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

Aim of the project

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. Hereby addressing: productivity, product quality, animal health and welfare, economic performance, resource use efficiency and consumer appreciation


The main hypotheses are that transition to high forage and non-food diets will enhance product quality, animal health and welfare, resource-use efficiency and consumer acceptability, by matching appropriate diets, breeds and production systems and by rearing all dairy bred calves. The project involves modelling, experimental and participatory R&D activities and covers contribution from SMEs (farmers, advisory service).

What: Give a contribution in the knowledge on how European animal production can improve profitability, societal acceptance and environmental credibility, as well as becoming more resilient to external influences such as global markets.

Why: 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.

Where: The research is been done in seven academic centres in Norway, UK, Poland, Sweden, Germany and Italy. 

Main project activities

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.

Research findings:

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.

No breed effect on cattle performance  was found in a Swedish experiment with steers. However, we found that using beef breed semen for dairy cows gave calves with higher carcass gain and more meat compared with pure-bred dairy cattle - even under semi-intensive and extensive forage-based systems. Crossbred steers had a greater carcass weight, more muscles and higher proportion of valuable retail cuts and less tender and juicy meat. The differences were greater with extensive feeding and two grazing seasons than on a semi-intensive level of nutrition. Meat from younger, semi-intensively reared animals, regardless of breed, was more tender than meat from older, extensively reared animals. The meat from purebred dairy steers had better eating quality than beef crosses, due to a finer fibre structure, more tenderness and juiciness. However, the fatty acid profile was more preferable from the crossbreds, with a higher proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The grazing experiment with dairy cows in Kiel the first year 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

Project consortium

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

  • 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

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).

More information

Presentations and posters

Technical notes