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To sustainably contribute to food security of a growing and richer world population, livestock production systems are challenged to increase production levels while reducing environmental impact, being economically viable, and socially responsible. Knowledge about the sustainability performance of current livestock production systems may help to formulate strategies for future systems. Our study provides a systematic overview of differences between conventional and organic livestock production systems on a broad range of sustainability aspects and animal species available in peer-reviewed literature. Systems were compared on economy, productivity, environmental impact, animal welfare and public health. The review was limited to dairy cattle, beef cattle, pigs, broilers and laying hens, and to Europe, North America and New Zealand. Results per indicators are presented as in the articles without performing additional calculations. Out of 4171 initial search hits, 179 articles were analysed. Studies varied widely in indicators, research design, sample size and location and context. Quite some studies used small samples. No study analysed all aspects of sustainability simultaneously. Conventional systems had lower labour requirements per unit product, lower income risk per animal, higher production per animal per time unit, higher reproduction numbers, lower feed conversion ratio, lower land use, generally lower acidification and eutrophication potential per unit product, equal or better udder health for cows and equal or lower microbiological contamination. Organic systems had higher income per animal or full time employee, lower impact on biodiversity, lower eutrophication and acidification potential per unit land, equal or lower likelihood of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and higher beneficial fatty acid levels in cow milk. For most sustainability aspects, sometimes conventional and sometimes organic systems performed better, except for productivity, which was consistently higher in conventional systems. For many aspects and animal species, more data are needed to conclude on a difference between organic and conventional livestock production systems.
Livestock farming is an essential activity in many rural areas, where it contributes to the maintenance of soil fertility and farmland biodiversity, as well as to a set of social public goods including food security, rural vitality and culture. However, livestock sustainability assessments tend to focus primarily on environmental and economic dimensions; therefore, these valuations might be limited because they do not consider the complete set of associated goods and services (GS). Hence, a need exists to recognise the multiple contributions provided by livestock to human well-being and society. The objective of this study was to analyse the provision of multiple GS derived from livestock across regions in France and empirically demonstrate sets of GS that repeatedly appeared together. We designated these multiple GS provided by livestock as contributions to productive, environmental, rural vitality and cultural benefits that human populations derive directly or indirectly from livestock agroecosystems. First, we combined expert knowledge with results of a literature review to define a bundle of GS provided by livestock. We then described indicators that quantified each good or service and screened national databases to determine the availability of supporting data. Finally, we assessed the GS and their relationships (synergies or trade-offs) on a nation-wide gradient in France at the department level (Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics 3). Four main categories of GS were considered: provisioning (e.g. food quantity and quality), environmental quality (e.g. biodiversity, landscape heterogeneity, water quality), rural vitality (e.g. employment, rural dynamism) and culture (e.g. gastronomy and landscape heritage). Four major types of GS bundles were identified, which suggested strong contrasts among French rural areas in terms of the nature of the GS that occurred together and their levels of provision. GS bundles in France had a non-random spatial distribution. This study represents an initial step towards developing a methodology to consider GS bundles provided by livestock. Nonetheless, further research is needed to understand socio-economic, environmental, political and geographic determinants of the composition of GS bundles.
