Unraveling feed and nutrient use efficiencies in grassland-based dairy farms

Jouke Oenema*, Oene Oenema

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Grassland-based dairy farms are important for the provisioning of milk and ecosystem services. However, the key factors and interactions that influence the feed use efficiency of grassland-based dairy farms in practice are not well known and understood, and as a consequence no well-targeted recommendations can be provided. This paper addresses the question ‘what are the main factors that determine the variations in calculated feed efficiency and N and P use efficiencies on dairy farms subjected to agri-environmental regulations’. Monitoring and modeling data from ~12000 grassland-based dairy farms in The Netherlands over a 4 year period (2017–2020), collected through the KringloopWijzer model, were analyzed and the data from 2020 were statistically analyzed in detail. Farms greatly differed in milk production intensity (range < 10 to >25 Mg per ha per yr) and in the amount of purchased feed. The 5 and 95 percentile values of frequency distribution of the calculated annual mean feed efficiency at herd level were 0.9 and 1.3 kg milk per kg feed dry matter, respectively. Feed efficiency was statistically related to milk yield and number of young stock per cow, the share of concentrates and silage maize in the ration, and the net energy content of silage grass. At herd level, the 5 and 95 percentile values of the calculated annual mean N use efficiency increased with feed efficiency from 21 to 28%, and those of the annual mean P use efficiency from 32 to 40%. Contrary to expectations, mean surpluses of N and P at farm level remained more or less constant with feed efficiency and the intensity of milk production, but the amounts of purchased feed and manure export strongly increased with the intensity of milk production. The N and P surpluses and use efficiencies at farm level were sensitive to accounting for the externalization of feed production and manure utilization. The modeled ammonia and methane emissions per kg milk produced were relatively low on farms with high feed efficiency. In conclusion, feed use and N and P use efficiencies are key indicator for the profitability and environmental performance of dairy farms. Differences between farms in these key indicators were large, and these differences were related to a limited number of explanatory variables. Our study provides lessons for improving the profitability and environmental performance of grassland-based dairy farms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number846561
JournalFrontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sep 2022


  • ammonia
  • externalization
  • feed efficiency
  • forage
  • manure
  • milk yield
  • nitrogen and phosphorus surpluses
  • production intensity


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