Vista Alegre Baserria I+G proposamena
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Research project proposal

Biodiversity, cow fodder and milk quality

1. Objectives:

2. Motives:

3. Proposals:

4. Examples:

* Student research project:

* Neiker research project


•    To identify and measure the floristic biodiversity of the fields, meadows and pasturelands run by the Vista Alegre farm for grazing or harvesting forage for the farm’s dairy cows.

•    To compare the floristic biodiversity of fields in different stages of evolution of their plant communities since last sown with perennial rye-grass and white clover

•    To measure the nutrient value of the plant species in the fields run by the Vista Alegre farm

•    To analyse the intrinsic quality of milk as changes are made on the farm to base  dairy cattle fodder mainly on forage

•    To make information about changes in livestock management available in order to provide indicators concerning the degree to which governmental plans and policies regards sustainable food production and consumption are being fulfilled in compliance with local and international commitments (for example, the local Basque Government’s Biodiversity Strategy, Environmental Strategy for Sustainable Development, Environmental Framework Plan, Plan for Sustainable Consumption and Plan to Combat Climate Change or the Rio Earth Summit agreements).


2- Motives:

The Vista Alegre farm is undergoing a process of de-intensification and, in fact, the farm joined the Basque organic livestock farming scheme in April 2011. In terms of the dairy herd’s fodder this implies:

•    That dairy cows graze all those days of the year that the weather permits (usually during 7 or 8 months of the year)

•    That fodder is increasingly forage-based, both from grazing and forage harvested from the fields run by the farm in spring and summer for those months during which cows cannot graze. This includes taking freshly mown grass every morning to the cows following milking (in spring and summer), hay or grass

•    silage. (Forage from the farm is supplemented by bought in forage from other farms).
•    That the amount of concentrate given the cows has been gradually reduced
•    That the stocking rate per hectare has been lowered and will continue to be so in the near future

The tendency is to move towards agroecologically orientated milk production, the hypothesis being that this will have a positive impact on the balance between fodder quality, herd health, the overall quality of milk given by the herd and the quality of the dairy products made in the farm’s dairy. Simultaneously, good pastureland management will conserve and even improve the floristic biodiversity of the fields and meadows.

To the knowledge of the Vista Alegre farmers, there are over 130 different plant species in the fields they run, a diversity that is increasing over time. However, neither the total floristic biodiversity on the farm nor the limits to possible increases in biodiversity are known.

On the other hand, although available bibliography provides information concerning the nutritional value of some pastureland species, particularly grasses (Gramineae) and members of the pea family (Leguminosae), the nutrient content of many other plant species are not known, nor is the bio-availability of their nutrients for cows.

Lastly, although routine analyses of the Vista Alegre farm’s milk reveals certain information about its intrinsic quality (protein and fat content in terms of nutrition and somatic cell count and bacteriology in terms of health and hygiene), not all details related to the nutritional value and healthiness of the milk and their relation to variations in fodder management (winter-summer, more/less concentrates, more/less biodiversity...) are known.


3- Proposals:

3.1. 2011

1.    To measure plant biodiversity in the fields and meadows run by the Vista Alegre farm:

The farm proposes collaboration with a research body to this end. The type of project undertaken would depend on the number of objectives considered, ranging from a simple inventory of the plant biodiversity observed in different fields to comparative studies of the plant biodiversity observed as a function of the type of management of each field or a comparison between the biodiversity present today and that which may exist as the farm moves towards agroecological production.

The farm is willing to provide both historical and up-to-date information concerning management of each of the field it runs.

2.    To measure the nutritional value of the plant biodiversity in the fields run by the Vista Alegre farm:

Once again, the farm proposes collaboration with a research body in order to analyse both the overall nutritional value of the pasture species in the fields run by the farm and the bio-availability of these nutrients to the dairy herd.