In response to increasing efforts for reducing concentrate inputs to organic dairy production in grassland-rich areas of Europe, a long-term study was conducted, which assessed the impacts of concentrate reductions on cows’ performance, health, fertility and average herd age. In total, 42 Swiss commercial organic dairy cattle farms were monitored over 6 years (‘Y0’, 2008/09 until ‘Y5’, 2013/14). In comparison with overall data of Swiss herdbooks (including conventional and organic farms), the herds involved in the project had lower milk yields, similar milk solids, shorter calving intervals and higher average lactation numbers. During the first 3 project years farmers reduced the concentrate proportion (i.e. cereals, oilseeds and grain legumes) in the dairy cows’ diets to varying degrees. In Y0, farms fed between 0% and 6% (dietary dry matter proportion per year) of concentrates. During the course of the study they changed the quantity of concentrates to voluntarily chosen degrees. Retrospectively, farms were clustered into five farm groups: Group ‘0-conc’ (n=6 farms) already fed zero concentrates in Y0 and stayed at this level. Group ‘Dec-to0’ (n=11) reduced concentrates to 0 during the project period. Groups ‘Dec-strong’ (n=8) and ‘Dec-slight’ (n=12) decreased concentrate amounts by >50% and <50%, respectively. Group ‘Const-conc’ (n=5 farms) remained at the initial level of concentrates during the project. Milk recording data were summarised and analysed per farm and project year. Lactation number and calving intervals were obtained from the databases of the Swiss breeders’ associations. Dietary concentrate amounts and records of veterinary treatments were obtained from the obligatory farm documentations. Data were analysed with GLMs. Daily milk yields differed significantly between farm groups already in Y0, being lowest in groups 0-conc (16.0 kg) and Dec-to0 (16.7 kg), and highest in groups Dec-slight (19.6 kg) and Const-conc (19.2 kg). Milk yield decreases across the years within groups were not significant, but urea contents in milk decreased significantly during the course of the project. Milk protein, somatic cell score, fat–protein ratio, average lactation number, calving interval and frequency of veterinary treatments did not differ by group and year. In conclusion, 5 years of concentrate reduction in low-input Swiss organic dairy farms, affected neither milk composition, nor fertility and veterinary treatments. Milk yields tended to decline, but at a low rate per saved kilogram of concentrate.
The objective of this study was to develop an automated monitoring system to detect lameness in group-housed sows early and reliably on the basis of acceleration data sampled from ear tags. To this end, acceleration data from ear tags were acquired from an experimental system deployed at the Futterkamp Agriculture Research Farm from May 2012 until November 2013. The developed method performs a wavelet transform for each individual sow’s time series of total acceleration. Feature series are then computed by locally estimating the energy, variation and variance in a small moving window. These feature series are then further decomposed into uniform level sets. From these series of level sets, the highest and lowest levels are monitored for lameness detection. To that end, they are split into a past record to serve as reference data representing a sow’s expected behaviour. The deviations between the reference and the remaining detection part of current data, termed feature activated, were then utilised to possibly indicate a lameness condition. The method was applied to a sample of 14 sows, seven of which were diagnosed as lame by a veterinarian on the last day of the sampling period of 14 days each. A prediction part of 3 days was set. Feature activated were clearly separable for the lame and healthy group with means of 8.8 and 0.8, respectively. The day-wise means were 1.93, 9.47 and 15.16 for the lame group and 0.02, 1.13 and 1.44 for the healthy group. A threshold could be set to completely avoid false positives while successfully classifying six lame sows on at least one of the 2 last days. The accuracy values for this threshold were 0.57, 0.71 and 0.78 when restricting to data from the particular day. A threshold that maximised the accuracy achieved values of 0.57, 0.79 and 0.93. Thus, the method presented seems powerful enough to suggest that an individual classification from ear tag-sampled acceleration data into lame and healthy is feasible without previous knowledge of the health status, but has to be validated by using a larger data set.
The aim of this paper was to study the relationship between milk flow emission variables recorded during milking of dairy goats with variables related to milking routine, goat physiology, milking parameters and milking machine characteristics, to determine the variables affecting milking performance and help the goat industry pinpoint farm and milking practices that improve milking performance. In total, 19 farms were visited once during the evening milking. Milking parameters (vacuum level (VL), pulsation ratio and pulsation rate, vacuum drop), milk emission flow variables (milking time, milk yield, maximum milk flow (MMF), average milk flow (AVMF), time until 500 g/min milk flow is established (TS500)), doe characteristics of 8 to 10 goats/farm (breed, days in milk and parity), milking practices (overmilking, overstripping, pre-lag time) and milking machine characteristics (line height, presence of claw) were recorded on every farm. The relationships between recorded variables and farm were analysed by a one-way ANOVA analysis. The relationships of milk yield, MMF, milking time and TS500 with goat physiology, milking routine, milking parameters and milking machine design were analysed using a linear mixed model, considering the farm as the random effect. Farm was significant (P<0.05) in all the studied variables. Milk emission flow variables were similar to those recommended in scientific studies. Milking parameters were adequate in most of the farms, being similar to those recommended in scientific studies. Few milking parameters and milking machine characteristics affected the tested variables: average vacuum level only showed tendency on MMF, and milk pipeline height on TS500. Milk yield (MY) was mainly affected by parity, as the interaction of days in milk with parity was also significant. Milking time was mainly affected by milk yield and breed. Also significant were parity, the interaction of days in milk with parity and overstripping, whereas overmilking showed a slight tendency. We concluded that most of the studied variables were mainly related to goat physiology characteristics, as the effects of milking parameters and milking machine characteristics were scarce.
