Skip to main content Accessibility help

Dairy cow nutrition in organic farming systems. Comparison with the conventional system

  • I. Orjales (a1), M. Lopez-Alonso (a2), M. Miranda (a1), H. Alaiz-Moretón (a3), C. Resch (a4) and S. López (a5)...


The energy supplied by the high-forage diets used in organic farming may be insufficient to meet the requirements of dairy cattle. However, few studies have considered this problem. The present study aimed to analyze the composition of the diets and the nutritional status (focusing on the energy–protein balance of the diets) of dairy cattle reared on organic farms in northern Spain, which are similar to other organic farming systems in temperate regions. Exhaustive information about diets was obtained from organic (ORG) and representative conventional grazing (GRZ) and conventional no-grazing (CNG) farms. Samples of feed from the respective farms were analyzed to determine the composition. Overall, the diets used on the ORG farms were very different from those used on the CNG farms, although the difference was not as evident for GRZ. The CNG farms were characterized by a higher total dry matter intake with a high proportion of concentrate feed, maize silage and forage silage. By contrast, on ORG and GRZ farms, the forage, pasture and fibre intake were the most important variables. The ration used on ORG farms contained a significantly higher percentage of ADF and lower organic matter (OM) content than the rations used in both of the conventional farming systems, indicating that the diets in the former were less digestible. Although the protein concentration in the diets used on the grazing farms (ORG and GRZ) was higher than those used on CNG farms, the protein intake was similar. The results indicated an imbalance between energy and protein due to the low level of energy provided by the ORG diets, suggesting that more microbial protein could be synthesized from the available rumen-degraded dietary nitrogen if rumen-fermentable OM was not limiting. The imbalance between energy and protein led to a reduced amount of total digestible protein reaching the intestine and a lower milk yield per kilogram of CP intake on the ORG farms. In order to improve the protein use efficiency and consequently to reduce the loss of nitrogen to the environment, organic farming should aim to increase the energy content of cattle diets by improving forage quality and formulating rations with more balanced combinations of forage and grain.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Abuelo, A, Hernández, J, Benedito, JL and Castillo, C 2014. A comparative study of the metabolic profile, insulin sensitivity and inflammatory response between organically and conventionally managed dairy cattle during the periparturient period. Animal 8, 15161525.
Baldinger, L, Zollitsch, W and Knaus, WF 2011. Maize silage and Italian ryegrass silage as high-energy forages in organic dairy cow diets: differences in feed intake, milk yield and quality, and nitrogen efficiency. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 28, 378387.
Beever, DE and Doyle, PT 2007. Feed conversion efficiency as a key determinant of dairy herd performance: a review. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 47, 645657.
Blair, R 2011. Nutrition and feeding of organic cattle. Ed. Cab International, Reading, UK.
Chiang, M and Mirkin, B 2010. Intelligent choice of the number of clusters in K-means clustering: an experimental study with different cluster spreads. Journal of Classification 27, 340.
Commision Regulation (EC) 2008. Commission Regulation (EC) No 889/2008 of 5 September 2008 laying down detailed rules for the implementation of Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 on organic production and labelling of organic products with regard to organic production, labelling and control. Official Journal of the European Union L250, 1–132.
Eckard, RJ, Grainger, C and de Klein, CAM 2010. Options for the abatement of methane and nitrous oxide from ruminant production: a review. Livestock Science 130, 4756.10.1016/j.livsci.2010.02.010
Erlt, P, Knaus, W and Steinwidder, A 2014. Comparison of zero concentrate supplementation with different quantities of concentrates in terms of production, animal health, and profitability of organic dairy farms in Austria. Organic Agriculture 4, 233242.
Erlt, P, Zebeli, Q, Zollitsch, W and Knaus, W 2017. Effects of supplementation of a forage-only diet with wheat bran and sugar beet pulp in organic dairy cows. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 32, 446453.
González-Rodríguez, A and Vázque-Yáñez, AP 2006. Utilización del contenido de urea en leche en el diagnóstico de la alimentación del ganado lechero. CIAM publications, Animal Production, pp. 459–453. Available in:
Hammer, Ø, Harper, DAT and Ryan, PD 2001. PAST: paleontological statistics software package for education and data analysis. Palaeontologia Electronica 4, 19.
