Mixed & Integrated Farming

Mixed Farming is common worldwide.
In spite of a tendency in agribusiness, research and teaching towards specialized forms of farming.

Obviously, mixed farming has both advantages and disadvantages.

For example, farmers in mixed systems have to divide their attention
and resources over several activities, thus leading to reduced economies of scale.

Advantages include the possibility of reducing risk, spreading labour and re-utilizing resources.

The importance of these advantages and disadvantages differs according to the socio-cultural preferences of the farmers.

The biophysical conditions as determined by rainfall, radiation, soil type and disease pressure.

Trees in and on the edge of a crop field generally reduce the grain yield, but the combination of the trees (for fodder and timber) and crops is valuable, because each of the components produces useful products for the farm (people and animals included).


  • Mixed farming exists in many forms depending on external and internal factors.
  • External factors are weather patterns, market prices, political stability, technological developments, etc.
  • Internal factors relate to local soil characteristics, composition of the family and farmers’ ingenuity.


Mixed farming systems can be
classified in many ways – based on land size, type of crops and animals,
geographical distribution, market orientation, etc.

Three major categories, in four different modes of farming, are distinguished here. The categories are:

  • On-farm versus between-farm mixing
  • Mixing within crops and/or animal systems
  • Diversified versus integrated systems

The modes of farming refer to different degrees of availability of land, labour and inputs, ranging from
plenty of land to a shortage of land.

On Farm Mixing


  • Swedish farmers and researchers incorporated the natural behavior of pigs in the design of farming systems to improve crop and animal performance.
  • They dealt with the behavior and performance of outdoor pigs on clover/grassland and with tillage effects resulting from rooting by pigs on winter wheat performance.
  • Environmental loading in an ecological pig production system (EPS) was 64 percent less than in a conventional production system (CPS) but labour requirements were higher in EPS.
  • On-farm production of feed in the EPS reduced purchased inputs for feeds by 48 percent compared with CPS.
  • Levels of tillage caused by rooting pigs and yields of winter wheat grain in the following year were significantly correlated.
  • Grain yields were greater from the areas treated by pigs compared with mechanical tillage, when soil moisture content was high enough.
  • Mean daily weight gain varied between 626 g and 811 g for EPS and CPS, respectively.
  • The increasing live weight indicated a large maintenance
    requirement for energy, especially in young pigs, probably due to high levels
    of activity in EPS.
  • Rooting activity increased when soil moisture content increased or supplemental feeding was restricted.
  • Daily allocation of new land stimulated foraging activity and deposition of urine and faces in the
    newly allotted land.

Mixing within crop and/or animal systems

  • Mixing within crop and/or within animal systems refers to conditions where multiple cropping is practised, often over time, or where different types of animals are kept together, mostly on-farm. Both these systems occur frequently though they are not always apparent.
  • Within-crop mixing takes place where crop rotations are practised over and within years. For example, a farmer has a grain-legume rotation to provide the grain with nitrogen or a potato-beet-grain rotation to avoid disease in the potatoes.
  • Plants can also be intercropped to take maximum advantage of light and moisture, to suppress weeds or prevent
    leaching of nutrients through the use of catch crops. Examples of mixing between animals are found in chicken-fish pond systems where chicken dung fertilizes the fish pond; in beef-pork systems where pigs eat the undigested grains from the beef cattle dung; or in mixed grazing such as cow-sheep mixes to maximize
    biomass utilization or to suppress disease occurrence.
  • Cows and sheep grazing together in a pasture in the Netherlands to optimize biomass utilization and to reduce disease pressure.
  • Model farm near Durban (South Africa) where the dung from the chickens is used to fertilize the algae growth in the fish pond

Diversified versus Integrated systems

  • The distinction between diversified and integrated systems is perhaps the most relevant one for this report.
  • Diversified systems consist of components such as crops and livestock that co-exist independently from each other.
  • In particular, HEIA farmers can have pigs, dairy and crops as quite independent units. In this case the mixing of
    crops and livestock primarily serves to minimize risk and not to recycl resources.
  • Integration is done to recycle resources efficiently. It occurs in mixed ecological farms of temperate
    countries (here called the mode of new conservation agriculture, NCA), but also in mixed, relatively low input farms of southern and southwestern Australia with grain-legume-sheep mixtures.
  • Integration occurs most often, however, in LEIA farming systems that exist in many tropical countries where products or by-products of one component serve as a resource for the other – dung goes to the crops and straw to the animals. In this case the integration serves to make maximum use of the resources.
  • Unfortunately, these systems tend to become more vulnerable to disturbance because mixing of resource flows makes the system internally more complex and interdependent.