Increased economic, societal and environmental challenges facing agriculture are leading to a greater focus on effective way to combine grazing and automatic milking systems (AMS). One of the fundamental aspects of robotic milking is cows’ traffic to the AMS. Numerous studies have identified feed provided, either as fresh grass or concentrate supplement, as the main incentive for cows to return to the robot. The aim of this study was to determine the effect of concentrate allocation on voluntary cow traffic from pasture to the robot during the grazing period, to highlight the interactions between grazed pasture and concentrate allocation in terms of substitution rate and the subsequent effect on average milk yield and composition. Thus, 29 grazing cows, milked by a mobile robot, were monitored for the grazing period (4 months). They were assigned to two groups: a low concentrate (LC) group (15 cows) and a high concentrate (HC) group (14 cows) receiving 2 and 4 kg concentrate/cow per day, respectively; two allocations per day of fresh pasture were provided at 0700 and 1600 h. The cows had to go through the AMS to receive the fresh pasture allocation. The effect of concentrate level on robot visitation was calculated by summing milkings, refusals and failed milkings/cow per day. The impact on average daily milk yield and composition was also determined. The interaction between lactation number and month was used as an indicator of pasture availability. Concentrate allocation increased significantly robot visitations in HC (3.60±0.07 visitations/cow per day in HC and 3.10±0.07 visitations/cow per day in LC; P<0.001) while milkings/cow per day were similar in both groups (LC: 2.37±0.02/day and HC: 2.39±0.02/day; Ns). The average daily milk yield over the grazing period was enhanced in HC (22.39±0.22 kg/cow per day in HC and 21.33±0.22 kg/cow per day in LC; P<0.001). However the gain in milk due to higher concentrate supply was limited with regards to the amount of provided concentrates. Milking frequency in HC primiparous compared with LC was increased. In the context of this study, considering high concentrate levels as an incentive for robot visitation might be questioned, as it had no impact on milking frequency and limited impact on average milk yield and composition. By contrast, increased concentrate supply could be targeted specifically to primiparous cows.
Farm animal genetic resources are threatened worldwide. Participation in markets, while representing a crucial way out of poverty for many smallholders, affects genetic management choices with associated sustainability concerns. This paper proposes a contextualized study of the interactions between markets and animal genetic resources management, in the case of sheep markets in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. It focusses on the organization of marketing chains and the valuation of genetic characteristics by value chain actors. Marketing chain characterization was tackled through semi-structured interviews with 25 exporters and 15 butchers, both specialized in sheep. Moreover, revealed preference methods were applied to analyse the impact of animals’ attributes on market pricing. Data were collected from 338 transactions during three different periods: Eid al-Adha, Christmas and New Year period, and a neutral period. The neutral period is understood as a period not close to any event likely to influence the demand for sheep. The results show that physical characteristics such as live weight, height at withers and coat colour have a strong influence on the animals’ prices. Live weight has also had an increasing marginal impact on price. The different markets (local butcher, feasts, export market, sacrifices) represent distinct demands for genetic characteristics, entailing interesting consequences for animal genetic resource management. Any breeding programme should therefore take this diversity into account to allow this sector to contribute better to a sustainable development of the country.
