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10. Organic Dairy Farming Production goals for organic cows . . . 131 Calf rearing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133 Heifers - often neglected . . . . . . . . . . 135 Dairy cow feeding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137 Summer feeding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139 Winter feeding plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141 The new trend: Beef- production from steers . . . . . . . . . . . 146 Herd health . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147 Photo: Bjarne S. Hansen On the surface, organic cattle farming in Denmark doesn’t look much different from conventional cattle farming. However, there are significant differ- ences, including feeding plans, stocking rates, use of farm inputs as well as the farmers’ approach. In spite of this, many conventional cattle farms could be converted to organic farms with only minor changes.

10. Organic Dairy Farming - Organic Dairy Farming.pdf · herd. Enable a good rumen environment and avoid nutritional diseases.

Oct 05, 2020



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  • 10. Organic Dairy Farming

    Production goals for organic cows . . . 131

    Calf rearing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133

    Heifers - often neglected . . . . . . . . . . 135

    Dairy cow feeding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137

    Summer feeding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139

    Winter feeding plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141

    The new trend: Beef-production from steers . . . . . . . . . . . 146

    Herd health . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147


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    On the surface, organic cattle farming inDenmark doesn’t look much differentfrom conventional cattle farming.However, there are significant differ-ences, including feeding plans, stockingrates, use of farm inputs as well as thefarmers’ approach.

    In spite of this, many conventional cattlefarms could be converted to organic farmswith only minor changes.

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    Production goals fororganic cows

    The goal is having cows, which are healthy, have agood temperament, are fertile, give birth to strongcalves throughout a long lifetime, while producing

    milk based on a feed plan including lots ofroughage. The organic breeding goals require abroader set of traits on which to base the selectionof stud bulls and bull mothers. For an organic dairyfarmer, the most important breeding traits includecalf mortality, udder health, fertility and longevity.

    Dairy cows are fantastic farm animalsIf aware of a cow’s constantly changing needs right from birth, one is rewarded with high-yielding ani-mals with a high life expectancy. This is especially important on organic farms, where first-calf heifersdon’t achieve the same yields as on conventional farms.

    Goals include feedinglots of roughage, per-sistent yields, longevityand a low somatic cellcount.

    Suckling calf – it’s worth letting itbe with its motherfor a while.

    Calf – a social animal.

    Keep calves ingroups, cool and

    dry. Heifer– don’t expect

    too much of herand keep in the

    same herd.

    Heifer-in-calf – she’s big and

    heavy. Talk to her,you’ll soon be milk-ing her twice a day.

    First-calf heifer – she’s milking,

    growing, eating alot and fighting forher position in the

    herd. Enable a goodrumen environment

    and avoid nutritionaldiseases.

    Mature cow – she’s highly pro-ductive, and needsno more energy forgrowth. She can liveto become an oldcow if she’s beentaken good care ofthroughout her life.

    Second-calf cow– still growing, but

    intake of largeamounts of feed is

    easier now.

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    Future breeding indexesConventional breeding goals highly emphasise theyield index. Unfortunately, this goes hand in handwith a deteriorating health status, a trend that does-n’t seem as if it’s going to change. Those bulls, forwhom an index for udder health will be calculatedin the coming years, will not have impressive index-es. Organic farmers must therefore focus more onbreeding healthy and long-living cows than animalswith a high yield potential. The weighting of the totalmerit index (”S index”) will therefore be changed, inorder to devaluate the importance of yield. Whenchoosing bulls, one should regard the sub-indexesand choose those sires with high values for thosetraits that are important for organic farmers.

    It is necessary to evaluate the bull’s indexes for suchtraits as feed intake and feed conversion. Onewould expect cows with a high index for roughageintake capacity to achieve high yields in organicherds.Another example is the persistence of lactationindex. Breeding animals with sharply rising andfalling lactation curves are not that relevant fororganic dairy production, since they are fed largeamounts of roughage. This makes it difficult to meetthe animals’ energy requirements in the first part ofthe lactation period. In an organic feeding regime,cows with steep lactation curves will thus easilyexperience energy deficiency, with a higher risk ofproduction diseases as a result.

    Genetic trend of breeding valueThe development of the breeding value for various traits is calculated for bulls in the Danish cattle breed-ing association between 1981 and 1995. The two health indexes are based on data from 1984 to1995. (from Økologisk Jordbrug, no. 20/10-2002)






    Female fetility

    Calving ease

    Meat production

    Udder health

    General health

    ++ = increasing + = weakly increasing 0 = no changes - = weakly decreasing

    * includes index for limbs, body and udder

    Breeding value Fresian Red DanishDairy Cattle
































    Genetic trend of breeding value

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    Calf rearing

    An important goal in organic farming is to enable alllivestock to move around as freely as possible inaccordance with their natural behaviour. This alsoapplies to calves. A working committee appointedby the Danish Plant Directorate formulated recom-mendations for animal ethics in organic farming.Regarding calf welfare, the committee concludedthat ”…sufficient bedding and space are importantaspects of calf welfare. This applies to calves keptindividually or in groups, since considerations totheir natural behaviour require that the calves mustbe able to play and groom each other.”

    In addition to proper feed, calves thus need space,light, ventilation and social contact. The choice ofhousing system has a significant effect on theirhealth and well-being. The better and faster a calfgrows in its first months, the healthier and more pro-ductive it will be as a mature cow.

    By drinking colostrum, the calf is assured a supply ofantibodies. But the colostrum alone doesn’t do thetrick. Experiments have shown that it is also impor-

    tant that the calf suckles the cow and cow and calfare permitted to stay together, see table below. Thecalf’s contact with the cow stimulates the absorptionof immunoglobulin.

    A good startA good start in life is extremely important. How doesone secure a good start for calves, who one dayshall become organic milk producers? One way isby using nurse cows.

    The day-to-day management of a cattle farm is verydemanding. Most cattle farmers may find it hard togive enough priority to calf rearing, which is bothtime-consuming and demands a lot of attention. Thenurse cow system has both advantages and draw-backs, and it must be adapted to the organic regu-lations. There are obvious benefits of letting oldercows, who don’t give much thought to hourly wagesand weekends, do the work. If they in addition havehigh somatic cell counts, their job as a nurse cowalso contributes to reducing the herd’s average cell-count. They also help to meet the requirement thatcalves should be able to follow their suckling instinctduring the three-month milk-feeding period, and thatcalves should not be kept in single pens.

