to find them, there aren’t any in France or Spain, and the prices are inevitably soaring. For my operation, the overall additional cost will be more than €15,000!” And again Sébastien relativizes: “the mountain pastures save us, these four months are a privilege”.
Despite everything, aware that a water war has begun, he has already significantly reduced his livestock, to limit costs and above all to maintain quality. The breeder wants to resist: “we have to adapt or stop, I continue my experiments in the care of my land, with alfalfa, clover. I test new plants resistant to high heat, with even African seeds! By remaining in control of the fertilizing the soil and feeding my animals, I can guarantee quality and short-circuit sales, which is what keeps me going”.
Fodder: hay, silage, haylage, what are the differences?
They are the basis of the diet of herbivores, the objective is to keep the grass for the winter and now during the hollows of the summer period. With 80% water, the grass will mold if it is not stabilized, so you can opt for natural drying which dries it out by at least 15%. You can also dry the fodder artificially, most often after chopping, it is more expensive.
Silage is a moist conservation without oxygen, the grass ferments with anaerobic lactic bacteria, these are the reserves that we see in farmyards covered with plastic tarpaulin.
The beribboned is half/half. We let it dry a little naturally, but not enough to make hay. We condition by tightening under plastic. These are the big rounds that we see in the fields.