The Lower House wants to make pasture grazing mandatory for dairy cattle in the Netherlands, against the wishes of State Secretary Dijksma. What does the scientific world think of this controversy? Better to encourage pasture grazing than to prohibit the full-time housing of cattle, says researcher Paul Galama.
Why is the House making a fuss about pasture grazing?
‘Ever more cows are in the cowshed. Seventeen percent of all cows spend the summer - day and night - in the pasture, 53 percent daytime hours only. The remaining 30 percent are confined indoors all year round. That is bad for dairy farming’s image. With its increase in scale and the cattle being housed, dairy farming is starting to resemble intensive cattle farming. This observation has spurred the Ministry of Economic Affairs to fund a WUR research programme, Amazing Grazing, to promote dairy cattle being kept on pasture. The Lower House’s initiative to get more cows grazing pasture is part of this programme.’
Are you in favour of statutory prohibition?
‘No, I think you’d do better to encourage pasture grazing than to prohibit the full-time housing of cattle. Many farmers understand that having cows graze pasture is good for dairy farming’s image, but they think making it mandatory is going too far. That’s why dairy companies like Friesland Campina and Cono have chosen to encourage pasture grazing. They pay a higher milk price to farmers who graze their cattle on pasture. In fact, the dairy farmers who keep their cattle indoors are funding the bonus.
But evidently that isn’t helping to get more cows into the pasture.
‘There’s an increasing trend among farmers with a large herd, a milking robot and little farmland to opt for housing. Despite the slightly lower milk price, this is either cheaper for the farmer or involves less work. That’s why, we are investigating how we can remove these obstacles to pasture grazing. We advise how many cows can be kept on a little land around the farm. And we think of ways to take the milking robot to the pasture. To keep cows outdoors grazing pasture, we need to innovate.