3.    To analyse the intrinsic quality of milk from the Vista Alegre dairy herd:

The farm proposes collaboration with a research body to monitor the evolution of the quality of the milk from its cows as the farm progresses towards agroecological management, particularly as a function of the biodiversity conserved and improved by the type of fodder practices carried out on the farm. The following parameters would be measured:

Nutritional aspects:
•    protein
•    total fat content
•    saturated fatty acids
•    unsaturated fatty acids

of which:
•    Omega 3
•    Omega 6
•    the Omega 6 / Omega 3 ratio
•    Calcium
•    Phosphorus
•    Vitamins

Hygiene and health aspects:
•    Bacteriology
•    Somatic cell count
•    Presence of residues of hormone, synthetic chemicals or veterinary products

The situation in April 2014

To date there has been some interest in our research proposals from Basque

Research Institutions but no practical outcome. We can, however, present the results

of the student research project undertaken in 2011 by English Farm Colllege

student Chris Cowey... see below section 4).

3.2. R&D proposals 2016

On November 23rd, 2016, the Department of Sociology of the Basque University, the Basque Institute for Rural Studies and the Vice-Chancellor of the Alava Campus of the Basque University (UPV-EHU) organized a one day workshop in Vitoria-Gasteiz to enable those farmers developing alternative farm projects in the Basque Country to propose areas in which R&D should be developed. Our farm was invited to take part and below we outline the proposals we presented. Some of these proposals are not new, but we wished to point out certain aspects and the different scale in which the research would be undertaken which would make the potential projects of greater use to our farm than generic R&D projects. Additionally, we placed great emphasis on the fact that we considered it not only important to undertake research but also to guarantee research project usefulness and applicability.

1. In depth comparative analysis of the nutritional quality (vitamins, fats including omegas, protein, calcium...) of organic milk and conventional milk incorporating data from our farm and, if possible, using data from Basque dairy farms as the research data base. The aim of the research is to provide farmers with personalized information of use for understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each production model in this case from a consumer's point of view of maximising the nutritional value of milk.

2. Detailed analysis of the nutritional value of the plant communities of Vista Alegre farm grazinglands which have a much higher plant biodiversity than surrounding dairy farms whose grazing lands are based mainly on rye-grass (Lolium spp) and clover (Trifolium spp), the aim being to provide data concerning the implications of plant biodiversity and individual plant species' nutritional composition for the Vista Alegre dairy herd's (a) health and welfare and (b) milk quality regards different nutrients in general and the presence of Omegas 3 and 6 in particular. 

3. To provide scenarios of the impacts of climate change in Karrantza: availability of resources such as water and grazing, changes in plant communities..., the objective being the development of paliative measures.

4. Analysis of the packaging considered most appropriate for organic dairy products (bottles / pots / wrapping paper / cardboard boxes): energy balance of packaging manufacture, recycling and transport plus waste generation.

5. Assessment of consumer awareness regarding organic food produce and, depending on results, design of measurres to overcome any difficulties identified by the research (supposedly higher prices, accessibility, confidence in certification schemes...) such as modules for schools on organic farming, programmed visits to organic farms. if considered necessary

6. Research into alternative veterinary systems for the prevention and treatment of mastitis beyond the development of homeopathic alternatives.

7. The applicability and usefulness of different sources of renewable energy in organic farming. On farm production. Viability.

8. "The psychology of new farming methods": research the implications of being pioneers in the introduction of new agroecological or agro-organic farming methods (both environmental and social aspects are born in mind). Design of measures to paliate any negative impacts identified ("what do the neighbours think and say", economic risk....) and underline the positive impacts (higher self-esteem, sales of products perceived to be of higher quality, greater degree of farm independence, the advantages of being "different"....). The aim of this proposal is to help those farmers considering undergoing conversion to organic farming.  Farmer to farmer methodology to be promoted.

9. Food ethics.... the development of multidisciplinary indicators to assess the ethics behind different food production systems in order to place agro-organic farming in its appropriate context.