    A drawback of the nurse cow system is that it maybe difficult to control the calves and get them used tohuman contact. However, most farmers don’t feelthat the calves become shy. It may require givingthem a bit of extra attention and care the first timeyou put a halter around them, but after that, mostusers of nurse cows state that their calves behave justlike all other calves do.

    A much more serious drawback of using nurse cowsis the risk of spreading contagious diseases in aherd. Diseases such as paratuberculosis, coccidiosisand salmonella infections are transferred to the calfvia the faeces of the mother, nurse cow or othercalves.

    Suckling and disease resistanceThe resistance of new-born calves to diseasesincreases when they suckle. However, just beingtogether with the mother also has an effect.

    Calf suckles and is togetherwith mother

    Calf suckles and is not together with mother

    Calf drinks from teat bucket,but is together with mother

    Calf drinks from teat bucketand is not together with mother






    Immunoglobulinconcentration,48 hrs aftercalving

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    Rearing calves onnurse cowsThe farm manager at the OrganicAgricultural College in Denmark, KlausEnevoldsen, uses nurse cows for hissuckling calves. His experience fromthe school’s Jersey cow herd is that theuse of nurse cows works great, but thatthe system requires quite a bit of atten-tion.

    Klaus Enevoldsen comments the use of the nursecow system: ”Of course it is important that thenew-born calves stay with their mothers for thefirst day or two. But from then, and until they are4 weeks old, calves can be kept together ingroups of four calves and one nurse cow. Whenthey have reached an age of four weeks, theyare moved to a larger grouppen, with a maximum of threecows and 12 calves.”

    ”In this pen, we installed a littleshed for the calves, where theycan go to eat concentrates andhay. They often want to get awayfrom the nurse cows for a while,and like to spend time in their”own home”.

    One of the biggest problems wehave with the nurse cows is thattheir teats don’t stand the calves’constant sucking. In summer I usea teat ointment twice a day, andat night I lock the largest calvesin their shed, so that they don’tsuckle too much on the cows.”

    ”I don’t have a fixed system fordetermining which cows to useas nurse cows. I try to see if someof our cows enjoy taking care of calves. Withregard to milk production, I should use cowswith a high cell-count, but I suspect that thecalves should have good-quality milk in theirfirst 3-4 weeks. I’ve become tired of constantlychanging nurse cows, so when I have a first-calfheifer with a poorly developed udder, I let herbe a nurse cow until she’s slaughtered. It is alsopossible to use cows with a high somatic cellcount, but you need some patience when mov-

    ing them to the calf pen for the first time. Often,they need to be tethered the first times they aremilked in the calf pen. But after a few days, westop milking them and the calves are allowed tosuckle, and after a few more days, the newnurse cow can’t do without the calves.”

    ”Many farmers choose to let their nurse cowsand calves graze together during summer. Ifind, though, that we can observe the smallcalves better when we have them inside. Thisalso makes it easier to move a calf from one pento another, if it develops faster or slower thanthe others. This means that the nurse cows andthe milkers graze together. When returning,they pass through the milking parlour, get somefeed concentrates, and then spend about anhour with the calves. Some nurse cows are a bitannoyed by the calves’ nagging for milk, evenafter they’re empty. These just lay themselves

    down and wait until I come to release them outto the pasture again.”

    ”It’s also important to plan where to place thenurse cow pens. You’ll need tons of straw, feedand water in the course of a season. There mustbe plenty of space, dry bedding, fresh waterand no draught.”

    Photo: Bjarne S. Hansen

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    Feeding suckling calvesPrincipally, organic calves can be fed milk replacer,as long as the organic feeding regulations are met.Also calves must comply with the rule stating that 90% of the feed must be organic (based on dry mattercontent). Thus, the use of milk replacer is actually notrelevant.

    Whole milk is naturally good feed for calves, butmake sure that the milk’s temperature is 35° C.Perhaps, use an immersion heater to heat the milk.Good hygiene is highly important. Avoid using milkfrom cows with udder inflammations and antibioticresidues.

    It is very common to give calves sour (cultured) milk.Also here, milking hygiene is important, and the milkmust be poured into clean containers. Avoid usingmilk from cows with udder inflammations and antibi-otic residues. Immediately add one litre of a culturedmilk product, such as organic buttermilk or sour milk,and let stand at room temperature 17-22° C. Stir thecultured milk each time you add fresh milk. Beforefeeding, add ? litre warm water (60° C) per litre milkin order to obtain the optimal feeding temperature of30° C.

    From milk to solid feedWhen the calves are to start eating solid feed, it isimportant to start by feeding them a well-balanced,healthy feed mixture. Many excellent mixtures areavailable on the market, but you can also make yourown calf-feed mixtures. Ingredients include grain,bran, peas and a high-quality protein source.Remember to add sufficient amounts of vitamins andminerals.

    Roughage for ruminationCalves must have access to good quality roughage,such as first-cut clover-grass or hay, in order to stim-ulate rumination. The calf pens must enable thecalves to have access to a varied ”roughage buffet”,where they can be undisturbed and learn tobecome well-functioning ruminants.

    CoccidiosisA specific problem in organic farming are calvesthat are put to pasture early in the season. This canresult in malnourishment and the disease coccidio-sis, which is caused by microscopic parasites.Typical symptoms include diarrhoea. When usingnurse cows, the pathogen reproduces in the larger

    calves, and there is a large risk of infecting new-born calves.

    To avoid coccidiosis, special attention must be paidto calf hygiene. Avoid feed wastes and moist areasin the calf pens. Feed and water troughs shall beplaced high enough to avoid contamination fromcalf faeces. Grazing calves must be given feed sup-plements, and during the first two months, it is impor-tant that calves receive a full feed ration.It is also very important not to mix calves and year-lings with different turnout dates, in order to avoidthe spreading of lung and intestinal worms.

