archive image

European Commission - Research - Biosociety

Biosociety and the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy
Knowledge based bio-economy
EU-funded research











News & Events
Page last update: 25/12/2008

Happy cows give better milk

'Give cows the freedom to roam', seems to be the message from researchers at Newcastle University in the UK. As part of EU supported research on animal health and welfare scientists found that the nutritional benefits of milk are considerably higher in the summer months, when cows are feeding on fresh grass and clover. The study confirms that there are higher concentrations of Omega-3 in organically produced milk and gives further encouragement in the drive to find cheaper ways of providing organic food.

Scientists at Newcastle University have discovered that cows which are allowed to graze as nature intended produce better quality milk. This research is part of the broader Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project on animal health and welfare, which is supported by the EU with more than EUR 12.4 million in funding. Their findings are giving weight to claims that organic food is more nutritious than non-organically grown produce.

The research, which was conducted by the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group at Newcastle University, found that grazing cows from organic farms produce milk which contains significantly higher beneficial fatty acids, antioxidants and vitamins than their conventional ''high input'' counterparts.

Natural diet is best

'We have known for some time that what cows are fed has a big influence on milk quality,' explained Gillian Butler, livestock project manager for the Nafferton Ecological Farming Group, who led the study. 'What is different about this research is it clearly shows that on organic farms, letting cows graze naturally, using forage-based diet, is the most important reason for the differences in the composition between organic and conventional milk.'

Significant seasonal differences exist in the quality of the milk, suggests the report. Nutritionally desirable fatty acids and antioxidants are highest during the summer, when the cows are eating fresh grass and clover. 'As a result, our future research is focusing on how to improve the nutritional composition of milk during the winter, when cows are kept indoors and fed mainly on conserved forage,' says Ms Butler.

The study, which involved Newcastle scientists working with the Danish Institute for Agricultural Science, is part of the ongoing cross-European QLIF project into animal health and welfare. The project aims to develop higher-quality, safer and cheaper organic foods to meet the growing demand for more natural, healthier foods, produced using fewer chemicals and additives

Everybody wins

'This paper is a major milestone in the project and clearly shows that if you manage livestock naturally then it’s a win-win situation for both us and them,' said Professor Carlo Leifert, QLIF project coordinator.

This research confirms previous studies, which reported higher concentrations of Omega-3 fatty acids in organically produced milk than milk produced in conventional ways. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

The study involved 25 farms across the UK in 2 contrasting areas of the UK – South Wales and the North East. The scientists looked at three different farming systems: conventional high input, organically certified, and non-organic sustainable (low-input).

The Nafferton Ecological Farming Group at Newcastle University collected 109 milk samples from 25 commercial farms. These were then categorised into the three different production systems: conventional high input; organically certified low input; and non-organic, low input. These samples were taken in August and October in 2004 and January, March and May of the following year.

The results of this study into UK dairy production are published online in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture.

Source: EU Research Headlines

For further information:

Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top