Recently with limited information from intensified grain-based farming systems in developed countries, livestock production is challenged as being huge consumer of freshwater. The smallholder mixed crop-livestock (MCL) system which is predominant in developing countries like Ethiopia, is maintained with considerable contributions of crop residues (CR) to livestock feeding. Inclusion of CR is expected to reduce the water requirement for feed production resulting improvement in livestock water productivity (LWP). This study was conducted to determine feed water productivity (FWP) and LWP in the MCL system. A multistage sampling procedure was followed to select farmers from different wealth status. Wealth status dictated by ownership of key farm resources such as size of cropland and livestock influenced the magnitude of livestock outputs, FWP and LWP. Significant difference in feed collected, freshwater evapotranspired, livestock outputs and water productivity (WP) were observed between wealth groups, where wealthier are relatively more advantaged. Water productivity of CR and grazing land (GL) analyzed separately showed contrasting differences where better-off gained more on CR, whereas vice versa on GL. These counterbalancing of variations may justify the non-significant difference in total FWP between wealth groups. Despite observed differences, low WP on GL indicates the need of interventions at all levels. The variation in WP of CR is attributed to availability of production factors which restrained the capacity of poor farmers most. A linear relationship between the proportion of CR in livestock feed and FWP was evident, but the relationship with LWP was not likely linear. As CR are inherently low in digestibility and nutritive values which have an effect on feed conversion into valuable livestock products and services, increasing share of CR beyond an optimum level is not a viable option to bring improvements in livestock productivity as expressed in terms of LWP. Ensuring land security, installing proper grazing management, improved forage seed supply and application of soil and water conservation are expected to enhance WP on GL. Given the relationship of production factors with crop biomass and associated WP, interventions targeted to improve provision of inputs, credit, extension and training support due emphasis to the poor would increase CR yield and reduce part of water use for feed production. Optimizing feed value of CR with treatment and supplementation, following water efficient forage production methods and maintenance of healthy productive animals are expected to amplify the benefits from livestock and eventually improve LWP.
This study aimed to assess the merit and suitability of individual functional units (FU) in expressing greenhouse gas emissions intensity in different dairy production systems. An FU provides a clearly defined and measurable reference to which input and output data are normalised. This enables the results from life-cycle assessment (LCA) of different systems to be treated as functionally equivalent. Although the methodological framework of LCA has been standardised, selection of an appropriate FU remains ultimately at the discretion of the individual study. The aim of the present analysis was to examine the effect of different FU on the emissions intensities of different dairy production systems. Analysis was based on 7 years of data (2004 to 2010) from four Holstein-Friesian dairy systems at Scotland’s Rural College’s long-term genetic and management systems project, the Langhill herd. Implementation of LCA accounted for the environmental impacts of the whole-farm systems and their production of milk from ‘cradle to farm gate’. Emissions intensity was determined as kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents referenced to six FU: UK livestock units, energy-corrected milk yield, total combined milk solids yield, on-farm land used for production, total combined on- and off-farm land used for production, and the proposed new FU–energy-corrected milk yield per hectare of total land used. Energy-corrected milk was the FU most effective for reflecting differences between the systems. Functional unit that incorporated a land-related aspect did not find difference between systems which were managed under the same forage regime, despite their comprising different genetic lines. Employing on-farm land as the FU favoured grazing systems. The proposed dual FU combining both productivity and land use did not differentiate between emissions intensity of systems as effectively as the productivity-based units. However, this dual unit displayed potential to quantify in a simple way the positive or negative outcome of trade-offs between land and production efficiencies, in which improvement in emissions intensity using one FU may be accompanied by deterioration using another FU. The perceived environmental efficiencies of different dairy production systems in terms of their emissions intensities were susceptible to change based upon the FU employed, and hence the FU used in any study needs to be taken into account in the interpretation of results.
Rearing quality dairy heifers is essential to maintain herds by replacing culled cows. Information on the key factors influencing the cost of rearing under different management systems is, however, limited and many farmers are unaware of their true costs. This study determined the cost of rearing heifers from birth to first calving in Great Britain including the cost of mortality, investigated the main factors influencing these costs across differing farming systems and estimated how long it took heifers to repay the cost of rearing on individual farms. Primary data on heifer management from birth to calving was collected through a survey of 101 dairy farms during 2013. Univariate followed by multivariable linear regression was used to analyse the influence of farm factors and key rearing events on costs. An Excel spreadsheet model was developed to determine the time it took for heifers to repay the rearing cost. The mean±SD ages at weaning, conception and calving were 62±13, 509±60 and 784±60 days. The mean total cost of rearing was £1819±387/heifer with a mean daily cost of £2.31±0.41. This included the opportunity cost of the heifer and the mean cost of mortality, which ranged from £103.49 to £146.19/surviving heifer. The multivariable model predicted an increase in mean cost of rearing of £2.87 for each extra day of age at first calving and a decrease in mean cost of £6.06 for each percentile increase in time spent at grass. The model also predicted a decrease in the mean cost of rearing in autumn and spring calving herds of £273.20 and £288.56, respectively, compared with that in all-year-round calving herds. Farms with herd sizes⩾100 had lower mean costs of between £301.75 and £407.83 compared with farms with <100 milking cows. The mean gross margin per heifer was £441.66±304.56 (range £367.63 to £1120.08), with 11 farms experiencing negative gross margins. Most farms repaid the cost of heifer rearing in the first two lactations (range 1 to 6 lactations) with a mean time from first calving until breaking even of 530±293 days. The results of the economic analysis suggest that management decisions on key reproduction events and grazing policy significantly influence the cost of rearing and the time it takes for heifers to start making a profit for the farm.
