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Increasing productivity, resource efficiency and product quality to increase the economic competitiveness of forage and grazing based cattle production systems

The sustainability of the intensive European cattle milk and meat production is questioned due to environmental and animal welfare trade-offs and growing reliance on edible food and imported feed. The SusCatt project aims to evaluate the productivity, resource-use efficiency and consumers’ acceptability of a transition to high forage and pasture diets for European cattle. The project focus on dairy, integrated dairy and beef and specialized beef production systems. The main hypotheses are that transition to high forage and non-food diets will enhance a) product quality, b) animal health and welfare, c) resource-use efficiency and d) consumer acceptability, by matching appropriate diets, breeds and production systems. The project involves modelling, experimental and participatory R&D activities and covers contribution from SMEs (farmers, advisory service) and pools expertize from seven academic centres in Norway, UK, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Italy. The project is organised in work packages; two focusing on beef and milk production, respectively, feeding into one on overall assessment of economic, resource-use efficiency and societal acceptance and the fourth is dedicated to disseminating the findings. Most experiments and surveys are still ongoing. The system analysis with LCA and economy evaluations, the consumer’ attitude study and various dissemination activities remains to be done. 

The main experimental and on farm R&D activities started in 2018, which was an extreme year for forage based livestock with severe drought in northern Europe. Due to the reduced pasture growth, grazing became limited and the results, both from experiments and farm surveys, need to be interpreted carefully. Most experiments and farm studies are still ongoing and only preliminary results are ready.

No breed effect on performance of cattle was found in a Swedish experiment with steers. However, replacing purebred dairy steers with dairy x beef crossbreeds in production based on forage and semi-natural pastures resulted in heavier and more market-oriented carcasses.

The grazing experiment with dairy cows in Kiel showed that enteric methane emission on pasture with herbs tended to be lower than on a grass-white clover pasture. However, the drought made it necessary to supplement cows on both pasture types with silage, which may have diluted the effect.

The initial analysis of data from about 400 beef farms in Po valley revealed that famers are increasing the proportion of grass based forage and reducing the use of maize silage in the diet. Preliminary results showed that dairy farms with high proportion of meadow hay in the diet had lower nitrogen surplus per ha but lower apparent nitrogen use efficiency compared to dairy farms with high proportion of maize or mixed crop-silage and hay diet. Apparently, it is possible to discriminate between both diets and breeds, using milk chemical analysis.   

Coordinated by: Dr. Håvard Steinshamn - The Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NORWAY) - Contact

Funded by: RCN, BMEL, MIPAAF, NCBR, FORMAS and DEFRA as part of the ERA-NET Cofund SusAn through a virtual common pot model including EU Top-Up funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 696231).

6 research partners:

  • GERMANY: Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding, Kiel University
  • ITALY: University of Padova
  • POLAND: Istytut Genetyki i Hodowli Zwierzat PAN Jastrzebiec
  • SWEDEN: RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • UNITED KINGDOM: Newcastle University

More information: 

Technical notes: