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Monitoring screen of the computer piloting the Phenoarch platform. © INRA, SLAGMULDER Christian

Modelling and agrosystems

Rami Fourrager, a simulation game for adapting livestock farming

Rami Fourrager, or “Forage Rummy”, is a board game that uses computer modelling. It is designed to help small farmer cooperatives and development bodies think about adaptation strategies to various challenges, such as climate change or the need to lower costs.

By Pascale Mollier - Brigitte Cauvin, translated by Daniel McKinnon
Updated on 09/10/2013
Published on 05/30/2013

A game of Rami Fourrager. Mathilde Piquet, engineer and codesigner of the project, seen here acting as game moderator, entering data into the computer model and explaining the results of the simulation.. © INRA
A game of Rami Fourrager. Mathilde Piquet, engineer and codesigner of the project, seen here acting as game moderator, entering data into the computer model and explaining the results of the simulation. © INRA

Rami Fourrager was born of a number of realisations.

First, livestock farmers must regularly adapt their practices, whether to respond to shifts in the weather or in economic conditions, or to institute more widescale changes on their farm, such as attaining total feed autonomy or converting to organic farming.

Second, such changes are necessarily complex because there are many variables to take into consideration. Decision-making tools designed by researchers work well in theory, however they can be difficult for farm advisers to use due to the large amounts of data that must be input for the tool to work.

This led to the development of Rami Fourrager by researchers from the Joint Research Unit for Agrosystems and Territorial Development (UMR AGIR) in Toulouse, France in cooperation with its partners (1).

A new approach to modelling

Rami Fourrager is a new approach to modelling that unites sound science with effective information transmission.

The game draws on computer models that are user-friendly and integrated into the gameplay. It accurately reproduces the complexity of a farm and facilitates discussions and collective decision-making. The PraiCoS project (2) showed that these were farmers’ core expectations.

A game board, game cards...

The object of the game is to manage a livestock farm for one year, divided into 13 four-week blocks. Two to four players use the real-life conditions of their farm to make land-use decisions to feed a herd with a set production level.

The game is made up of four components: the game board, forage cards, animal cards, and ration cards.

Forage cards. © INRA
Forage cards © INRA
Ration cards for fodder and feed. © INRA
Ration cards for fodder and feed © INRA

Forage cards represent food supplies in grass, hay, etc., over the course of the entire year. The makeup of the forage cards depends on the crops selected, the soil, the weather, and on the farmer’s farming practices. Forage cards are determined using both local data on factors such as crop yields and grass height, and computer models, such as Herb’sim (3). Herb’sim uses data on the weather, the soil, the type of grassland, and the crop management system to calculate grass growth, and was also developed by UMR AGIR.  

Animal cards represent the selected animal herd, for example: 45 dairy cows, calving in the autumn, and producing 6,000 litres of milk per year. This allows feed requirements to be calculated.
Ration cards are placed, one by one, in the boxes for each week of the year to represent the feed rations given to animals.

The game lasts two to four hours. The aim is to find the combination of forage cards, animal cards, and ration cards that will allow the players to meet the objectives set at the start of the game, despite changing conditions over the course of gameplay.

…and a computer

A computer program collects information on the forage, animal, and ration cards, as well as the player choices on the distribution of these cards. The program then instantly produces a range of indicators and graphs that allow performance of the chosen livestock system to be assessed, in a holistic manner, in terms of agronomy, breeding, cost-effectiveness, and workloads. In this way, players are quickly able to test a wide array of possible adaptations to their production methods, or to their organisation and management systems.

One of the game’s developers, Guillaume Martin, says that “when compared to previous simulation models, the goal here is not to create specific recommendations on a single technique or economic aim for a farm. The overarching aim is to encourage holistic and collective decision-making, to spur interaction among players, and to foster knowledge transfer for building the farms of tomorrow.”

A successful launch

To evaluate the game in real conditions, more than fifty workshops have been held since its creation, bringing together over 200 farmers, moderators, and farm advisers. Many of the workshops were held in western and south-western France to test the game in varying soil environments, climate conditions, and livestock systems. Participants reacted positively to the game. “It gives me a lot of ideas to develop my farm” says one participant. “The discussions have been lively and fun. The tool is simple to use and it motivates me to move forward with my plans” says another player.

(1) The French Livestock Institute, French chambers of agriculture, and the French Network for Sustainable Agriculture.

(2) PraiCoS Project: New directions in advisory methods for improving the place of grasslands in forage systems. Special Allocation Fund for Agricultural and Rural Development (CASDAR).

(3) Duru M. et al., 2010. “Herb'sim: un modèle pour raisonner la production et l'utilisation de l'herbe”. Fourrages, 201: 37–46.

Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Science for Action and Development, Environment and Agronomy
Associated Centre(s):