Soil is the main matrix which contributes to the transfer of environmental pollutants to animals and consequently into the food chain. In the French West Indies, chlordecone, a very persistent organochlorine pesticide, has been widely used on banana growing areas and this process has resulted in a long-term pollution of the corresponding soils. Domestic outside-reared herbivores are exposed to involuntary soil intake, and tethered grazing commonly used in West Indian systems can potentially favour their exposure to chlordecone. Thus, it appears necessary to quantify to what extent grazing conditions will influence soil intake. This experiment consisted of a cross-over design with two daily herbage allowance (DHA) grazed alternatively. Six young Creole bulls were distributed into two groups (G1 and G2) according to their BW. The animals were individually tethered and grazed on a restrictive (RES) or non-restrictive (NRES) levels of DHA during two successive 10-days periods. Each bull progressed on a new circular area every day. The two contrasting levels of DHA (P<0.001) were obtained via a different daily grazing surface area (RES: 20 m2/animal, NRES: 31 m2/animal; P<0.01) offered to the animals by the modulation of the length of the tethering chain (RES: 1.9 m, NRES: 2.6 m). These differences in offered grazing areas resulted in DHA of 71 and 128 g DM/kg BW0.75, respectively for RES and NRES treatments. As expected, the animals grazing on the reduced area realized a lower daily dry matter intake (DMI) (RES: 1.12 kg/100 kg BW, NRES: 1.83 kg/100 kg BW; P<0.05) and present a lower organic matter digestibility (RES: 0.67, NRES: 0.73; P<0.01) than NRES ones, due in part to the shorter post-grazing sward surface height (RES: 3.3 cm, NRES: 5.2 cm; P<0.01) of their grazing circles. Soil intake was estimated on an individual level based on the ratio of the marker titanium in soil, herbage and faeces. Grazing closer to the ground, animals on RES treatment ingested a significantly higher proportion of soil in their total DMI (RES: 9.3%, NRES: 4.4%; P<0.01). The amount of ingested soil in the diet was not significantly different between the two treatments (RES: 98 g/100 kg BW, NRES: 78 g/100 kg BW; P>0.05) due to the lower DMI of RES compared with NRES treatment.
Evaluation of lifetime productivity of individual animals in response to various interventions allows assessment of long-term investment opportunities for farmers. In order to gain a better understanding of promising feed interventions for improvement of small ruminant production in Southwestern Nigeria, a dynamic modelling approach was used to explore the effect of different feeding strategies on the lifetime productivity of West African Dwarf (WAD) goats. Modifications were made to the current version of Livestock Simulator developed for cattle production to simulate goat production systems particularly for WAD goats. Effects of changes in input parameters (quality of feed and potential adult weight) confirmed the sensitivity of the modelled weight development and reproductive performance. The values of simulated model outputs corresponded well with observed values for most of the variables, except for the pre-weaning mortality rate in the cut-and-carry system where a wide discrepancy between simulated (2.1%) and observed (23%) data was found. The scenario analysis showed that simulated goats in the free grazing system attained sexual maturity and kidded much later than those in the grazing with supplementation and the cut-and-carry systems. The simulated results suggested that goats require supplementation with protein and energy sources, in order to promote lifetime productivity, early sexual maturity and higher birth weight. In terms of economic returns based on feed cost alone, the moderately intense system produced the most profit. We therefore conclude that grazing with adequate supplementation using farm-generated feed resources offers an opportunity for improving smallholder goat production systems in West Africa.
