Is grazing a feeding or housing system for animals?

Current national law does not include specific solutions and regulations for the system of keeping cattle year-round on pasture, without buildings or shelters for the animals.

Polish law speaks of an open system, which consists of group housing of animals and grazing on a fenced, limited area of native land, with permanent access to water and feeding based not only on grazing, but also on fodder provided by the farmer. In practice, the open system corresponds to American feedlots – a small area with high stocking densities, where feeding with feed delivered from outside the pasture is required.

In Poland, the pasture system is not specifically regulated by law, and it is a system of feeding, not keeping animals.

It is worth noting that pasture feeding is a labor-intensive challenge – it requires frequent changes of pasture and great care. The herd grazing system, on the other hand, creates very good welfare conditions that improve health, immunity or reproductive parameters.

In some European Union countries specializing in beef production from beef breeds, year-round grazing as a livestock housing system is widely used. This type of maintenance also seems appropriate in mountainous areas with milder climates.

What is a pasture?

A pasture is a permanent grassland used for food, usually with periodic residence of animals in a single plot.

Fertilization is used in pastures, while no fertilizer is used in the subsistence system.

When grazing, animals remain in the vicinity of watercourses for short periods of time. The distance-to-water regulations then do not apply, unlike in the case of an open system, for which the requirements of the nitrate program in this regard must be applied. This is due to the fact that in an open system, animals remain in the same place and at a significant density throughout the year, which can pose a risk of nitrate contamination of waterways.

Nitrate program – grazing and open system solutions

Revised in 2023. nitrate program introduces the following references to grazing and open system:

  • According to the definition of “open system,” as defined in the regulations issued under the Law of August 21, 1997. on animal protection (Journal of Laws 2022, item 572 and 2375), consists of group housing of animals without the use of buildings and grazing on a fenced, limited area of native land, with permanent access to water and feeding based on feed provided by the breeder.
  • Year-round grazing of ruminants is not an open system and does not require plates and tanks for storing natural fertilizers (animal manure). However, it should be remembered that if pasture is used as partial cover for part of the year, the farmer is bound by the provisions of the nitrate program regarding manure storage areas.
  • When calculating the area/capacity of manure storage areas, the appropriate grazing deduction factors are applied.
  • Nitrogen application rate from natural fertilizers in pasture areas must not exceed 170 kg N/year.
  • In open and semi-open systems, the deposition of natural fertilizers on the available land surface must not exceed 170 kg N/ha/year.
  • For the grazing of ruminant animals and equines, as a way of feeding them, excluding the open system, and with particular regard to year-round maintenance on pasture, if climatic conditions allow, a shortened cycle of elements for fertilization with natural fertilizers is adopted. The amount of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) introduced with manures during grazing is limited by the green or dry matter productivity of the pasture sward, as specified in the feeding schedule for each technological group of ruminant and equine species. It is assumed that N and P deposition from natural fertilization/defection balances the uptake of these nutrients from forage. Losses in this abbreviated cycle of elemental cycles are covered by mineral fertilization, subject to mandatory balancing.

Dose of 170 kg of nitrogen from natural fertilizers per hectare per year

According to the requirements of the Water Law, the annual application rate of natural fertilizers (livestock manure) used for agriculture may not contain more than 170 kg of nitrogen in pure component per hectare of agricultural land. In order to meet the aforementioned. requirement, livestock density per hectare should be approx. 2.2 DJP. The detailed method of calculating the dose and stocking rate is determined by the nitrate program.

For agricultural land, according to Art. 2 paragraph. 1, second paragraph, point (f) of Regulation No. 1305/2013, any area occupied by arable land, permanent grassland and permanent pasture or permanent crops shall be taken.

Support for grazing of dairy cows under EU measures

In recent years, the incentive to graze dairy cows has been financial support under the “Animal Welfare” measure of the Rural Development Program 2014 – 2020 (Option 2.1 Dairy Cow Welfare – Grazing). The criterion for taking advantage of this form of support is that dairy cows must be provided with at least 120 days of untethered grazing, between April 1 and October 15, for a minimum of six hours a day, and a grazing record must be kept.

Support for grazing, keeping animals open, is also provided for in the Strategic Plan for the Common Agricultural Policy for 2023 – 2027.

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