    Calves grazing for the first time have a lot to learn.As part of the daily routines, it is therefore advisableto get the calves used to going indoors (barn or feed-ing shed) when being fed or in bad weather.

    Heifers - often neglected

    An old proverb says that you can judge a livestockbreeder by the herd’s dairy followers. This is defi-nitely still valid.

    Milking cows receive all the attention they need.They are the ones earning the money, whereasheifers are often ignored in a cattle herd. It is com-mon that they are given the poorest housing facilitiesand feed. However, low-quality feed should neverbe given to dairy followers, since this gives cowsthat do not function properly.

    Many organic cattle farmers should consider findingsomeone to cooperate with concerning heifer rear-ing. For example, they could establish a joint oper-ation with organic crop farmers who have foragecrops in their rotation. The crop farmers could feedand attend to the heifers in some of the barns whichhave been replaced by more modern housing sys-tems. There are different ways to organise suchagreements, in order to secure the continuity ofbreeding work and both parties’ economic safety.

    Grazing heifersDairy followers should graze as long as possible, atleast 150 days a year. Both heifers and calvesshould not be turned to pasture before grass pro-duction is high enough to secure a sufficient amountof feed, and weather conditions are not too unstable(as they often are in early spring in Denmark).Calves younger than six months should be kept

  • 136

    indoors after 1 September. However, larger heiferscan graze until late autumn or winter. The last grasscut and catch crops give an expensive and oftenpoor silage, while grazing heifers can harvest thesame fodder much cheaper in late autumn/earlywinter. This requires providing enough shelter so thatall animals can lie down at the same time when theweather gets colder and rougher. In Denmark, thismeans from about 1 November. When grazing onpermanent grass-clover fields, one should make surethat they are trampled too much and that enough ofthe crop is left standing top ensure winter survival.

    Grass-clover roughage, the heifers’ only fodder insummer, is sufficient to cover their physiologicalneeds from when they are about six months old until2-3 months

    before calving. The table below indicates the lengthof the grazing period for heifers in different agegroups. The udder develops most between 3 monthsand first heat, and heifers should not have too muchweight gain in this period. On the other hand, theyshould not bee too thin at insemination and calving.It is therefore necessary to closely monitor their graz-ing, and one should regularly measure and weighthe animals, and control their grazing accessaccordingly. At the same time, this gets them use tofrequent human contact.

    Heifer feeding throughout the year“Grazing period” is the period in which heifers exclusively eat grass-clover. If the final grass cut is omit-ted, heifers can feed cheaply by grazing until about Christmas. Three months before calving, they areintroduced into the dairy cow herd.

    Preventing parasitesOrganic livestock may not receive preventive medici-nal treatment. This also applies to intestinal worms.One of the main goals of grazing systems for heifersis thus the prevention of intestinal worms. The mostimportant measures are the use of rotational grazingand a combination of cutting and grazing. The use ofrotational grazing prevents mass infections of stom-ach, intestinal and lung worms. Not all parasites areremoved in this way, but they are kept at an accept-able level. Most of them are destroyed, when grazingis interrupted for 4-6 weeks, which is about the time ittakes to produce a grass harvest.On the other hand, grass fields should not be com-pletely free of parasites. Dairy followers should beexposed to a light infection pressure, enabling themto develop resistance. The parasite pressure in largepastures, on which the dairy cows graze, is signifi-cant. If the followers haven’t developed sufficientimmunity before starting to graze together with the

    milkers, they can be subject to extensive parasiteattacks.

    Winter feeding – based onroughageWinter fodder for heifers can consist of what’s leftover when the cows’ and calves’ feeding plans areoptimised, but they should always have access tosome straw or other roughage. What’s important isthat the heifer has the right calving weight and getsused to eating ”cow fodder”, which on organicdairy farms consists of a very large percentage ofroughage. The daily roughage percentage is often50 % in the first three months of lactation, and 60 %thereafter. To get first-calf heifers accustomed to sucha diet, one must give heifers fodder which gives thecorrect rumen pH, which in turn secures the devel-opment of properly sized and structured rumenpapillae.

    Age Grazing period Winter feed

    3-6 months 1 June – 31 August SilageHay

    6-12 months 10 May – 31 October StrawGrain

    12-21 months 15 April – start of winter Peas

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    Relationship between harvest date (i.e.,digestibility), feed intake and daily milk yieldAt late harvest (date 3), cows can ingest about 15 feedunits a day, and thus only milk about 22 kg. When thefeed is harvested early (date 1), cows can ingest about19 feed units a day, and milk about 26 kg.

    Harvest date 1:before heading

    Harvest date 2:at heading

    Harvest date 3:after heading

    One possibility is to make a silage suitable as aheifer ”feed mix”. The silage must satisfy the require-ments for fill factor and protein contents, so that theheifers can feed ad lib. This will enable a high feedintake.

    Dairy cow feeding

    Roughage is the key to organic dairy farming.Often, as much as 70-80 % of the feed rations oforganic cattle herds is roughage-based. One reasonis crop rotation and the associated choice of crops,another are the organic regulations, which require ageneral minimum of 60 % roughage for ruminants.Most farmers also try to be as feed self-sufficient aspossible, either on their own or in cooperation witha crop farmer.

    Another key word is ”quality fodder”, meaningroughage with a high digestibility value (D value).The fill factor of the roughage determines the cows’total roughage intake and their milk yields. Highdigestibility combined with a high legume percent-age shall enable a very high forage-to-concentrate-ratio, and thus give high milk yields. This is espe-cially important for large-breed first calvers andJersey herds. First-calf heifers also loose their milkteeth and cannot eat as fast as older cows. The pro-duction of quality roughage requires sound farmmanagement and the correct combination of cropsin the rotation.The figure below shows the effect of three differentharvest times (first grass cut) on silage intake andmilk yields.

