24 January 2024

Ecology in cattle breeding in the EU

Currently, interest in an ecological approach to cattle breeding is constantly growing in the European Union. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of organic farms – this trend remains at approximately 10% per year. Importantly, changing the approach to breeding has many positive effects.

What are the characteristics of ecological breeding?

Organic breeding focuses on providing the most favourable living conditions for animals. It is crucial to provide the animal with adequate space. The minimum area in a barn for a cow must be at least 6 m2, and the area of the run is at least 4.5 m2 per animal. The run must also meet additional requirements and have a roof or provide other protection against extreme weather conditions. Regulations have been created that specify the equipment required in buildings intended for farm animals, such as: lighting, adequate ventilation, natural bedding and constant access to fresh water.

Another important element in organic cattle breeding is to familiarize farmers with the applicable directive, the so-called nitrate directive. This is a key EU regulation that focuses on protecting water against nitrate pollution from agriculture. The directive strictly defines the permissible level of nitrogen in natural fertilizers applied per hectare of field. Per one hectare of land owned, a farmer can keep 2 dairy cows or 5 calves or 7 sows or 14 fattening pigs or 230 laying hens or 2 horses or 100 female breeding rabbits.[1]

The issue of cattle grazing is also included in the framework of ecological breeding. Its basis is access to a pasture where animals can adjust the amount of green fodder to their current needs and the appropriate dose of exercise to maintain health and physical condition. The quality of the pasture is important and should contain approximately 65% grass, 25% legumes and a maximum of 20% herbs and weeds. The quality of the pasture translates, at a later stage, into improved animal resistance to diseases resulting from nutrient deficiencies.

Benefits of organic farming

The benefits of organic cattle breeding are not only at farm level (e.g. increased subsidies per hectare, prospects for reaching new consumer groups, higher prices for livestock), but also for all of society. In the case of organic farming, the soil is not exploited as much as in conventional production, which involves, for example, more intensive fertilization and chemical treatments. Organic breeding is environmentally friendly, and meat from organic farms is a high-value, sustainably produced product[2].