The dairy company Friesland Campina recently decided that all dairy farmers supplying milk to them would have to keep their cows in the field. A good plan? Paul Galama of Wageningen UR Livestock Research:
Increasing numbers of dairy farmers - now up to twenty percent - are keeping their cows indoors all year round. There are a number of reasons for this. These days, more farmers have two hundred cows or a milking robot or a lot of land at some distance from the farm. Putting cows out to graze under such circumstances is difficult, but not impossible.
It is not easy to combine grazing with an increase in scale. I think we need to look at scale increases in a different way. Up to now, upsizing meant putting more cows, calves, feed silos and stores of manure on the same patch of land. That ends up so massive and ugly, society doesn't want that any more. Another option is to have a few farms working together, keeping a thousand cows, with barns in a ten kilometre radius. That would make use of the existing infrastructure. And you could build a central feed point for these farmers away from the farms - that way you can combine economies of scale with a more attractive landscape. Farmers would then have to collaborate.
One area for concern is that young people know less about managing grassland. Young farmers don't know how to adjust to the weather and nature. A Grassland Management course might not be a bad idea to help make grazing a success.
We are doing research on how to make it easier to combine grazing with an increase in scale. A herd of two hundred cows is more likely to trample the grassland, but you could split the cows into three herds of seventy. Our colleagues in Zegveld have developed a mobile milking robot that allows automated milking in the field.'