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2 Aug, 2013

WSPA report: As industrialisation grows, cows fading from European landscape


LONDON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–As cows disappear from the landscape of Europe at an increasing rate, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA (http://www.wspa-international.org/)) believes the trend is detrimental to the health and welfare of dairy cows. And it is not necessarily financially beneficial for dairy farmers, states a new report released on 31, July 2013.

The report Grazing in North West Europe – Economic performance and future developments with emphasis on the Dutch situation, studied the current state-of-the-art and likely development in dairy grazing in six countries in North West Europe. The evidence in the WSPA commissioned report by LEI Research Institute of Wageningen University dispels the assumption that zero grazing is the only economically attractive and future-proof dairy system.

The long-held belief that moving cows to indoor systems is necessary for survival is challenged as the report demonstrates that grazing is financially viable now as well as looking ahead to 2025. This is partly due to lower costs associated with feed and housing in grazing systems yielding a potentially higher profit per litre of milk. And as conserved feed and energy costs are predicted both to keep rising and to remain volatile, grazing will continue to be an equally profitable and more economically sustainable model of farming.

Alongside this, animal health and welfare are also identified as benefits. In grazing-based farms, cows have more opportunity to exhibit natural behavior. The production demands on the cows also tend to be lower, which improves health and longevity.

What this demonstrates is that the trend towards zero grazing farming is not inevitable and it can be counteracted by private and public policies. One example of this is in the Netherlands, where modelling of different options confirms that grazing can be successfully stimulated by industry premiums, research and development aimed at increasing grass yields or dedicated public measures.

This report provides yet further evidence for the industry of the costs and benefits of grazing and what is needed to make grazing work, such as grazing premiums – although grazing premiums alone will not be sufficient to stop the disappearance of cows from our landscape.

The key findings of this report are:

· In the absence of intervention, dairy grazing is projected to continue to decline rapidly in North West Europe, particularly in Denmark, North West Germany and to a lower degree in the Netherlands and the UK

· Grazing is an economically sound and attractive model for dairy farms. For example, in the Netherlands, large grazing farms have substantially higher incomes compared to those with no grazing

· To maintain grazing in NW-Europe, the dairy industry, governments and other stakeholders should invest in knowledge development, training and technological innovation especially on large grazing farms

· There are several routes to maintain and increase grazing in North West Europe:

1) introduce the Irish full grazing system with low housing costs, a seasonal production profile;

2) expand and optimise fresh grass intake in restricted grazing systems;

3) Allow cows access to pasture in no-grazing systems to improve animal health and welfare and increase visibility of cows in the landscape.

WSPA CEO, Mike Baker, says: “This report shows there are choices for farmers. The assumption by many in the industry is that dairy factory farms are the economic way forward, this evidence raises questions for both the government and the dairy industry to adapt to the new reality: that retaining or increasing grazing is a real, profitable option. With feed and energy costs predicted to keep rising, grazing is likely to be the most profitable future model of dairy farming.

“Pasture based farms are economic and better for farmers as well as being better for the welfare of cows. Policy needs to change to support farmers to keep cows on pasture and ensure that the traditional country scene of cows in fields does not become a thing of the past.”

Read the executive summary (http://files.wspa-international.org/int/files/media/Exec%20Summary%20PDF.pdf) and to download a full copy of the report here (http://www.wageningenur.nl/upload_mm/1/3/e/e3bf04c2-7b20-4f0e-9d43-4c8143af2812_Rapport%202013-001%20Reijs_DEF_WEB.pdf).