Objectives, impacts and benefits
The current animal welfare legislation requires cows housed in tie-stalls to have access to pasture; however, this requirement does not apply to cows loosely housed cows. Presently, the majority of farms utilize tie-stall housing, but the trends in dairy farming are leading to increased herd size. As farms grow larger, loose housing will become the predominate form of housing. This suggests that a proactive approach to incorporate of pasture use will be needed to both ensure animal welfare on-farm as well as meet consumer expectations regarding animal welfare. Beyond animal welfare issues, increased use of pastures has the potential to provide environmental services that can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. In order to promote wider use of pasture on Finnish farms, there are key questions that need to be addressed. First, it needs to be established if the benefits of pasture, related to animal welfare, are driven by the opportunity to graze forages or from simply getting outdoors. Second, the duration of time in which cows are provided access to the outdoors needs to be determined in order to balance this component of management with access to other feeds and milking facilities. Furthermore, the duration of pasture use may affect its ability to sequester carbon. Finally, understanding farmers’ attitudes towards the use of pasture and its role in animal welfare and carbon mitigation is critical for developing recommendations, which will be readily implemented. We have proposed a series of experiments to address these critical gaps and establish guidelines for pasture use across Finnish dairy farms.