In the global South, dairying is often promoted as a means of poverty alleviation. Yet, under conditions of climate warming, little is known regarding the ability of small-scale dairy producers to maintain production and/or the robustness of possible adaptation options in meeting the challenges presented, particularly heat stress. The authors created a simple, deterministic model to explore the influence of breed and heat stress relief options on smallholder dairy farmers in Odisha, India. Breeds included indigenous Indian (non-descript), low-grade Jersey crossbreed and high-grade Jersey crossbreed. Relief strategies included providing shade, fanning and bathing. The impact of predicted critical global climate parameters, a 2°C and 4°C temperature rise were explored. A feed price scenario was modelled to illustrate the importance of feed in impact estimation. Feed costs were increased by 10% to 30%. Across the simulations, high-grade Jersey crossbreeds maintained higher milk yields, despite being the most sensitive to the negative effects of temperature. Low-capital relief strategies were the most effective at reducing heat stress impacts on household income. However, as feed costs increased the lower-grade Jersey crossbreed became the most profitable breed. The high-grade Jersey crossbreed was only marginally (4.64%) more profitable than the indigenous breed. The results demonstrate the importance of understanding the factors and practical trade-offs that underpin adaptation. The model also highlights the need for hot-climate dairying projects and programmes to consider animal genetic resources alongside environmentally sustainable adaptation measures for greatest poverty impact.
Attempts to lower the environmental footprint of milk production needs a sound understanding of the genetic and nutritional basis of methane (CH4) emissions from the dairy production systems. This in turn requires accurate and reliable techniques for the measurement of CH4 output from individual cows. Many of the available measurement techniques so far are either slow, expensive, labor intensive and are unsuitable for large-scale individual animal measurements. The main objectives of this study were to examine and validate a non-invasive individual cow CH4 measurement system that is based on photoacoustic IR spectroscopy (PAS) technique implemented in a portable gas analysis equipment (F10), referred to as PAS-F10 method and to estimate the magnitude of between-animal variations in CH4 output traits. Data were collected from 115 Nordic Red cows of the Minkiö experimental dairy farm, at the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke). Records on continuous daily measurements of CH4, milk yield, feed intake and BW measurements over 2 years period were compiled for data analysis. The daily CH4 output was calculated using carbon dioxide as a tracer method. Estimates from the non-invasive PAS-F10 technique were then tested against open-circuit indirect respiration calorimetric chamber measurements and against estimates from other widely used prediction models. Concordance analysis was used to establish agreement between the chamber and PAS-F10 methods. A linear mixed model was used for the analysis of the large continuous data. The daily CH4 output of cows was 555 l/day and ranged from 330 to 800 l/day. Dry matter intake, level of milk production, lactation stage and diurnal variation had significant effects on daily CH4 output. Estimates of the daily CH4 output from PAS-F10 technique compared relatively well with the other techniques. The concordance correlation coefficient between combined weekly CH4 output estimates of PAS-F10 and chamber was 0.84 with lower and upper confidence limits of 0.65 and 0.93, respectively. Similarly, when chamber CH4 measurements were predicted from PAS-F10 measurements, the mean of two separate weekly PAS-F10 measurements gave the lowest prediction error variance than either of the separate weekly PAS-F10 measurements alone. This suggests that every other week PAS-F10 measurements when combined would improve the estimation of CH4 output with PAS-F10 technique. The repeatability of daily CH4 output from PAS-F10 technique ranged from 0.40 to 0.46 indicating that some between-animal variation exist in CH4 output traits.
Africa has a shortage of animal products but increasing demand because of population growth, urbanisation and changing consumer patterns. Attempts to boost livestock production through the use of breeding technologies such as artificial insemination (AI) have been failing in many countries because costs have escalated and success rates have been relatively low. One example is Kenya, a country with a relatively large number of cows and a dairy industry model relevant to neighbouring countries. There, an innovative dairy marketing approach (farmer-owned collective marketing systems called dairy hubs) has been implemented to enhance access to dairy markets and dairy-related services, including breeding services such as AI. So far, the rate of participation in these dairy hubs has been slow and mixed. In order to understand this phenomenon better and to inform dairy-related development activities by the Kenyan government, we investigated which characteristics of AI services, offered through the dairy hubs, farmers prefer. To do so, we applied a choice experiment (CE), a non-market valuation technique, which allowed us to identify farmers’ preferences for desired characteristics should more dairy hubs be installed in the future. This is the first study to use a CE to evaluate breeding services in Kenya and the results can complement findings of studies of breeding objectives and selection criteria. The results of the CE reveal that dairy farmers prefer to have AI services offered rather than having no service. Farmers prefer AI services to be available at dairy hubs rather than provided by private agents not affiliated to the hubs, to have follow-up services for pregnancy detections, and to use sexed semen rather than conventional semen. Farmers would further like some flexibility in payment systems which include input credit, and are willing to share the costs of any AI repeats that may need to occur. These results provide evidence of a positive attitude to AI services provided through the hubs, which could mean that AI uptake would improve if service characteristics are improved to match farmer preferences. The dairy hubs concept is currently in the implementation phase with most hubs at startup phase, hence understanding which AI service characteristics farmers prefer can inform the design of high-quality and cost-effective AI services in the future.
Many local livestock breeds in developing countries are being replaced by exotic breeds, leading to a loss of genetic resources. In southern Mali, for the past two decades, a trend towards increasing crossbreeding between the trypanotolerant N’Dama cattle and the trypano-susceptible Fulani Zebu cattle has been taking place. A survey with 160 farmers owning a cattle herd was carried out in southern Mali to investigate their production objectives, as well as trait and breed preferences and correlated socio-economic determinants in order to understand farmers’ breeding decisions and to identify comparative advantages of three breed groups (N’Dama, Fulani Zebu and crossbreds) raised in the study area. Data were analyzed using an exploded logit model. The reasons for raising cattle, as well as trait and breed preferences reflected the multiple objectives of the farmers. Draught power and savings were the most important production objectives. Productive traits were ranked highest; farmers reported large body size as the most preferred trait, followed by fertility, draught ability and milk yield. Crossbreds were the favored breed group. Breed preferences were mainly explained by ‘resistance to disease’ for N’Dama cattle and ‘high market price’ for Fulani Zebu and crossbred cattle. Production objectives, trait and breed preferences were mainly influenced by farmer group (local farmers and settled transhumants). Local farmers put comparatively more emphasis on livestock functions linked to crop production such as draught power. They had a higher preference for traction ability as a selection trait and preferred N’Dama over Fulani Zebu cattle. Settled transhumants emphasized milk yield as a selection trait and preferred Fulani Zebu over N’Dama. The results indicate that the trend towards more crossbreeding will continue putting the N’Dama breed under high risk of genetic dilution in southern Mali. The N’Dama cattle remain a valuable breed due to their adaptive traits such as disease and drought tolerance and their good traction ability, fulfilling the diverse objectives of local farmers. Crossbreeding was found to be a promising breeding strategy, which might contribute to the maintenance of the local breed, provided that breeding schemes are thoroughly planned and organized.
Calving difficulty (CD) is a key functional trait with significant influence on herd profitability and animal welfare. Breeding plays an important role in managing CD both at farm and industry level. An alternative to the economic value approach to determine the CD penalty is to complement the economic models with the analysis of farmer perceived on-farm impacts of CD. The aim of this study was to explore dairy and beef farmer views and perceptions on the economic and non-economic on-farm consequences of CD, to ultimately inform future genetic selection tools for the beef and dairy industries in Ireland. A standardised quantitative online survey was released to all farmers with e-mail addresses on the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation database. In total, 271 farmers completed the survey (173 beef farmers and 98 dairy farmers). Both dairy and beef farmers considered CD a very important issue with economic and non-economic components. However, CD was seen as more problematic by dairy farmers, who mostly preferred to slightly reduce its incidence, than by beef farmers, who tended to support increases in calf value even though it would imply a slight increase in CD incidence. Farm size was found to be related to dairy farmer views of CD with farmers from larger farms considering CD as more problematic than farmers from smaller farms. CD breeding value was reported to be critical for selecting beef sires to mate with either beef or dairy cows, whereas when selecting dairy sires, CD had lower importance than breeding values for other traits. There was considerable variability in the importance farmers give to CD breeding values that could not be explained by the farm type or the type of sire used, which might be related to the farmer non-economic motives. Farmer perceived economic value associated with incremental increases in CD increases substantially as the CD level considered increases. This non-linear relationship cannot be reflected in a standard linear index weighting. The results of this paper provide key underpinning support to the development of non-linear index weightings for CD in Irish national indexes.
