Dairy farmer practices and attitudes relating to pasture-based and indoor production systems in Scotland.

Orla K. Shortall and Altea Lorenzo-Arribas

This study assesses the practices and views of Scottish dairy farmers relating to pasture-based and indoor systems. There are the debates about the environmental, economic and animal welfare implications of these systems. Indoor dairy farming is a contentious practice among the public. While this controversy is sometimes represented as a lack of public understanding, there is a need for more research on farmers’ views to facilitate discussion in the industry. A survey was posted to 909 dairy farmers in Scotland with questions about their grazing practices and attitudes to grazing and indoor systems. 254 surveys were completed, online and in paper form. There was a 26% response rate to the paper version of the survey. The results showed that 19% of respondents housed some or all the cows all year-round. 68% agreed or strongly agreed that cows should graze for part of the year and 51% agreed or strongly agreed that welfare was better if cows grazed for part of the year. These views coexisted with the view that management was more important than the type of system for determining profitability or welfare outcomes (83% and 82% strongly agree or agree respectively). Respondents whose system involved grazing and respondents who had spent longer in farming were moderately more likely to agree that cows should have access to pasture, and slightly less likely to agree that management was more important than system for determining welfare outcomes. The results indicate that the picture is more complicated than the public rejecting indoor dairy farming and those in the industry accepting it. The results showed that a majority preference for cows to graze co-existed with the view that management was more important than system. In terms of industry and policy recommendations, the research suggests that measures should be taken to safeguard farmers’ ability to graze through for instance research and advisory support on grazing; ensuring different systems are not penalised in the development of dairy sector environmental measures and recommendations; and potentially supply chains that financially rewards farmers for grazing.

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