Nowadays society pointed at animal production and intensive livestock farming as the cause of several global problems linked to animal protein: climate crisis, environmental sustainability, pollution, greenhouse gas, animal welfare, ethics, antibiotic resistance, viruses spread, diseases.
At the same time, “good food” culture is widely spread: all people think to be cooking experts (Slowood, Masterchef, etc) and they are looking for healthy and tasty foods.
In our society, even babies know Starred Chefs but ignore what kind of animal is a chicken or where are from the milk of their breakfast. Even a lot of adults (including mothers!) don’t know that calving is necessary for the cow to produce milk.
Scientific knowledge of livestock biology is now at the peak: there are genetic maps to explain physiology, many pieces of research about every functional aspect of animal nutrition, going deeper and deeper to revolutionize animal production. Anyway, our public, customers, are more convinced than ever that the only fair animal production looks like an advertisement: in the field, with grass, sun, and flowers everywhere.
The easiest explanation is the urbanization of our society and the need for fast and ready food far away from the countrysides. The food demand from densely populated places is for sure at the basis of the intensive livestock farming and the monocultures developed during the last decades, but it is non-sense to look only to the negative aspects of our society ignoring its “natural” evolution.
One of the major problems is that we look at the rest of the world through our developed, prosperous, over-nourished, and judgmental eyes. The world population will reach 9 billion in 30 years and each of these people will need food. A vast majority of the 1.5 billion new people will be born in developing countries. Only very few people think that the higher the income per capita and economic availability, the higher the demand for animal protein as meat and milk, regardless of cultural and religious aspects. Unfortunately, world hunger cannot be realistically solved through a veggie diet, pasture animals, or lab-produced hamburgers.
Poultry meat has high biological value, is cheap, without religious implications, and animals grow fast: developing countries increasingly rely on these animals to face the increasing demand for animal protein and it is impossible to meet the requirements through extensive farming. Nevertheless, rich Countries think that “intensive farming” is the same as “animal mistreatment and pollution”. This view is sustained by extra-EU rearing and click-baiting videos of bad farmers, in which animals are really mistreated in “industrialized” farms.
Intensive farming is the opposite: animal efficiency is maximized through technological investments, functional customized nutrition, and animal health improvement. The misunderstanding is here: “maximized production” is not equal to “unconditional exploitation”. Animal production is maximized only if animals are protected from environmental inconveniences, injuries, diseases, if they can satisfy nutritional needs, if reproduction is guaranteed, so that if they can produce the animal protein without unnecessary waste.
An unhealthy animal is not productive and pollution is inversely proportional to farm productivity. As an example, dairy cows with the same maintenance needs, release the lower amount of greenhouse gas per liter of milk, the higher is their production. Furthermore, higher production is the result of herd management and technologies (functional nutrition, high genetic value animals, etc) used to maximize production efficiency, not only to animal maintenance. Doing this it is possible to reduce the biomass present per unit of milk produced (Gerber et al. 2011, in FAO “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock”, 2013). It is now clear that there is the possibility to strongly reduce gas emissions from not very productive and not yet efficient farms.
Global warming and climate crisis often trigger a strong and unconditional defense of the whole zootechnical compartment. The reality is that our animals increasingly experience thermal discomfort. If we are not interested in world health, or if we think of global warming as fake news, we must do something because of the rearing economic return. Non-efficient animal production is harmful not only for the planet but also for the farmer’s pocket! For example, an excessive amount of dietary protein for dairy cows is harmful due to nitrogen emissions but is also unusefully expensive because part of the protein is released in the environment without benefits for the animal or the production.
Table 1: Some examples of relations among dry matter intake (DMI), milk production, production efficiency, milk and feed cost, and the income over feed cost (IOFC)
|Example #2||Example #3||Example #4||
|Milk production (kg)||
|Milk cost (€/kg)||
|Feed cost (€/animal/day)||
As reported in Table 1, to improve 0.1 points the production efficiency of the animal causes an increase of the IOFC of 0.84 €. To save money, farmers tend to reduce the cost of feed, especially reducing and eliminating feed additives. However, feed additives are frequently responsible for the production efficiency of animals. The lower feed cost probably leads to reduced efficiency: in the example (very similar to reality) 0.50 € saved corresponds to 2.44 € lost in IOFC. If the milk cost goes down (i.e. -0.05 €) and we want to further reduce feed cost (example 3, -0.70 € compared to the first diet), the result will be a lower milk production and IOFC (-4.34 €). The only way to save money is to improve animal efficiency: the last example is the proof. To invest a little amount of money in feed additives (feed cost +0.20 €) comes back as a good profit (IOFC +0.40 €) even for the same price of milk.
The maximization of animal efficiency, especially for nitrogen utilization, has a pivotal role in livestock profit. As said before in the article “Ruminants needs amino acids, not proteins” the most important thing to do is the correct amino acid balance in the diet to optimize production and milk quality. Inefficiency is always harmful, from any point of view.
It is there for all to see that the current human lifestyle and food utilization are no more sustainable. Hyperalimentation predisposes to pathologies and is harmful to the environment. The enormous waste of noble protein, without any respect for animals that produced them, is absolutely intolerable. New food culture is mandatory, based on sustainable and efficient farming and agriculture, without waste to preserve our health and our planet even for the next generations.
All of us, technicians, breeders, farmers, nutritionists, vets, and good food lovers, are involved in the agro- livestock supply chain and we all commit to sustainably feeding the world. It is simple to forget this point and our fundamental role, both as operators, educators, and ambassadors of the nowadays unknown agro-livestock sector. Criticism will always arrive and the “bad” farms, even if they are just a little part of our sector, will put all of us in a bad light. Our commitment is to isolate and ostracize these farms, promoting good management practice and livestock efficiency and sustainability, starting from our everyday life.
What are we doing to be sustainable breeders? Are we sure to do the best possible? Animals are producing efficiently? To maximize production efficiency is the key to be really sustainable!
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Original article here.