New research done by the University of Cambridge advocates use of pastures with shrubs and trees as it is more sustainable, improving animal welfare and increasing biodiversity.
Consumers are increasingly demanding higher standards for how their meat is sourced, with animal welfare and the impact on the environment factoring in many purchases. Unfortunately, many widely-used livestock production methods are currently unsustainable. However, new research out today from the University of Cambridge has identified what may be the future of sustainable livestock production: silvopastoral systems which include shrubs and trees with edible leaves or fruits as well as herbage.
Current cattle production mostly occurs on cleared pastures with only herbaceous plants, such as grasses, grown as food for the cows. The effects on the local environment include the removal of trees and shrubs as well as the increased use of herbicides, all of which result in a dramatic decrease in biodiversity. Additionally, there is also contamination of soil and waterways by agricultural chemicals as well as carbon costs because of vehicles and artificial fertiliser necessary to maintain the pasture.
The researchers advocate that using a diverse group of edible plants such as that in a silvopastural landscape promotes healthy soil with better water retention (and less runoff), encourages predators of harmful animals, minimizes greenhouse gas emissions, improves job satisfaction for farm workers, reduces injury and stress in animals, improves welfare and encourages biodiversity using native shrubs and trees.
When ruminants, such as cows, goats and sheep, are consuming the plants from a silvopastoral system, researchers have seen an increase in growth and milk production. Milk production in the tropical silvopastoral system mentioned above was 4.13 kg per cow when compared with 3.5 kg per day on pasture-only systems. As the numbers of animals per hectare was much greater, production of good quality milk per hectare was four to five times greater on the silvopastoral system.
Professor Donald Broom, who led the research, added: “It is clear that silvopastoral systems increase biodiversity, improve animal welfare and provide good working conditions while enabling a profitable farming business. The next step is to get farmers to adopt this proven, sustainable model.”
Source: University of Cambridge