Keys to sustainable grazing

The aim of this research is to develop novel grazing systems that are technically and socially feasible for highly productive dairy farms (i.e. farms with a high stocking density on the available grazing area), and are economically viable and environmentally sound. This requires analysis of the technical, economic and environmental performance of novel grazing systems for dairy farms.

Grazing of milking cows is decreasing in the Netherlands, as well as in other European countries, mainly because of an increase in herd size, milk yield per cow and use of robotic milking systems. Dairy systems with grazing, however, appear to be highly competitive from an economic perspective. Grazing also promotes a clean, animal-friendly image for the dairy sector, and contributes to landscapes that are highly appreciated by the Dutch public.

How to graze?

To ensure pasturing on future dairy farms, we need to optimize the grazing system for highly productive dairy farms (i.e. farms with a high stocking density on the available grazing area) from a technical, socio-economic and environmental perspective. Farmers start to change from traditional continuous and rotational grazing systems to compartmented continuous grazing (CCG) and strip grazing (SG). Unlike the traditional grazing systems, CCG and SG are grazing systems in which cows receive a new grazing area each day. So far, in-depth knowledge about the impact of these grazing systems on, e.g. grass quality and quantity, protein utilization, greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient use efficiency is missing. This lack of knowledge hampers assurance of grazing in future dairy production. In order to quantify economic and environmental consequences of improved grazing strategies, such as CCG and SG, we need detailed insights in the technical performance of these systems. The aim of this research, therefore, was to quantify the technical performance of improved grazing strategies in order to determine the economic and environmental consequences for dairy farms.

Three phases

  • Identify potential grazing systems, suitable for highly productive dairy farms (i.e. farms with a high stocking density on the available grazing area) in north-western Europe.
  • Assess the actual performance of promising novel grazing systems, designed especially for highly productive dairy farms in the Netherlands. This knowledge is obtained from a two-year field experiment at Dairy Campus, in which technical data of grazing systems are collected. The grazing experiment at Dairy Campus is in collaboration with the project ‘Amazing Grazing’.
  • Integrate knowledge and evaluate sustainability performance of various scenarios that enable grazing on highly productive dairy farms. Data required to parameterize scenarios are provided by the outcomes of i.e. literature review and by field experiments at Dairy Campus.

Expected results

Results of this PhD research will be presented in at least four scientific papers, which will be published in peer-reviewed journals, and will yield one PhD thesis. The PhD student will also present results at scientific conferences (e.g. European Federation of Animal Science, European Grassland Federation, Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences Science Day) and relevant network meetings (e.g. EGF Working Group ‘Grazing’).

Background information