Source of technology and funding National agricultural research system (NARS) of West Asia and North Africa (WANA); Mashreq–Maghreb Project (M&M); International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA); International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); funded by IFAD and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD)
Expected Benefit: Improving the income and welfare of farmers and livestock owners; increased small ruminant production; integration of feed and livestock production; conservation of the national resource base; and improvement of the environment
Targeted Groups: National and international institutions, development planners, project implementers, extension agents, end-users
Production Systems: Small ruminants, Agricultural by-products.
Agro-ecological zones: Arid and semi-arid zones (200 to 350 mm)
Target region and countries: WANA, Latin America – Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia
Keywords: Livestock, Agricultural by-products, Feed Sources, West Asia and North Africa, Arid and Semi-Arid


One of the principal limiting factors affecting small ruminant productivity in the semi-arid areas of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) is the shortage of forage. This leads to increasing pressure on rangelands and therefore to a rapid deterioration of plant cover in many areas of WANA. Additionally, the frequent occurrence of drought in many countries of WANA results in widening the gap between the feed supply and nutrient requirements of small ruminants.

The high cost of conventional concentrate feeds (barley grain, bran, etc.) prohibit their wide-scale use, especially by small farmers. Therefore, it is necessary to seek alternative supplements to improve the nutrition and thus the productivity of small ruminants.

A considerable amount of crop residues and agro-industrial by-products (pulp of dates, tomatoes and beet, brewer’s grain, wheat and rice bran, olive cake, molasses and poultry waste) is available. However, these by-products are not efficiently utilized in feeding small ruminants.

What is a feed block?

Feed blocks are a solidified mixture of agro-industrial by-products used for supplementing poor quality roughages and native rangelands. They are considered as a catalyst supplement, allowing a fractionated, synchronized and balanced supply of the main nutrients (i.e. energy, nitrogen, minerals and vitamins) for animals. The value of feed blocks lies in their role as cost-effective supplements and as a means for preserving several high moisture agro-industrial by-products (e.g. tomato pulp, olive cake, etc.).

Although feed blocks are not new, the Mashreq/Maghreb (M&M) project—The Development of Integrated Crop/Livestock Production in the Low Rainfall Areas of WANA—revived interest in feed blocks technology as an option to be promoted among sheep owners in vast semi-arid areas of WANA in order to improve animal performance and reduce their feeding cost.

Feed block is a simple technology

Feed block technology is simple and does not require sophisticated equipment. Blocks are easy to handle, transport and can be made at the farm levels using the family labor.

Different formulae can be manufactured with different levels of urea, binders and a wide range of agro-industrial by-products, which are available locally. For instance, in Iraq, date pulp, rice bran and poultry waste are the main ingredients used to make feed blocks whereas tomato pulp and olive cake are used in Tunisia. Olive cake and brewery grains are used in Jordan and molasses in Morocco.

Plate 1. In Iraq, the private sector took the lead in producing agro-industrial by-product feed blocks on a large scale.

Feed blocks improve small ruminant reproduction

Sheep in the semi-arid areas of WANA are heavily dependent on cereal stubble grazing as their sole source of feed during the summer period, which coincides with the mating season and results in lower productivity of the flock. In many areas animals are fed on poor quality pastures and roughages and in most cases their maintenance requirements are not met. Results of research conducted in the M&M countries showed that in such situations feed blocks, used as a supplementary feed, resulted in considerable improvement in ewes’ weight gain, conception, lambing and twinning rates.

On the other hand, in many WANA countries, hand feeding during winter time (November to January) is frequently practised because of shortages of grazing and green roughage. During this period the diet of sheep depends mostly on whole barley grain and stored straw. The introduction and use of high energy feed blocks as a strategic supplement containing high energy ingredients, resulted in a significant replacement of barley grain and minimized the use of roughage and concentrates.

Furthermore, work in Iraq has shown that feed blocks can be enriched by other ingredients to increase their efficiency. Results show that when cotton seed meal (as a source of by-pass protein) and vitamin AD3E are added to the basic formulae of feed blocks considerable improvement in ewes’ conception rates, lambing percentage and twinning percentage can be achieved.

Moreover, the use of feed blocks in fattening lambs gave promising results and improved feed conversion.

How Economical are Feed Blocks?

As stated, feed blocks are made from available feeding resources and by-products which are currently underused. These alternative supplements improve the nutritive value of low quality diets, increasing animal performance and alleviating livestock feeding costs. In Iraq, the use of feed blocks reduced the utilization of conventional concentrate feeds (barley grains, commercial concentrates, etc.) by more than 50%, considerably reducing imports, particularly in dry years. In Tunisia, one tonne of feed blocks costs about 95 US$ compared to 200 US$ for one tonne of barley.

Adoption and impact in M&M countries

Livestock owners have readily accepted feed blocks and the technology has rapidly spread through the countries involved in the M&M project. It has been a major success in the region and has developed into a feed industry in Iraq where a large research effort is being invested in improving and adapting the technology to the semi-arid conditions of the country. The first private production plant in Iraq opened in June 1994 with a capacity of 4 tonnes/day and was followed by several other plants with similar outputs. By 1997, 21 plants were producing more that 24,000 tonnes of blocks, distributed to more than 6000 sheep owners. In Jordan three feed block manufacturing units were imported from Iraq in 1998 for large-scale production of feed blocks. Local fabrication of units has started in order to respond to an increasing demand for feed blocks. In Tunisia, community-based feed block units started in1999 to produce tomato pulp and olive cake-based feed blocks and 10 tonnes have been already distributed to community members. In Morocco, an NGO and Agricultural Co-operatives are involved in the production system of feed blocks.

As a spillover, countries other than those participating in the M&M project have shown clear interest in the technology. Among those Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea and Turkey can be cited.


Research work conducted so far in the M&M countries indicates that this technology offers various options to sheep owners in the feeding management of their flocks. Indications show that further research could lead to the broadening of the scope of utilization of this technology in order to meet specific nutritional requirements of the animals, including cows, at specific stages, for a better productivity. Producing feed blocks in ’à la carte‘ style may become a reality.


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