Let Them Eat Grass: Grazing Debate Back on Agenda

GLOBAL - Just how beneficial cows grazing pasture is to farmers, processors and the cows themselves has been a hot topic recently in New Zealand and Europe.
calendar icon 12 October 2015
clock icon 2 minute read

At the start of last week, Fonterra left New Zealand farmers confused over new palm kernel guidelines and radical Dutch politicians proposed a new mandatory grazing law demanding minimum grazing periods on dairies hoping to expand.

Both could see dependence on grass increase, with the Dutch, left-of-centre party GroenLinks hoping to stem the tide of housing cows in ever-bigger dairy units. If passed, the Dutch bill would outlaw expansion of housed herds - read more.

Fonterra’s voluntary guidelines suggested farms limit palm kernel feeding to 3 kilos per cow per day, but the reasons have been ambiguous, with farm chiefs calling for clarity - read more.

They are unsure whether the move is down to reasons of consumer awareness and marketing or because of quality issued with the supplement.

This summation was given by Federated Farmers of New Zealand dairy chair Andrew Hoggard, who said farmers had taken the news like a lead balloon.

Meanwhile, a Dutch industry organisation has defended the choice available to Dutch consumers. Responding to GroenLinks' welfare concerns, dairy leaders noted the availability of pasture produced milk for 120 days each year, through an assured scheme allowing cows at grass for a minimum of six hours a day from spring to autumn.

“Many projects have been initiated to solve grazing issues. The dairy sector provides a wide range of products from meadow milk, recognisable by the logo, allowing consumers to contribute to the preservation of Dutch cows in meadows,” said the Dutch Dairy Association.

And the message for New Zealand farmers from nutritionists this week has been that grass is the complete fuel source for cows.

Busting the “myth” that the modern dairy cow needs more than grass, DairyNZ senior scientist Dr Jane Kay championed grass as containing enough protein, fibre, sugar and starch for production and reproduction to run perfectly well.

However, Dr Kay conceded that higher yielding cows benefit from total mixed ration diets, but added: “Most of this difference in production is due to system-related differences, such as increased feed availability and reduced activity. Very little of the difference is due to the nutritional components in the diet.”

She stressed the importance of pasture management and the need for good quality grass, which cannot be improved upon by adding straw to diets.

In terms of protein, she said: “Typically, spring pasture contains more protein than the cow requires and although the protein in pasture is highly degradable (80-90 per cent), the fast rumen passage rate means sufficient high quality protein is available to the cow.”

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms

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