Challenges in the nutrition and management of herbivores in the temperate zone

A.M. van Vuuren, P. Chilibroste

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The expected higher global demand for animal proteins and the competition for starch and sugars between food, fuel and feed seem to favour herbivores that convert solar energy captured in fibrous plants into animal products. However, the required higher production level of herbivores questions the sustainability of this conversion. An increase in herbivore production can be achieved by increasing the number of animals associated with the increasing demand of plant biomass or by improving the efficiency with which plant biomass is converted into meat and milk. The potential to increase food production by cattle, the main food-producing herbivore in the temperate zones outside China, was considered in three production systems: grassland-based, mixed rain-fed and mixed irrigated systems. The potential to increase plant biomass production in grassland-based systems seems limited, unless fertiliser is imported in large quantities and crop production is increased, sacrificing valuable, high-quality grasslands, which often conflicts with sustainable production methods. Also, in mixed systems with high inputs of fertiliser or water, improvements in plant biomass production seem marginal and the main challenges for these systems are in breeding high-quality plant biomass at lower levels of fertiliser and the use of new co-products from food processing and bio-based economies. Consequently, the main challenge in herbivore nutrition management is to improve the efficiency of plant biomass utilisation. Stocking rate management along with seasonal variation in the grazing capacity of grasslands and moderate use of fertiliser may increase meat production in grassland-based systems by 400%. Improving plant biomass utilisation in the more industrialised mixed rain-fed systems seems possible by better feed storage technologies and for dairy cattle by improving animal health and lifetime production level. Managing the transition period seems crucial to achieve more sustainable mixed rain-fed and mixed irrigated dairy production systems. Whether sustainable production methods will be implemented also depends on macro-economic conditions and awareness of regional and global environmental concerns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-28
Issue numbers1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • water-soluble carbohydrate
  • lolium-perenne l.
  • dairy-cows
  • milk-production
  • early lactation
  • rumen function
  • dry period
  • cattle
  • performance
  • strategies


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