    The first lactation is problematic, since first-calfheifers daily ingest about 2.5 kg dry matter less thanolder cows. In an average herd, there are 30-40 %first calvers. In the many livestock housing systemswhich have fewer feed gates than number of cows,it is therefore important for the herd’s total milk yieldthat the young cows are able to maintain a highfeed intake, otherwise one easily gets into a viciouscircle. Low energy intake at the start of lactation canlead to diseases such as laminitis, ketosis, fatty liver,low fertility rates and thus a too high replacement

    rate of young cows. In the opposite case, forcingthem to ingest too much easily digestible energyfeed and too little roughage in order to secure highyields, one also runs the risk of getting the same dis-ease problems.

    The figure on the next page shows the effect of age,size and milk yield on rumen capacity, expressedhere as a K-factor.

    Energy - corrected milk

    Feed units/day

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    Development of K-factor in large-breed, Danish cattle(from Kvægets fodring, 2002)






    4 8 12 16 20 24 28 32 36 40 44 48 52

    High roughage intake infirst-calf heifersThe Toftdahl partnership is run by JørgenKjeldsen and Lars Toftdahl. The farm 112ha arable land and a 70-head herd ofFresians. The staple feed ration consists ofgrass-clover and whole-crop silage.Grain and concentrates are fed as a sup-plement.

    In the opinion of Lars Toftdahl, too much is usuallyexpected of first-calf heifers. “They are supposedto calf when they are two years old, give 30 kgmilk a day, become pregnant again within threemonths, while at the same time gaining another100 kg during their first lactation. To achieve all ofthis, they have to eat as much as an old cow. Ourexperience is that cows that start performing soefficiently at once usually don’t live very long.”

    Jørgen Kjeldsen feels that having a cow that gives25 kg milk from day one really does not benefitanyone. “A cow must of course give a certainamount of milk throughout the lactation period, butwhy should it already start producing 14 daysbefore calving? It’s much better if it starts milkingafter calving, and then gradually increase its per-formance. There should also be enough milk forthe calf.”

    At the Toftdahl partnership, heifers feed exclusive-ly on roughage until right before calving. Thenthey are given 1/3 of the normal concentrateration. Their strategy is that the first calvers shall

    achieve maximum silage intake as fast as possible.Within a week after calving they are on the fullconcentrate ration.“Even though we know that the amount of concen-trates should be gradually increased, it’s difficult totake this all too seriously, since our cows get so lit-tle grain anyway. In winter they are given about 2kg grain and 1 kg rape twice a day, and we’renever above six feed units of easily digestible feedper day. In summer they get much less.”

    The farm has recently started a new strategyaimed at getting the first calvers to eat moreroughage.

    “We don’t inseminate the heifers until they are11/2 years old. Thus, they are a few months olderand perhaps 50 kg heavier at calving than usual.This enables them to ingest more roughage. Due toour feeding strategy, we have almost no problemswith the cows’ metabolism an digestion. We havean occasional bout of milk fever, but never any-thing serious. I think this is because we don’texpect them to milk 30 kg from day 1,” saysJørgen Kjeldsen.

    Lars Toftdahl adds: “Their lactation curve is some-what flatter, but with more persistence. Only rarelydo we have a first-calf heifer giving more than 30kg milk per day. Nevertheless, our herd average is320 kg butter fat per cow per year. Our cows aregiven the same feed ration from calving to dryingoff, and we rarely reduce the concentrate ration inthe course a first calver’s lactation.”


    Weeks after calving

    2nd and later lactation

    1st lactation

  • Summer feeding

    You cannot talk about organic dairy farming withoutmentioning grass-clover leys. Grass-clover is the”motor” of the organic crop rotation and thus theherd’s staple diet. This forage crop has many bene-fits, but also has potentially a number of disadvan-tages, especially if the farm is poorly managed.

    Among the benefits of grass-clover are that it is acheap, high-protein fodder, which cows can eat inlarge amounts. The crop improves soil structure andsupplies lots of nitrogen to the soil, to the benefit offollowing crops.

    Its disadvantages include that the protein contentscan be so high that livestock can have problemsdigesting large amounts. There is a risk that the

    Maximum grazing with some concentrate as a supplementThis solution gives cheap feed units from grazing, but the PBV-value is at the maximum limit. The figuresbetween min. and max. show the actual figure of this feeding plan. No min./max. figures indicate lack ofa fixed limit.

    cows excrete more nitrogen than the crops canabsorb, thus increasing the risk of nitrogen leaching.The high rate of nitrogen fixation also increases the

    risk of nitrogen leaching, if the crop rotation, soiltillage and use of catch crops are not designed toefficiently utilise the nitrogen. Furthermore, grass-

    Summer feeding plan 2:Moderate grazing, whole-crop silage and some concentrateThis solution gives a lower PBV-value, but also a slightly lower forage-to-concentrate ratio. The figuresbetween min. and max. show the actual figure of this feeding plan. No min./max. figures indicate lack ofa fixed limit.


    Feed 005-99 201-00 440-00 720-00 723-98Feed ØKO A100 Grain Grass- Chalk Mineralsrequirement AAT clover »Komix(FU/day) (FU) (FU) (FU) (FU) kløver øko« (g)

    Optimised first-calf heifer 16.5 2.8 1.5 12.2 18 168

    Optimised, other milkers 18.5 3.1 1.7 13.7 21 181

    Feed roughage (% of dry matter) AAT* (g/FU) PBV* (g/FU)requirement(FU/day) Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.

    Optimised, first-calf heifer 6.5 50 76.8 90 90 0 40 40Optimised, other milkers 18.5 50 76.8 90 90 0 40 40

    * Look for explanations on AAT, PBV and FU in the »Glossary«Summer feeding plan 1

    Feed 005-99 201-00 440-00 583-01 720-00 723-98Feed ØKO A100 Grain Grass- Whole-crop Chalk Minerals

    requirement AAT clover barley silage »Komix(FU/day) (FU) (FU) (FU) (FU) (g) kløverøko« (g)

    Optimised first-calf heifer 16.5 3.3 2.6 7.6 3.0 52 155

    Optimised, other milkers 18.5 3.2 1.5 10.0 3.8 36 182

    Feed roughage (% of dry matter) AAT (g/FU) PBV (g/FU)requirement(FU/day) Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.

