Ecological and economical dairy farming

Study on the cost-effectiveness of feeding dairy cows without concentrates

The extensive use of concentrated feed has become commonplace over many decades in conventional dairy farming. The background to the use of concentrated feed is the increase in milk production with a corresponding yield. However, there are also adverse effects: the consequences of using concentrated feed are a shorter life expectancy of the dairy cows as well as fertility, metabolic and udder problems. Furthermore, there are also financial drawbacks. The prices for feed grains, soya and milk performance feed have risen sharply in recent years. The Internationale Forschungsgesellschaft e.V. Hofgut Breitwiesen ("International Research Society") and the Kasseler Institut für ländliche Entwicklung e.V. ("Kassel Institute for Rural Development") are therefore conducting a study on the cost-effectiveness of feed for dairy cows in Germany which is either free or low in concentrates.

Owing to their digestive system, cattle have the unique ability to break down and digest cellulose. One measure to achieve a high milk yield is to reduce the proportion of grass in the feed and replace it with grain grist and other types of feed which have higher energy and protein levels. For decades it has been considered that there is virtually no alternative to this form of dairy farming if one wishes to operate an economically viable dairy business. However, the feeding methods used today for dairy cows are increasingly moving away from the forms used in natural cattle husbandry. Furthermore, the regionality of the feed, as well as aspects sustainability and the competition for food with human beings also speak in favour of a strong reduction in concentrate use. Nevertheless, a positive operating result is a prerequisite.

There are no current studies on the cost-effectiveness of cattle feed which is free of concentrates. Similarly, no analysis has been carried out into the motives and experience of the farmers who operate in this way with respect to the way in which they run their businesses. This knowledge is necessary, however, in order to find a way out of high-input agriculture with its negative consequences and determine the action required so that the use of feed which does not contain any concentrates can be further developed.

In the study by the Hofgut Breitwiesen International Research Society and the Kassel Institute for Rural Development, many farms were included in Germany which operate their businesses with feed which is free of concentrates or with only very small quantities of concentrated feed. Surveys of these farms made it possible to analyse the cost structures surveys and economic characteristics of concentrates-free feeding. In personal interviews the participating farmers were asked about their motives and experience. After the evaluation, the results are to be discussed at a symposium and methods sought by means of which meaningful feeding methods in line with the animals' inherent nature can also be carried out with today's market requirements.


Hofgut Breitwiesen

The International Research Society based in Stuttgart has for many years maintained Breitwiesenhof as a special-purpose farm for various forms of research and other non-profit activities.

What phases has the project already reached?

In 2013 the corresponding partners for the implementation of the farm had been found and the basic funding secured. As a result, the preliminary research and specific project planning was started in the middle of 2013. In January 2014 the pre-test of the questionnaires and the training of the interviewers were carried out. From March 2014 on, the information on the businesses was recorded and at the same time the archiving and processing of the data performed. Since November 2014 work has been ongoing on evaluating the data. Additionally, an initial interim report has been prepared and published in the "Critical Agricultural Report 2015". In the spring of 2015 the project report will be completed and published and then discussed at various conferences.

What are the funds of the MAHLE FOUNDATION specifically used for?

Half of the total costs of this study are being financed by the MAHLE FOUNDATION. The Foundation has been supporting this project since the spring of 2014.