PASTURE grazing by dairy cows is on a rapid decline in parts of Europe, according to research conducted at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
Unless counteractive measures are taken, by 2025, two-thirds of cows in the Netherlands will no longer graze outside, an announcement said. Presently, one-third of cows in the Netherlands never graze outside.
The study — commissioned by the World Society for the Protection of Animals and carried out by LEI Wageningen UR — investigated the amount of pasture grazing in six European countries. In recent years, various initiatives have been developed to stimulate pasture grazing in the Netherlands, including a price premium to farms that apply grazing.
The study's analysis showed that intensification of the dairy sector has the largest negative effect on pasture grazing, partly because of the need for more control over business operations and partly through the decrease in available farm plots, the researchers said. On the other hand, low costs and social acceptance of the sector serve to stimulate pasture grazing.
While the study focused the most detail on the situation in the Netherlands, the researchers said there is a noticeable trend toward keeping cows indoors in other northwestern European countries, with the exception of Ireland and Sweden.
In Ireland, pasture grazing is the norm, and cows are on pasture for 20 hours a day, weather permitting, for 9-10 months out of the year. In Sweden, the law requires that cows spend six hours per day in the pasture for at least three months out of the year.
In order to preserve pasture grazing by dairy cows, it is important to invest both funds and attention in knowledge and technological innovation, labor-saving measures, the economic optimization of pasture grazing systems and the facilitation of strategic decisions, particularly on large dairy farms, the announcement said.