(a) Student research project

The following study was undertaken by English student Chris Cowey in his second year at Farm College in York. The study compares organic and non-organic dairy farming in Karrantza, the organic farm being Vista Alegre. Our thanks to Chris for letting us include his study on our website and we wish him all the best for his university studies.

Differences in milk quality and cows' health between an intensive non-organic farm and an organic farm

Chris Cowey, October 2011

1. Aim: The aim of the current project was to identify evidence that confirms the differences existing in cows’ health and milk quality between an intensive farm and an organic farm. The hypothesis is that the milk quality and health of cows on organic dairy farms is immensely better than that of cows on intensive dairy farms.

2. Methodology:

  • Possible indicators of milk quality and cow health were identified
  • Both raw data and bibliographical information were gathered concerning possible differences in milk quality and cow health between organic and intensive farms, including interviews with farmers.
  • The information was gathered from 3 farms through questionnaires and interviews.
  • Secondary data was also collected from other sources.
  • The information was then processed and analysed and compared in tables. The information was represented graphically to clearly reveal the differences between the 3 farms.
  • A mix of both primary and secondary data and information was used for the purposes of the current project. Using different sources of data improves the precision and accuracy of the results.

3. Sources of information: Three sources of information were used in order to undertake this research:

(a)   Three farmers from three different dairy farms in the Basque Country, northern Spain, were interviewed using set questionnaires.

(b)   Other information and data was gathered through personal communication with the Basque Farmers’ Union, EHNE.

(c)    Information and data were gathered from the Internet and reference books in order to clarify and confirm data gathered in the interviews and other sources of data.

4. Facts to bear in mind:

  • 10% of the milk sold in supermarkets in the UK is organic.
  • In 1999 a survey showed that Germany had the greatest demand for organic food in the EU.
  • An increasing number of people are becoming interested in where their dairy products come from and the welfare of dairy cows.
  • Many European Union grants still support or benefit intensive farming systems more than organic farming systems. Should we do something about this?

5. Introduction: basic information about the farms: The two types of farming systems that were studied in the current project were intensive (two) and organic (one). Three farmers were interviewed and average data from other intensive farms was also gathered. The latter referred the province of Bizkaia and was supplied by the local Farm Extension Service. The farms in which interviews were carried out are all located in the mountains between Bilbao and Santander; most of their farmland is very steep. The land is fertile and when there has been enough rain the farms manage to gather about 3 crops of hay, fresh grass or grass silage a year. The bedrock is limestone which has two disadvantages: firstly, many natural swallow holes form which means cattle must be checked regularly as animals have been known to fall into them, despite fencing and the fact that farmers regularly fill in the swallow holes; secondly, in dry years the pasturelands dry quickly and lose their vegetation, because the bedrock is limestone which tends to drain very quickly. Finally, the land in and around two of the farms was previously mined and has a network of tunnels underneath. This will drain the land of any standing water faster than it usually would.

Intensive farm 1: This intensive farm is run by two farmers who merged because their own farms where not profitable enough when managed separately. The farm runs approximately 50 hectares of land and has a milking herd of 161 cows, which are mainly fed feedstuff, none of which is produced on the farm. When heifers and calves are also taken into account, the farm has a stockage rate of 4.6 and it cannot comply with the Nitrates Directive if relying on its own farmland to manage slurry and manure (see below).  As a result it is unlikely to qualify for many of the subsidies under the Agri-Environment Scheme. The milking cows on this farm are permanently indoors, a typical option for most intensive farms in which very little own-grown forage is given to the cows. One of the many reasons for keeping milking cows indoors permanently is to provide a constant and optimum temperature for cows to feed in. The milking herd is fed on concentrate (feedstuff) to maximize milk yields per cow. The big barn on this farm has no sidewalls but has fans for summer months to keep the temperature at an optimum.