    Optimised, first-calf heifer 16.5 50 70.1 90 90 0 17 40Optimised, other milkers 18.5 50 79.3 90 90 0 24 40

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    clover has irregular growth throughout the summer.This requires effective control of grazing activities inorder to achieve optimal yields and good quality. Inaddition, supplementary feeding must be continu-ously adapted.

    On organic dairy farms, grazing is usually max-imised in summer. This means that the cows’ dailyintake of grass-clover can be as high as 13-14 feedunits. This strategy may be questionable, since manyorganic farms have a high clover percentage, whichcan give a protein surplus. The secretion of excessprotein puts a considerable strain on the cows, andmay affect their health. It is therefore important tolimit the animals’ time spent grazing in order to con-trol their grass-clover intake. A larger share of thegrass-clover crop could be silaged, and fed duringwinter, thus distributing the farm’s own protein sup-ply in the feed more evenly throughout the year. Many organic dairy farmers have installed milkingrobots, and this influences their feeding strategies. Inorder to optimise the use of the robot systems, thecows are kept indoors longer. This limits the timeavailable for grazing, as well as the distance of pas-tures from the barn. This in turn affects the crop rota-tion on the fields close enough to the barn to be rel-evant as grazing land. This development requiresoptimal grassland management.

    Maize is an optimal supplementary forage crop inthe grazing season, and thus a favourite amongmany organic dairy farmers. Maize is being grown

    throughout most of Denmark, although with varyingsuccess in different parts of the country. There aremany efforts to further improve maize cropping.Nutrient leaching from grazing livestock is mostly aproblem in autumn, when crop growth has sloweddown, and nitrogen uptake is minimal. In the sameperiod, the protein contents of grass-clover is very highand thus the cows’ urine has a high N-content. Urineis deposited irregularly and in concentrated ”patches”,which increases the risk of point-source leaching.

    Grass-clover summer fodder is easily digestible, andoften lacks fibres and physiological bulk, while atthe same time having a high protein content. Inorder to balance the feeding plan, one has to feeda stabilising supplement. Three sample summer feed-ing plans are shown at the bottom of these pages.They are based on large-breed cattle with an annu-al milk yield of 7500 energy-corrected milk and 100% organic feed. A healthier feed is achieved byintroducing more whole-crop barley and especiallymaize silage. Maize silage gives the lowest PBV val-ues and highest forage-to-concentrate-ratio of thethree feeding plans.

    The summer feeding plan 1 includes maximum graz-ing and some feed supplement (concentrates),whereas grazing in feeding plan 2 is adapted to thecows’ protein requirements and uses whole-crop bar-ley silage as a supplement. Finally, feeding plan 3 issimilar to the second one, except that maize is givenas a feed supplement.

    Photo: Bjarne S. Hansen

  • 141

    Summer feeding plan 3:Moderate grazing, maize silage and some concentrateThis solution gives the lowest PBV-value and a very high forage-to-concentrate ratio. The figures betweenmin. and max. show the actual figure of this feeding plan. No min./max. figures indicate lack of a fixedlimit.

    Winter feeding plan 1:Maximum ration of grass-clover silageThis solution gives a lot of roughage protein, and can thus be supplemented with lots of grain. The fig-ures between min. and max. show the actual figure of this feeding plan. No min./max. figures indicatelack of a fixed limit.

    Winter feeding plan

    Most winter feeding plans on organic dairy farmsare based on the principle of fixed rations for longerperiods, disregarding the cow’s actual milk yield.This gives flatter lactation curves, which has provento have a positive effect on the animal’s health. Thisfeeding principle is also the most suitable for loose-housing systems and barns with fewer feed gatesthan number of cows.

    Typically, one would start by feeding the cows lessthan they actually need, and maintain this level forquite a while. Thus, the cows eventually are fedmore than required. Early in this period, the cowswill use some of their energy reserves, while laterbuilding them up again. By choosing a lower feedlevel, a larger roughage share can be fed at the startof lactation, in compliance with the rule stating thatat least 50 % of the feed in the first three months oflactation must be roughage.

    Feed 005-99 201-00 440-00 583-01 720-00 723-98Feed ØKO A100 Grain Grass- Maize Chalk Minerals

    requirement AAT clover silage »Komix(FU/day) (FU) (FU) (FU) (FU) (g) kløverøko« (g)

    Optimised first-calf heifer 16.5 1.0 2.5 10.0 3.0 42 269

    Optimised, other milkers 18.5 3.2 3.5 10.0 4.0 61 309

    Feed roughage (% of dry matter) AAT (g/FU) PBV (g/FU)requirement(FU/day) Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.

    Optimised, first-calf heifer 16.5 50 80.3 90 90 0 17 40Optimised, other milkers 18.5 50 76.8 90 90 0 10 40

    Feed 005-99 201-00 525-00 723-99

    Feed ØKO A100 Grain Grassclover Mineralsrequirement AAT silage »Komix(FU/day) (FU) (FU) (FU) kløver øko« (g)

    Optimised first-calf heifer 16.5 5.5 4.0 7.0 125

    Optimised, other milkers 18.5 5.1 4.1 9.7 125

    Feed Organic feed Roughage (% of dry matter] AAT (g/FU) PBV (g/FU)requirement (% of total DM)(FU/day) Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.

    Optimised, first-calf heifer 16.5 90 100 50 54.4 88 89 0 11 50Optimised, other milkers 18.5 90 100 50 60.4 88 88 0 15 50

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    Paying attention todetails gives goodroughageThe »Højlund« farm in northwesternJutland has 100 ha, including rentedland, and has been run organically since1995. It is owned and operated byPreben Bagge and his wife Solveig. Themilk from the 70 Fresians is sold to thedairy in Thiese. The organic farm man-agement plan includes the achievementof 100 % feed self-sufficiency and farm-gate nutrient balance. These goalsrequire stringent quality control through-out the entire production chain.

