Inspirational ideas: Happy grazing! Biodiverse pastures for quality milk
Permanent grasslands offer many benefits for biodiversity, ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, and animal health. Sustainable management strategies can help to maximise these benefits, for instance by matching grassland production with livestock needs. Digital measuring and decision support tools can help increase resource efficiency and optimise grass production. Differentiating grass-based products such as meat, milk and cheese, can help create higher market value for farmers. Exchanging knowledge is key for increasing profitability, productivity and sustainability for European permanent pastures.
What impact does quality grass feed have on milk yield and on the quality of the milk that is produced? This question is explored by the Portuguese Operational Group ‘Sustainable pastures’, based in the Azores. The project has been running trials with biodiverse, protein-rich pastures, both perennial pastures and grasslands harvested for silage. “We want to test the impact of differences in soil, grassland composition, and resistance to water stress and altitude on milk yield and milk quality”, project coordinator Eduardo Vasconcelos explains. The pastures that were installed contain 30% more legumes. “The results show that when the cows have access to a pasture that is rich in legumes, they produce an additional milk yield of 8%. We still need more trials to measure the impact of a changed diet on the quality of the milk that the cows produce.”
Installing leguminous crops can help reduce the application of synthetic fertilisers and the need for imported feed materials, downsizing the farm’s carbon footprint. The milk from these pastures can benefit the farmer with a higher milk price. Dairy farmers have been involved from the start. “We’ve been working closely together with dairy farmers and farmers’ associations in testing different pasture types and their effect on milk yield and milk quality. The farmers that are involved are welcoming systems that can help them produce more milk. We definitely see a growing demand from producers for legumes and legume-rich pastures. We will keep looking for a good perennial grass to find a mix with the best results.” To share and demonstrate the results in practice, the project is planning to set up support systems, including training, for producers.