Achieving grassland production and quality that matching animal needs

A. van den Pol, Juan Busqué, P. Golinski, Katrin Noorkõiv, Michael O'Donovan, Giovanni Peratoner, D. Reheul

Research output: Book/ReportReportProfessional


Permanent grasslands are exploited by grazing animals or as meadows depending on different constraints. Grazing is the most common use in large parts of Europe, especially in the northwest of Europe. However, certain areas are less suitable for grazing. In the Alps e.g. meadows are the most relevant grassland utilization option because of the steepness of the terrain and a short favourable season, so animals use stored forage during the long winter period. In the Cantabrian fringe, although
climate and topography allows for a long grazing season, this is practiced in few farms due to the small size and dispersion of parcels, making it very difficult to organise a reasonable grazing scheme.
In several countries in the North West of Europe zero-grazing is practised due to different reasons like large herds or use of Automated Milking Systems (AMS).
Permanent grasslands are highly variable. They differ markedly in their botanical composition and productivity, ranging from agricultural-improved grasslands with few very productive plant species, to natural and semi-natural grasslands (Peeters et al., 2014), found in a high variety of ecological conditions and thus with a high number of potentially dominant plant species, mostly of low productivity. Most ruminant livestock farmers have some agricultural-improved grassland, but depending on the livestock system, this will be the majority of their farmland (e.g. dairy farms) or the
minority (e.g. goats for meat in mountain areas).
For every grassland based livestock farm, irrespective of the types of grassland used, the ideal target is that its own forage allowance matches animal needs. These two variables –forage allowance and feed requirements- are mainly dependent on the stable components of the farm (animals: type, number and annual and seasonal productivity (milk and/or meat); and grasslands: type, area, botanical composition, annual and seasonal productivity, nutritive quality), but also on the weather. Normally, the stable components of the farm are adapted to the climate, soils and other use
restrictions of the area. It is the changeable inter-annual weather conditions that lead to variability in the quantity and quality of available forage, and so weather conditions are the main factor affecting the forage allowance, and so the profitability of the system in the short-medium term. The farmers have to adjust their management (fertilisation, timing of grazing / cutting, etc.) to these changeable weather conditions.
Farmers feel the need to control this short-term variability generated by changing weather conditions. Staying in control is a big issue for the farmers and they feel unsure about their livestock and grassland management if external factors like weather affect the functioning of their system. When they are not in control, it is difficult for them to see the economic profits of certain improvements, such as grazing instead of cutting in dairy or beef cattle systems (Peyraud et al, 2010).
Original languageEnglish
PublisherEuropean Commission (EC)
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2016

Publication series

NameEIP-AGRI Focus Group Permanent Grassland


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