Hammon, HM, Stürmer, G, Schneider, F, Tuchscherer, A, Blum, H, Engelhard, T, Genzel, A, Staufenbiel, R and Kanitz, W 2009. Performance and metabolic and endocrine changes with emphasis on glucose metabolism in high-yielding dairy cows with high and low fat content in liver after calving. Journal of Dairy Science 92, 15541556.
Hardie, CA, Wattiaux, M, Dutreuil, M, Gildersleeve, R, Keuler, NS and Cabrera, VE 2014. Feeding strategies on certified organic dairy farms in Wisconsin and their effect on milk production and income over feed costs. Journal of Dairy Science 97, 112.
Heublein, C, Dohme-Meier, F, Sudekum, K-H, Bruckmaier, RM, Thanner, S and Schori, F 2017. Impact of cow strain and concentrate supplementation on grazing behaviour, milk yield and metabolic state of dairy cows in an organic pasture-based feeding system. Animal 11, 11631173.
Hofstetter, P, Frey, HJ, Gazzarin, C, Wyss, U and Kunz, P 2014. Dairy farming: indoor vs. pasture-based feeding. Journal of Agricultural Science 152, 9941011.
INRA 1989. Ruminant nutrition: recommended allowances and feed tables. INRA Editions, Paris, France.
INRA 2008. INRAtion- PrévAlim, Logiciel de rationnement pour ruminants. Educagri Editions, Dijon, France.
Jonker, JS, Khon, RA and High, J 2002. Use of milk urea nitrogen to improve dairy cow diets. Journal of Dairy Science 85, 939946.
Kirchgessner, M, Kreuzer, M and Roth-Maier, EA 1986. Milk urea and protein content to diagnose energy and protein malnutrition of dairy cows. Archives of Animal Nutrition 36, 192197.
Koesling, M, Hansen, S and Bleken, MA 2017. Variations in nitrogen utilisation on conventional and organic dairy farms in Norway. Agricultural Systems 157, 1121.
Leiber, F, Dorn, K, Probst, JK, Isensee, A, Ackermann, N, Kuhn, A and Neff, AS 2015. Concentrate reduction and sequential roughage offer to dairy cows: effects on milk protein yield, protein efficiency and milk quality. Journal of Dairy Research 82, 272278.
Leiber, F, Schenk, IK, Maeschli, A, Ivemeyer, S, Zeitz, JO, Moakes, S, Klocke, P, Staehli, P, Notz, C and Walkenhorst, M 2017. Implications of feed concentrate reduction in organic grassland-based dairy systems: a long-term on-farm study. Animal 11, 20512060.10.1017/S1751731117000830
Manteca, X, Villalba, JJ, Atwood, SB, Dziba, L and Provenza, FD 2008. Is dietary choice important to animal welfare? Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 3, 229239.
Mazumder, AR and Kumagai, H 2006. Analyses of factors affecting dry matter intake of lactating dairy cows. Animal Science Journal 77, 5362.
Orjales, I, Herrero-Latorre, C, Miranda, M, Rey-Crespo, F, Rodríguez-Bermúdez, R and Lopez-Alonso, M 2018. Evaluation of trace element status of organic dairy cattle. Animal 12, 12961305.10.1017/S1751731117002890
Randby, AT, Weisbjerg, MR, Noggard, P and Heringstad, B 2012. Early lactation feed intake and milk yield responses of dairy cows offered grass silage harvested at early maturity stages. Journal of Dairy Science 95, 304317.
Rodríguez-Bermúdez, R, Miranda, M, Orjales, I, Rey-Crespo, F, Muñoz, N and López-Alonso, M. 2017. Holstein-Friesian milk performance in organic farming in North Spain: comparison with other systems and breeds. Spanish Journal of Agricultural Research 15, e0601 (10 pages). Published online by INIA 17 January 2017.
Shennan, C, Krupnik, TJ, Baird, G, Cohen, H, Forbush, K, Lovell, RJ and Olimpi, EM 2017. Organic and conventional agriculture: a useful framing? Annual Review of Environment and Resources 42, 317346.
Sorge, US, Moon, R, Wolff, LJ, Michels, K, Schroth, S, Kelton, DF and Heins, B 2016. Management practices on organic and conventional dairy herds in Minnesota. Journal of Dairy Science 99, 31833192.
Steinshamn, H and Thuen, E 2008. White or red clover-grass silage in organic dairy milk production: Grassland productivity and milk production responses with different levels of concentrate. Livestock Science 119, 202215.
Van Vuuren, AM and Van Den Pol-Van Dasselaar, A 2006. Grazing systems and feed supplementation. In Fresh herbage for dairy cattle (ed. A. Elgersma, J. Dijkstra and S. Tamminga), pp. 85101. Springer, Netherlands.
Van Wagenberg, CPA, de Haas, Y, Hogeveen, H, van Krimpen, MM, Meuwissen, MPM, van Middelaar, CE and Rodenburg, TB 2017. Animal board invited review: comparing conventional and organic livestock production systems on different aspects of sustainability. Animal 11, 18391851.
Velik, M, Baumung, R and Knaus, W 2008. Maize silage as an energy supplement in organic dairy cow rations. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 23, 155160.10.1017/S1742170507002104
Weller, RF and Bowling, PJ 2007. The importance of nutrient balance, cropping strategy and quality of dairy cow diets in sustainable organic systems. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 87, 27682773.
de Wit, M, Bardout, M, Ramkumar, S and Kubbinga, B 2016. The circular dairy economy. Retrieved on 05 July 2018 from



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed