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The future of grazing on Dutch dairy farms
Grazing of dairy cows is an important sustainability aspect of Dutch milk production and increases social acceptance of dairy farms. The Dutch government set the goal that 80% of the dairy cows in the Netherlands should have access to pasture in 2020, while over the past 15 years this number has decreased from about 90 to 65 percent. Main reasons for this decrease are an increase in stocking density and an increase in the use of automation. In general, precision feeding and excreta distribution is more difficult in grazing systems than in zero-grazing systems. In addition, knowledge is lacking on how to manage grazing on dairy farms with a high stocking density. With the abolition of the European milk quota system in April 2015, the trend towards intensification was expected to continue further in Europe. In the Netherlands, however, the abolition of the milk quota system was accompanied by the introduction of a new manure policy to limit phosphate excretion on expanding dairy farms. To evaluate the role of grazing on future dairy farms, we analysed the effect of recent policy changes on changes in farm structure by modelling an average Dutch dairy farm before and after milk quota abolition. Results show that the new manure policy will limit farm intensity up to an increase of 4-15%. To promote grazing on dairy farms with a high stocking density, however, additional knowledge is required on grazing strategies for dairy farms with a high stocking density. These grazing strategies should optimize economic and environmental aspects of grazing, including grass intake and nutrient cycling. To acquire such knowledge, we perform grazing experiments at the experimental farm Dairy Campus.