    Preben Bagge’s feeding plan is typical organic:maximum grazing in summer and grass-clover andwhole-crop silage in winter. He comments on theirroughage production: ”In order to get top-qualityroughage, it’s important to time the crop harvestjust right and to have a reliable agreement with amachine contractor who is able to come at theright time. We spread the grass for pre-wilting,because the faster we get the job done, the lesschance of the crop getting spoiled by bad weath-er. The dry matter content in the finished silageshould be around 35 %. We also make sure thatno soil contaminates the crop when spreading andswathing the grass. Soil in the grass could laterlead to spore problems. We also have to have theright sugar content in the crop, so that the grassferments correctly. “

    “We pack and cover the silage in clamp silos verythoroughly. We try to consider the length of the cutgrass, packing pressure, soil contamination andadapting the clamp size to its cover and the silageremoval rate. When removing silage throughoutthe winter, I always make sure to make a clean cutand to avoid getting soil in the silage. We alwaysnets against birds to keep them from making holesin the clamp cover.”

    “We are harvesting more and more of the whole-crop silage as green-crop silage, partially to givethe clover underseed optimal conditions, and par-tially to increase the digestibility of the total feedration. If there is a large weed pressure in parts ofa crop, it’s easier to get high digestibility in agreen-crop than if it’s harvested later as a normalwhole-crop silage.”

    “We started growing maize to increase the per-centage of roughage, and to achieve a better bal-ance in the feeding plan, especially in summer byreduced grazing. This way, we are able collectmore of the cows’ manure, and can distribute itbetter according to the crops’ nutrient require-ments. However, growing maize isn’t always easyin this part of Denmark, since there is a lot ofstrong wind. The most crucial part of growingmaize, though, is efficient weed control, whichallow the plants to develop well. If successful, youthen have an easily digestible, high-quality fod-der.”

    Preben Bagge Hansen onan undersown ley withforage rape as a covercrop.The first underseed didn’t suc-ceed. A second attempt wasmade with forage rape as acover crop, on which the cowsare now grazing.

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    The basic diet in winter is grass-clover silage. Thisensures sufficient protein supply and an extremelyhigh total roughage intake, if the silage’s digestibili-ty is good. However, to achieve good silage quality,farm management must be excellent throughout theentire production chain. Factors that need to beobserved are harvest date, silaging process, silagestorage and feeding methods.

    Another important winter fodder is cereal, legume ormixed-crop (cereal/legume) whole-crop silage. Thetrend is harvesting the crop earlier, as a green-crop,

    instead of a whole-crop. There are several reasonsfor this. First, whole-crop silage often has poordigestibility, resulting in a sub-optimal total energysupply. In such cases, extra concentrates are oftenfed to compensate. This means low yields from lotsof concentrates – which obviously is not profitable.

    Green-crops usually have better digestibility thanwhole-crops, but lower yields due to the earlier har-vest. However, since harvested green-crop alwaysare underseed cover crops, this ensures good grow-ing conditions for the undersown clover crop. Thus,

    Winter feeding plan 2:Grass-clover, green-crop barley and green-crop pea silageThis solution requires a higher percentage of concentrate, but makes use of the forage crops that enablegood clover underseed leys. The figures between min. and max. show the actual figure of this feedingplan. No min./max. figures indicate lack of a fixed limit.

    Winter feeding plan 3:Grass-clover and maize silageThis solution gives the largest roughage rations and lowest PBV-values, but requires a largemaize-growing acreage. The figures between min. and max. show the actual figure of this feed-ing plan. No min./max. figures indicate lack of a fixed limit.

    Feed Organic feed Roughage (% of dry matter) AAT (g/FU) PBV (g/FU)(% of total DM)requirement

    (FU/day) Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.

    Optimised, first-calf heifer 16.5 90 100 50 55.4 88 90 0 15 50Optimised, other milkers 18.5 90 100 50 61.2 88 90 0 18 50

    Feed 005-99 201-00 524-00 581-00 599-01 723-99Feed ØKO A100 Grain Grass- Green-crop Green-crop Minerals

    requirement AAT clover barley silage pea silage »Komix(FU/day) (FU) (FU) (FU) (FU) FU) ens. øko« (g)

    Optimised first-calf heifer 16.5 7.0 2.5 3.0 2.7 1.4 125

    Optimised, other milkers 18.5 7.0 2.4 4.0 3.6 1.5 125

    Feed 005-99 201-00 524-00 593-00 723-99Feed ØKO A100 Grain Grassclover Maize Minerals

    requirement AAT silage silage »Komix(FU/day) (FU) (FU) (FU) (FU) ens. øko« (g)

    Optimised first-calf heifer 16.5 6.2 1.0 6.7 2.6 125Optimised, other milkers 18.5 5.8 0.6 9.2 3.0 125

    Feed Organic feed Roughage (% of dry matter AAT (g/FU) PBV (g/FU)requirement (% of total DM)(FU/day) Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max. Min. Max.

    Optimised, first-calf heifer 16.5 90 100 50 66.5 88 90 0 7 50Optimised, other milkers 18.5 90 100 50 74.0 88 88 0 11 50

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    harvesting the cover crop early contributes to overallhigh yields of grass-clover leys with high digestibili-ty, with a general positive effect on the entire rota-tion.

    With the increasing scope of maize growing inDenmark, maize will gradually become more impor-tant in winter feeding. However, maize will primari-ly remain a summer forage crop. In order to be anattractive alternative as a winter fodder, it is impor-tant that maize gives high yields with gooddigestibility, since it can be relatively expensive fod-der on a per-feed-unit basis.

    Three different sample winter feeding plans areshown on these pages. They are based on large-

    breed cattle with an annual milk yield of 7500 kgenergy-corrected milk and 100 % organic feed.Feeding plan no. 1 is based on grass-clover silage,plan no. 2 on grass-clover and green-crop silageand plan no. 3 on grass-clover and maize silage.

    Finding the right forage acreageIn the following, two examples of required forageacreage per cow with replacements are presented.The examples are based on given milk and forageyields and a self-sufficiency degree of 90 %. Forlarge breed cows, one can use the following rule ofthumb: the feed requirement is 1000 feed units percow + replacements per 1000 kg energy-correctedmilk. Use the table to find the acreage required toachieve 90 % feed self-sufficiency.

