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FFL-JA-Forskningsmidlene for jordbruk og matindustri

Sustainable cattle production on roughage

Alternative title: GrassFedCattle

Awarded: NOK 1.8 mill.

Inspections of suckler cow farms with outfields of great variation in natural resources was published (report) in 2018. The results were further used in Sugoal 2. Another report describes available area and roughage feed resources for livestock in outfields in each subsidy zone. 46 percent of available feed resources in outfields are currently unutilised. The most favorable feed quality is located in zone 6, which also possess the highest availability of resources followed by zone 5A. To identify farms with fallow infields, resource maps (AR5) were linked with production subsidy data. This work is described in a report (ISBN 978-82-17-02365-4). Approx. 1.491 mill. daa of land is probably unutilized in Norway, of this 57 percent suitable for machinery and the rest as infield grassland. Of this, 1.1 mill. daa is out of use in zone 5A, 5B and 6, which shows that increased cattle production should be localised in these zones. Data of weaning weights (200 d. weight) produced on outfields were recorded from farms (n=400) registered in the Norwegian Beef Cattle Recording System (NBS). Approx. 75 % of these herds used outfield grazing, mostly in zone 6 (96 %), followed by zone 5B (80 %) and zone 5A (60 %). The average 200 d. weights were 286, 280 and 275 kg in the three zones, respectively. The results confirm that favourable weaning weights may be obtained at outfields in these three zones. Calculations of the potential for increased roughage based cattle production in zones 5 to 7 must correspond to the animals feed requirements throughout the year, i.e. with regard to both arable land as well as resources in outfields. The calculations are based on feed requirements of 6000 FU per suckler cow unit (cow+offspring) of a small beef breed. The feed requirement is presumed to be covered by roughage from arable land plus non-cultivated infield pastures, 20 % concentrates and average roughage crops for each zone. The feed potential from outfields is not included. The unused feed resources in the outfields allows for a considerably higher number of suckler cows with calf in these zones during the grazing period than the feed production potential on unused arable land resources for winter feed in these zones. In other words, the outfield feed resources is not a limiting factor. Reductions in land use between years 2000 - 2018 (SSB), combined with earlier mapping of unused arable land in zones 5A, 5B, 6 and 7, may provide realistic levels of the potential. Results showed that the arable land and infields laid fallow in this period has a potential to increase the production with approx. 20 000 suckler cow units in zone 5A and 5B, 4000 cow units in zone 6 and 1000 cow units in zone 7, corresponding to around 6000 tonnes of carcasses. If land areas that went out of use earlier than year 2000 were included as well, this could theoretically have increased the production with additional 10 000 (zone 5 A, 5B). 8 000 (zone 6) and 2000 (zone 7) cow units, corresponding to 5 000 tonnes of carcasses. Analyses of GHG-emissions in various production systems are finished. These have shown that a moderate milk yield combined with higher dairy beef production will reduce GHG-emissions, but this is dependent of the total milk and beef volume produced. A realistic increase in roughage quality reduced the GHG emissions as well. Farm models have been used to evaluate levels of GHG-emissions from various production systems; 27 herds (extensive/intensive, three breeds) located in zones 1,3, 4, 5A and 6, and 7 dairy herds with bulls/steers. The results revealed that the effect of production system per se was low compared to the effects of management and farming system. Results also showed that similar low GHG-emissions are obtainable for steers as for young bulls. The ICBM carbon balance model used in the models may provide incorrect estimates of soil carbon in soil types with high contents of organic matter, f.ex. in outfield pastures. More research is needed to adapt the model to such soil types. Analyses of public goods related to grazing cattle were performed using a variety of map- and satellite data, focusing the relation between grazing and forest regrowth. Vegetation change over time on selected areas were analysed and compared with trends in numbers of grazing animals. Numbers of cattle grazing on outfields have been relatively stable during the last 20 years, but today the animals are distributed on a more limited geographical area. The following analyses showed that it was impossible to combine info of outfield utilization with PT-data and the reforestation model (de Wit et al, 2013), due to poor solubility of satellite data and precise localization of the grazing animals. Other results show that important habitat types and threatened plant species are closely related to grazing. Outfield management is thus of substantial importance for the preservation of biodiversity in Norway.

This project has confirmed that the potential for beef production based on outfields and fallow arable land is considerable, and the importance of utilisation of the outfields for biodiversity. Results from this study are expected to provide scientific knowledge to the current discussion among politicians and in the society related to a higher utilisation of domestic feed resources, and may be used as basis for political decisions on natural resource management both on regional and national levels. Results have also been used as a knowledge base in political processes concerning lowered GHG-emissions from the agricultural sector. Activities related to GHG-emissions on the farm level has been especially visible in the close cooperation with the joint agricultural project Climate Smart Agriculture. This project has resulted in 1 PhD thesis, 3 MSc theses, 1 Bachelor and 6 comprehensive reports, significant synergy with an adjacent project, in addition to 4 scientific articles.

Norway has set political goals to increase domestic food production, based on national roughage resources, in line with population growth. The cultivable land area is small, 3 pct. of total land area. Due to the climate, cereals are only grown on one-third, and cultivated grass production, as most important, on the rest of the arable area. In addition, substantial valuable feed resources are localised in outfields, i.e. uncultivated vegetation in the forests and mountains. These areas (140 000 square km) represent a 50 pct. unexploited grazing capacity, corresponding to 0,7 mill. cattle. Thus, the agricultural land area is closely related to ruminant livestock species. Population growth and structural changes in the dairy industry are causative for a 10-15 pct. market undersupply of highly demanded domestic beef. This, combined with political signals of improved self-sufficiency, has raised a need for initiatives to reverse this trend. The project aims to contribute to increased, sustainable food production based on national feed resources by identifying cattle production systems that ensure optimal utilisation of regional grassland and pastures with lowest possible climate impacts. The project goals will be obtained by a combination of approaches which include studies of production efficiency in herds utilising outfields, GPS-tracking of grazing cattle, local vegetation mapping, and quantification of available forage crop and -quality within different regions based on national vegetation maps, herd- and climate data. Alternative production yields and -systems will be modelled and analysed to identify the optimal regional localisation of dairy and suckler cow herds in relation to outfield resources, and GHG-emissions quantified to evaluate which alternatives combines increased food production with lowest possible carbon footprint. Finally, the project will examine how alternative production systems will affect biodiversity and cultural landscapes etc.

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FFL-JA-Forskningsmidlene for jordbruk og matindustri