European Study Shows Grazing Decline

EUROPE - Intensification in dairying has seen productivity rocket across Europe at the cost of a widespread decline in traditional grazing methods and undesirable attention from animal welfare groups.
calendar icon 2 August 2013
clock icon 2 minute read

A compromise between health and wellbeing and meeting the demands of a rising market is, therefore, the backdrop to dairy farming in the present day, a Wageningen University report outlined last month.

One clear finding of the report, Grazing dairy cows in North-West Europe, was that housed forage and concentrate systems were more productive than grazing and that the trend for keeping cows inside coincided with a steady increase in yield and productivity from land employed.

The report used statistics compiled by European Dairy Farmers (EDF) to illustrate the connection between bigger yields, higher costs, more borrowing and fewer cows on grass.

Denmark and the Netherlands have the most productive farms in Europe and have been trend setters through the new century, the study showed.

Since 2007, average Danish farm output has been at 1 million kilos while Irish output has fluctuated around 250,000 kilos.

Breaking the one million mark is because of a move to zero grazing systems, EDF has said. This means that, during the grazing season the majority of feed is from forage or concentrates and not grass.

The million kilo production figure is a sign of the greater productivity and the efficiencies that accompany automated systems with regular temperatures and yearlong milking.

Therefore, the Wageningen team believes that Danes do not produce more milk because intensification means more cows are on each farm but because indoor systems that are synonymous with Danish herd expansion work cows in a more efficient manner.

Second only to Holland, Denmark has shown other European nations why and how to expand - with the 'how' based around relative ease of financial borrowing.

Danish grazier numbers fell from 85 per cent in 2001 to 35 per cent in 2010 with organic farming accounting for most grazing dairies. During this time, the production gap between Denmark and Ireland went from double in 2001 to almost five times the amount by 2009.

Danish farmers now produce over 11 tons of milk per forage hectare. Ireland, where outdoor grazing dominates, and Sweden, where it is mandatory, average no more than six tons per forage hectare.

But, Swedish practice does stack up on a per cow basis, with EDF data showing a peak in national average yield in 2007 of 8,500 kilos.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms

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