    Forage hectares required per cow,including replacements, large-breed Danish cattleThe required forage hectares depend onmilk and forage yields, and are based ona self-sufficiency degree of 90 %. (FromDansk kvæg)

    Forage hectares required per cow,including replacements, Jersey cattle

    The required forage hectares depend on milk andforage yields, and are based on a self-sufficiency

    degree of 90 %. (From Dansk kvæg)

    Milk yield 6000 7000 8000 9000(kg energy-corrected milk)Feed requirement 6000 7000 8000 9000(feed units)Forage yield(feed units per ha)

    6500 0.83 0.97 1.11 1.25

    6000 0.90 1.05 1.20 1.35

    5500 0.98 1.15 1.31 1.47

    5000 1.08 1.26 1.44 1.62

    4500 1.20 1.40 1.60 1.80

    4000 1.35 1.58 1.80 2.03

    3500 1.54 1.80 2.06 2.31

    Milk yield 6000 7000 8000(kg energy-correted milk)

    Feed requirement 5300 6200 7100(feed units)

    Forage yield(feed units per ha)

    6500 0.73 0.86 0.98

    6000 0.80 0.93 1.07

    5500 0.87 1.02 1.16

    5000 0.95 1.12 1.28

    4500 1.06 1.24 1.42

    4000 1.19 1.40 1.60

    3500 1.36 1.59 1.83

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    Example 1: Large breed cowsIn order to achieve 90 % feed self-sufficiency at agiven a yield of 8000 kg energy corrected milkand forage yields of 5500 feed units/ha, the fol-lowing forage acreage is needed:

    8000 feed units per cow + replacements x 0.95500 feed units/ha

    = 1.31 ha per cow + replacements

    Alternatively, look under 8000 kg milk and 5500feed units per ha in the table above.

    Example 2: JerseyFor Jersey cattle, the mentioned rule of thumb doesnot apply. Jersey cows’ feed requirement is about12 % less than that of large breed cattle.

    In order to achieve 90 % feed self-sufficiency at agiven a yield of 6000 kg energy corrected milkand forage yields of 5500 feed units/ha, the fol-lowing forage acreage is needed:

    5300 feed units per cow + replacements x 0.95500 feed units/ha

    = 0.87 ha per cow + replacement

    Alternatively, look under 6000 kg milk and 5500feed units per ha in the table above.


    o: B


    e S.



    Required forage acreage per cow + replacements

    Supplementary feedIn organic farming it is not permitted to use feedstuffsconsisting of, containing or produced on the basis ofgenetically modified organisms (GMO).Furthermore, the use of feedstuffs containingenzymes, vitamins or amino acids produced bygenetically modified organisms is also not permitted.

    Supplementary protein feedstuffs that can be usedinclude imported feedstuffs, bran, as well as prod-ucts based on pulse crops, dried green biomass andrapeseed. In addition to containing protein, rapeproducts also contain fat. Here is an example of aconcentrate mixture, which can be used to supple-ment a feeding plan:

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    The new trend: beef-production from steers

    Steers, i.e., castrated bulls, have several positiveaspects. They are easy to handle and do not requireelaborate housing. They can utilise large amounts ofroughage, e.g., heavily digestible feed in winter-time. One also avoids the need for a maintenancefeed ration for mother animals, as is the case in suck-ler herds. Beef production from steers is highly flexi-ble, and the herd size can be easily adjusted to suchfactors as grazing area, feed resources, availablelabour and economic conditions.

    Furthermore, no large initial investments are neces-sary. However, a good operating credit is necessarydue to the long-term nature of the investments. Ittakes a long time before a steer is ready to beslaughtered and can generate an income.

    For organic crop growers, steer production is anobvious choice to improve their nutrient balance byre-directing the nutrients from their green manurecrops. The steers produce manure that can be col-lected during winter and then applied to fields lack-ing nutrients. This can improve the overall utilisation

    of nitrogen and potassium on crop farms.

    Steers can also be used to graze on marginal pas-tures, since they can tolerate moderate to weak feed-ing. Because of their peaceful temperament, theycan also be used for the maintenance of natural andrecreational areas, without threatening or annoyingthe users of such areas. Finally, steers can alsograze on pastures which are too heavily infestedwith flies for dairy cows.

    Beef production on steers ensures a stable produc-tion of meat with a uniform quality, which is sub-stantial enough to give a reasonable income. Themeat produced is both tender and has an excellenttaste.

    Castration changes the animal’scharacteristicsThe are several castration methods, but all of themchange an animal’s hormone balance and destroytheir semen-producing ability. This affects several ofthe animal’s traits, such as temperament, perform-ance characteristics, as well as carcass and meatquality. The effects of castration on an animal aresummarised in the table below.

    Characteristics affected by castrationThe table describes the changes that occur after castrating bull calves.(from: Andersen, H. Refsaard, “Studeproduktion – et alternativ”)

    Temperament Animals become more gentle: the degree depends on castration method used.

    Feed intake No change

    Feed consumption Total feed consumption increases, depending on feeding intensity

    Growth rate Average reduction of 10-20 %; highest reduction with large feed rations and in

    heavy animals.

    Dressing percentage No change

    Carcass classification No change

    Fat contents Increases

    Meat quality Fat marbling doubled or tripled; increase higher, the heavier the animal at slaughter.

    Tenderness more uniform, and in general slightly better.

    Juicier meat of a generally better consistency.

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    Feeding steersBeef production on steers can be done in differentways. Here, we will describe the traditional method,according to which the steers are fattened for twoyears, with a moderate weight gain throughout theentire period. In their first winter, calves are fed likeall suckling calves for a period of 12 weeks.Thereafter, they are given first-rate grass-cloversilage and some straw. During the first winter, thedaily weight gain is about 800 g, and they thusweigh about 190 kg at turnout. The bull calves arecastrated when they are about five months, and thusbecome steers. In summer, they graze on permanentgrassland, which must be good enough to enable a

    sufficient intake of grass. Daily weight gain duringsummer is about 800 g.

    In their second winter, the steers are fed quite mod-erately with whole-crop barley silage and straw.Daily weight gain is low, about 600 g. In their sec-ond summer, they can again eat large amounts ofgrass and gain about 800 g per day. The steers canbe slaughtered when they are approximately twoyears old, and have a live weight of about 560 kg.During the last two months, a finisher ration of 2-4feed units of grain per day should be given to obtaina good meat quality.

