Inspirational ideas: Working on resilient dairy farming
Animal husbandry and welfare
Farming / forestry competitiveness and diversification
Monday, 9 April, 2018 - 13:15
German farmer exchanges with peers and researchers to learn, and to create sustainable on-farm solutions
Dairy farming is currently facing a number of challenges. On the one hand, the products have to meet high environmental standards and animal welfare requirements, on the other hand the market demands cheap products. Kirsten Wosnitza, who runs a farm of 120 dairy cows in Schleswig-Holstein with her husband Gerd Albertsen, believes in striking a balance between productivity and animal welfare: “Being a dairy farmer, I feel that sound and happy cows are the foundation for our economic and emotional success. I also feel that this is essential to keep the acceptance for our work as dairy farmers and for our product ‘milk’ in the society.”
Wosnitza elaborates on her approach: “On our farm, we try to run a system that suits the site, size and resources of our farm, the amount of labour we have available, our own preferences and the amount of risk we are willing to take. We try not to push the system to its limits, but we try to build in buffer capacity instead.” Wosnitza is working on resilient dairy farming. Resilience is the capacity of the farming system to cope with problems or unforeseen disturbances which arise while at the same time maintaining farm income. More resilient systems are prepared to withstand larger disturbances.
Concretely, this means that Wosnitza keeps the milk yield at a level of 10 000 kg per lactation. “Increasing this to a higher level would require an intensification of the cow’s ration,” Wosnitza says, “instead, we choose to keep the cows in a system that combines in-barn block calving and intensive grazing. This helps us to maintain health and results over the cow’s time spent on our farm, which is 7-8 years. In turn, this leads to a reduction in the number of replacement heifers, which leads to less work and lower production costs.” The end result is an economically viable system and less stress for Wosnitza, her husband and their animals.
Dairy farming, of course, can be done in many different ways, there are many solutions at hand and it is challenging to transfer those solutions from one particular farm to another. “Still,” she says “I find it important to look across the fence.” This is why she is part of an Operational Group and a European Focus Group. “In this cooperation I came across a French example of milking only 13 times a week during the summer grazing period – with no negative effect on the cow’s health. This could be a possibility for us in summer, when most of our cows are nearing the end of their lactation. As we do not have any other staff on the farm, it could improve our life-work balance.” Wosnitza believes in the positive effects of the exchange of knowledge amongst farmers. advisers and researchers: “If it is done in the right way, it can help farmers and their families to get not only a better economic result but also to find a more satisfying way to do their work.”
Kirsten Wosnitza is involved in the Operational Group ‘Nutrient Management in Grasslands’. Read the project factsheet here orhere