Beef production from cull cows is an additional source of income for dairy farms and greatly contributes to red meat production, but the sources of variation of live animal characteristics and the carcass traits of cull cows have rarely been examined. This study investigated the effects of the farm type, breed, age at slaughter (AGE) and calving to culling interval (Calv_Cull) on the body traits and carcass characteristics of dairy and dual-purpose cull cows. Data from 555 cull cows from 182 herds belonging to five farm types, characterised by a combination of housing and feeding systems, were recorded and analysed. Dairy breeds, such as Holstein Friesian and Brown Swiss, and dual-purpose breeds (Simmental, Rendena) were included in the trait assessments. The day before slaughter, the cows were weighed and scored for body condition (BCS) and fleshiness, and then, their heart girth and wither height were measured. At the slaughterhouse, the carcass weight (CW), dressing percentage (DP), carcass conformation and fatness scores, carcass price per kg and carcass total value were obtained. On average, the cows were slaughtered at nearly 71±27 months of age, 285±187 days after the last calving; 615±95 kg BW; and provided a 257±51 kg CW. Nearly 50% of the cows fell within the BCS range of 2.75 to 3.50, and the carcasses were mostly graded in the lowest class of conformation and fatness scores. Cull cows from free-stall farms had a higher DP, carcass conformation score and price than those from traditional tie-stall farms. The breed influenced the AGE, live animal characteristics and carcass traits. Cows from dairy breeds were younger at slaughter, had a lower BCS and fleshiness, and greater body measurements, but a lower DP and carcass price than those from dual-purpose breeds, although differences between the breeds were found within both groups. The age of the cows at slaughter influenced the Calv_Cull and increased the BW, body measurements and CW, but not the fleshiness and fatness appreciation (both in vivo and postmortem) or carcass price. The increasing Calv_Cull improved the BW, BCS, fleshiness, CW and carcass conformation and fatness. In conclusion, the decision to cull dairy cows should also take into account the factors that affect their carcass value in regards to improving the carcass price of cows.
Assessing the carrying capacity is of primary importance in arid rangelands. This becomes even more important during droughts, when rangelands exhibit non-equilibrium dynamics, and the dynamics of livestock conditions and forage resource are decoupled. Carrying capacity is usually conceived as an equilibrium concept, that is, the consumer density that can co-exist in long-term equilibrium with the resource. As one of the first, here we address the concept of carrying capacity in systems, where there is no feedback between consumer and resource in a limited period of time. To this end, we developed an individual-based model describing the basic characteristics of a rangeland during a drought. The model represents a rangeland composed by a single water point and forage distributed all around, with livestock units moving from water to forage and vice versa, for eating and drinking. For each livestock unit we implemented an energy balance and we accounted for the gut-filling effect (i.e. only a limited amount of forage can be ingested per unit time). Our results showed that there is a temporal threshold above which livestock begin to experience energy deficit and burn fat reserves. We demonstrated that such a temporal threshold increases with the number of animals and decreases with the rangeland conditions (amount of forage). The temporal threshold corresponded to the time livestock take to consume all the forage within a certain distance from water, so that the livestock can return to water for drinking without spending more energy than they gain within a day. In this study, we highlight the importance of a time threshold in the assessment of carrying capacity in non-equilibrium conditions. Considering this time threshold could explain contrasting observations about the influence of livestock number on livestock conditions. In case of private rangelands, the herd size should be chosen so that the spatial threshold equals (or exceeds) the length of the drought.
Cow longevity and lifetime performance traits are good indicators of breeding effectiveness and animal welfare. They are also interrelated with the economics of dairy herd. Unfortunately, a high milk yield is often associated with deteriorated cow health and fertility and, consequently, with an increased culling rate. This situation, observed also in the Polish population of Holstein-Friesian cattle, inspired us to undertake a study on the associations between some factors and lifetime performance characteristics. The data set consisted of the records on 135 496 cows, including 131 526 of the Black and White strain (BW), and 3970 of the Red and White strain (RW) covered by performance recording and culled in 2012. It was found that cows of the BW strain and those from the largest herds (>100 cows) reached higher lifetime and mean daily energy-corrected milk (ECM) yields than cows of the RW strain and those from smaller herds culled at a similar age. Cows youngest at first calving (<2.0 years) were characterised by the highest lifetime ECM yield. It indicates that heifers can be bred even when they are younger than 15 to 16 months with no significant negative effect on their later performance. Infertility and reproduction problems (39.6%) and udder diseases (15.5%) constituted the most frequent reasons for cow culling. Cow longevity and lifetime productivity were considerably affected by the interactions between the studied factors.