    Grazing steers Photo: Bjarne S. Hansen

    Herd health

    The main principle in organic livestock husbandry isto prevent diseases instead of treating them. Theorganic regulations also require a longer milk dis-card time after having given medicines than in con-ventional farming. Basically, the way livestock arekept in many industrialised countries is rather unnat-ural. High stocking rates and a long indoor seasonresult in a high stress level and disease pressure forthe animals.

    The organic regulations alone are no guarantee forlivestock health. They only provide a framework,within which each farmer has to operate. Thefarmer’s understanding of the organic rules andobjectives and her ability to implement these on thefarm are what ensures a good health status in theherd. The farmer’s responsibility is to adapt thefarm’s production to the needs of the animals, andnot vice versa. It is therefore vital to have a holisticapproach to the issue of ”livestock health”, and con-stantly develop one’s understanding thereof, both at

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    the herd and a more general level. A farming systemthat takes animal health and welfare into considera-tion can be achieved in many ways. What counts ishow such a system can be put to use, and if it har-monises with the involved humans and animals.

    In the long term, the organic regulations are meantto promote the farmers’ understanding of animalhealth and welfare issues. The challenge lies in theadaptation to constantly changing regulations,which in turn means that farmers must constantly findnew measures and ways to plan their enterprise.

    Animal welfareIn brief terms, animal welfare can be described asfarm animals that: are satisfied, perform well andlead a natural life. Thus, good farm animal welfareimplies that the animals can adapt to their produc-tion conditions with minimal effect on their naturalbehaviour, without stress and other harmful physio-logical reactions, and with a low frequency of dis-eases.

    Animal welfare, or life quality, can be seen as thesum of all (positive and negative) factors to whichthe animals are exposed. Due to the multitude ofextremely variable conditions that can be experi-enced by the animals on farms, it is impossible toprecisely quantify animal welfare as a whole.

    As a consequence of the above-mentioned defini-tions, animal welfare cannot be put into very con-crete terms or described objectively. Each and everyfarmer’s subjective experiences must be seen in con-nection with scientific studies and assessments. Atthe same time, animal welfare is not merely a pro-duct of farmers’ experience and scientific insight, butis also a result of public opinion and social priori-ties. In other words, the concept of animal welfare isdue to change its meaning over time.

    Welfare in the barnThe design of livestock housing systems has a signif-icant effect on the daily welfare of both animals andthe people working there. It is therefore important tothoroughly consider one’s choice of housing systemwhen building a new barn or reconstructing an exist-ing one. The main goal for an organic dairy farmeris to ensure the welfare and health of the herd andthe person(s) working in the barn. There are numer-ous rules and regulations for organic livestock hus-bandry. Some of the general requirements include:

    • The animals’ natural behaviour and movements shall be taken into consideration.

    • All animals shall have daily exercise throughout the entire year.

    • The summer grazing period should be at least 150 days.

    • Animals shall not be tied.• Indoor resting areas shall be large enough and

    have clean, dry bedding.• Animals should be able to groom each other.• The size of the herd must not have a negative

    effect on animal welfare.

    The animal welfare regulations naturally have signi-ficant effects on the design of housing systems.However, there are other aspects to consider aswell, e.g.: The choice of housing determines the manure stor-age and spreading systems, which in turn affectscrop yields and therewith the choice of crops in therotation. Feeding facilities shall enable the optimal utilisation ofthe farm’s feed resources. For example, having feedingpassages that give the cows enough time and peace toeat beets and other hard to digest feed.One should also consider possible future consumerdemands regarding animal welfare and behaviour.

    BeddingBedding has many positive effects. It improves ani-mal hygiene, gives cleaner animals and reducesthus the risk of mastitis caused by intestinal bacteria.Bedding also increases the animals’ well-being andreduces the risk of hoof problems. However, thisrequires having a sufficient amount of the properbedding material..

    The use of deep litter, however, can promote thespread of certain infections, such as heel horn ero-sion, mastitis and high somatic cell count. For thisreason, veterinarians recommend that deep-litterhouses have sufficient area and volume, and to useplenty of straw. Good aeration of the litter layersolves many problems. It is also important that the animals do not tramplethe litter layer to pieces. The stocking rate is animportant factor, and should balance betweenensuring a dry litter layer, but also providing enoughmoisture to enable a proper composting process.

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    Exercise gives healthy cowsExercise strengthens the animal’s entire muscular sys-tem. Regular exercise makes it easier for a cow tolay down and rise, and thus helps to prevent theoccurrence of injuries in a herd. It is easier for cowsthat are in ”good shape” to groom each other andmaintain social contact.

    Open-air runsDaily exercise is necessary and positive, however,not if the animals have to exercise on uneven andstony ground. The animals must therefore have easyaccess to and from the open-air run, and one mustmake sure to keep access ways tidy and open. Well-drained paths without stones or other hindranceswhich can cause slippage or falls are the best assur-ance for the animals’ safety. Indoors, cows usuallymove very carefully on slippery surfaces. Thisincreases the risk of falling or slipping when beingpushed or rushed by another herd member. If theanimals are crowded, their heat and social behviourbecomes very restrained. It is also important for herdwelfare that lower-ranking animals have sufficientspace to yield to senior herd members, withoutbeing cornered and unnecessarily stressed. Again,to enable cows to behave naturally, slippery sur-faces should be avoided.

    Human welfare important, tooThe welfare of a herd also has a highly motivatingeffect on the welfare of the farm manager, dairymanand other people working with the animals. This hasbeen shown in Danish surveys of herd managementroutines on organic farms. The results underline theimportance of individual adaptations of housingdesign and exercising conditions. Human well-beingis improved by working with ”satisfied” animals,whose own welfare, in turn, is also affected by theworking conditions in the barn. One example is towhat degree it is possible to monitor the herd in thebarn.

    Building materialsThere is considerable focus on the design of live-stock housing facilities. In the future, more attentionwill be directed at the choice of building materials in”ecological” construction . This could include suchaspects as energy consumption in the production ofbuilding materials and working conditions for thebuilders.