  • In Asia, the integration of livestock, fish and crops has proved to be a sustainable system through centuries of experience.
  • In China, for example, the integration of fishpond production with ducks, geese, chickens, sheep, cattle or pigs increased fish production by 2 to 3.9 times (Chen, 1996), while there were added ecological and economic benefits of fish utilizing animal wastes.
  • Environmentally sound integration is ensured where livestock droppings and feed waste can be poured directly into the pond to constitute feed for fish and zooplankton.
  • Livestock manure can be used to fertilize grass or other plant growth that can also constitute feed for fish.
  • Vegetables can be irrigated from the fishponds, and their residues and by-products can be used for feeding livestock.
  • Grazing of livestock under plantation trees such as rubber, oil palm or coconut is a form of crop-livestock integration that is often found in Southeast Asia.
  • Experiments in Malaysia with cattle and goats under oil palm showed better oil palm bunch harvest and comparable results were found where goats fed under rubber trees.
  • In rubber and oil palm plantations in Malaysia, the integration of livestock to utilize the vegetative ground cover under the tree canopy increased overall production and saved up to 40 percent of the cost of weed control.
  • Similarly, sheep helped to control weeds in sugar cane fields in Colombia. This suppressed the costs of herbicides, reduced the cost of weed control by half and provided additional income from meat production. This also occurs where cows graze under coconuts.


  • An experimental farm in Thailand maintains pigs and chickens, as well as a vegetable garden and a fish pond.
  • Animal wastes are used for fertilizer, fish feed and biogas generation.
  • Crop and human wastes are also added to the biogas unit. Liquid effluent from the biogas generator is used in the fishpond and solid residues on the garden.
  • Periodically the locations of the garden and the pond are reversed, so residues from one serve as nutrients for the other. Little is wasted in such a system.
  • The best known type of integrated mixed farming is probably the case of mixed crop-livestock systems.
  • Cropping in this case provides animals with fodder from grass and nitrogen-binding legumes,
    leys (improved fallow with sown legumes, grasses or trees), weeds and crop residues.
  • Animals graze under trees or on stubble, they provide draught and manure for crops, while they also serve as a savings account.
  • Sheep styon wasteland (the Ginkelse hei) in the Netherlands used to house animals and collect dung.


  • By keeping several species, farmers can exploit a wider range of feed resources than if only one species
    is kept.
  • In pastoral areas, camels can graze up to 50 km away from watering points, whereas cattle are limited to a grazing orbit of 10-15 km.
  • Camels and goats tend to browse more, i.e. to eat the leaves of shrubs and trees; sheep and cattle generally prefer grasses and herbs.
  • Different animal species supply different products; e.g. camels and cattle can provide milk, transport and draught power, whereas goats and sheep tend to be slaughtered more often for meat.
  • Chickens often provide the small change for the household, sheep and goats are sold to cover medium expenditures, while larger cattle are sold to meet major expenditures.
  • Keeping more than one species of livestock is also a risk-minimizing strategy.
  • An outbreak of disease may affect only one of the species, e.g. the cow, and some species or breeds are better able to survive droughts and thus help carry a family over such difficult periods.
  • Advantage can also be taken of the different reproductive rates of different species to rebuild livestock holdings after a drought.
  • For example, the greater fecundity of sheep and goats permits their numbers to multiply quicker than cattle or camels.
  • The small ruminants can then be exchanged or sold to obtain large ruminants.


  • Agropastoralists in Nigeria use the hoof action of livestock to prepare land for growing small cereals.
  • They concentrate cattle on a small area of cleared land and then broadcast the seed over the broken soil surface the following morning.
  • Similarly, goats in parts of the Near East are sometimes used to weed crops. The goats are allowed to satisfy their initial appetite on natural pasture and are then put into cereal fields where they selectively eat the herbs.


  • Pastoralists from such systems in West Africa and on the Indian subcontinent also exchange cattle and crop products with crop farmers.
  • Cultivators receive manure, labour and, less important, milk in return for cash, grain and water rights traded to pastoralists.
  • Entrustment of livestock from crop farmers to pastoralists follows more or less the same rules. In return for taking care of the herd, herders receive either cash, or cropland, or labour for the cropland or a share of the milk and the offspring.
  • Village agroforests have existed in Java since at least the tenth century and today comprise 15-50 percent of
    the total cultivated village land.
  • They represent a permanent type of land use, which provides a wide range of products with a high food value (e.g.
    fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs) and other products, such as firewood, timber and medicines.
  • In their small plots, often less than 0.1 ha, Javanese peasants mix a large number of different plant species. Within one village, up to 250 different species of diverse biological types may be grown: annual herbs, perennial herbaceous plants, climbing vines, creeping plants, shrubs and trees ranging from 10 to 35 m in height.
  • Livestock form an important component of this agroforestry system – particularly poultry, but also sheep
    grazing freely or fenced in sheds and fed with forage gathered from the vegetation.
  • The animals have an important role in nutrient recycling.
  • Fish ponds are also common and the fish are fed with animal and human wastes.
  • Natural processes of cycling water and organic matter are maintained; dead leaves and twigs are left to decompose, keeping a continual litter layer and humus through which nutrients are recycled.
  • Compost, fishpond mud and green manures are used on cropland.
  • These forms of recycling are sufficient to maintain soil fertility without the use of chemical fertilizers.
  • Villagers regulate or modify the functioning and dynamics of each plant and animal within the system.

Source from: FAO.org

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