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Pros And Cons Of Keeping Cows On Grass All Year

03 February 2011

NETHERLANDS - Dairy company, Friesland Campina, recently decided that all dairy farmers supplying milk to them would have to keep their cows in the field. "Is this a good plan?" asks Albert Sikkema of Wageningen University.

Paul Galama of Wageningen UR Livestock Research, commented: "Friesland Campina is responding to signs that society wants to see cows in the field in the summer rather than in barns. Cows in the field improve the look of the landscape and give dairy farming a better image.

"Increasing numbers of dairy farmers – now up to 20 per cent – are keeping their cows indoors all year round. There are a number of reasons for this. These days, more farmers have 200 cows or a milking robot or a lot of land at some distance from the farm. Putting cows out to graze under such circumstances is difficult, but not impossible.

"It is not easy to combine grazing with an increase in scale. I think we need to look at scale increases in a different way. Up to now, up-sizing meant putting more cows, calves, feed silos and stores of manure on the same patch of land. That ends up so massive and ugly, society doesn't want that any more. Another option is to have a few farms working together, keeping 1,000 cows, with barns in a 10-kilometre radius. That would make use of the existing infrastructure. And you could build a central feed point for these farmers away from the farms – that way you can combine economies of scale with a more attractive landscape. Farmers would then have to collaborate.

"One area for concern is that young people know less about managing grassland. Young farmers don't know how to adjust to the weather and nature. A Grassland Management course might not be a bad idea to help make grazing a success.

"We are doing research on how to make it easier to combine grazing with an increase in scale. A herd of 200 cows is more likely to trample the grassland, but you could split the cows into three herds of 70 animals. Our colleagues in Zegveld have developed a mobile milking robot that allows automated milking in the field," concluded Dr Galama.

TheCattleSite News Desk


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