Figure 1. Permanently stabled dairy herd

Intensive farm 2: This intensive farm is family run, it has a milking herd of 52 and feeds the cows both forage produced on the farm’s 28 hectares and bought in forage and feedstuffs. The declared stockage rate, bearing in mind milking cows, heifers and calves is 3.52, a fact that is further discussed below. This farm also generates more slurry than the land it runs can legally absorb. Whilst trying to comply by minimum standards for milk quality, this farm also gave great importance to milk yield per cow.

Organic farm (farm 3): The organic farm joined the Basque Organic Farming Scheme in April 2011 and had been de-intensifying for the previous 11 years. The farm is family run, has a milking herd of 36 and farms 31.4 hectares of land. Bearing in mind the heifers and calves the farm rears, the stockage rate (head of cattle per hectare) is 1.66, well below the maximum limit of 2.0 head of cattle per hectare stated in the EU Organic Farming Regulation (834/2997/EC) and the recommended rate in order to guarantee compliance with the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC). The farm currently produces most of the forage the dairy herd consumes but also buys in organic feedstuffs and some alfalfa and straw. In order to become organic farm must comply by the rules of Regulation (834/2997/EC) which, for example,  include no use of synthetic chemical products, no use of trans-genes in fodder and stipulate a clear limit to the amount of fodder that can be bought in. Finally, on Farm 3,  grazing is encouraged during as many months as possible (in fact a minimum number of grazing days per year is stipulated) but this can be cut short due to bad weather. The farmer interviewed gave priority to milk quality rather than just the quantity of milk produced.

6. Results and discussion:

The following indicators were identified in order to compare the quality of milk from the two conventional intensive dairy farms and the organic farm:

  • Nutritional quality: protein content, fat content (including the fatty acid profile)
  • Hygienic quality: bacteriology and somatic cell count

With regards to possible differences in the health of each herd, the following indicators were identified:

  • Number of milk cycles
  • Expenditure on veterinary services
  • Incidence of diseases and infections such as mastitis, hoof problems, stomach cramps, abortions and difficulties in conceiving

Even though it was not one of the original aims of the present study, several comments have also been made regarding the environmental and social implications of some of the information and data gathered.

6.1. Comparing the quality of milk from conventional intensive and organic dairy farms:

The milk quality of dairy cows was measured in terms of both hygiene and nutritional quality. The somatic cell count and bacteriology were used as indicators of hygiene. The fat content and protein content were used as indicators of nutritional quality.

As is discussed below, it is known that all these indicators are affected by a wide range of factors such as the animals feeding regime, health and welfare, hygiene on the farm and in milking buildings and equipment, etc.

6.1.1. Hygiene

The somatic cell count is directly related to the health of a cow. The natural defence system of a cow should eliminate certain cells and organisms in its body and generate some somatic cells. However if the somatic cell counts is above a certain level in the milk (a debatable point, but perhaps between 100,000 and 175,000 cells per millilitre of milk), the more likely it is that a cow is suffering from some illness or infection, one of the most common being mastitis. On the other hand if the somatic cell count were to be too low it could mean the cow’s defensive system was not working properly. When a calf is born it should be given the colostrums from the cow to ensure that its natural defensive system forms strongly and properly; if a calf is not given colostrums it will be very susceptible to disease and infection and there is a very high chance that the calf or young cow could die from this. Most big dairies usually demand a reading of less than 400,000 sc/ml of milk.

Figure 2. The somatic cell count for each farm interviewed.

Figure 2 shows that the intensive dairy farms (farms 1 and 2) have by far the highest somatic cell count per millilitre of milk, although it is significantly under the 400,000sc/ml mark. Farm 3 was at roughly 180,000 cells/ml at the date of the interview, but the farmer said he would be worried if the somatic cell count dropped below 150,000 because he feels that it is then that the cows’ defensive system would be malfunctioning. This indicator could also be used to measure the degree of healthiness of the herd as it reflects in the presence or absence of infectious illnesses such as mastitis. However it is also a measure of hygiene on the farm and indicates measures taken to prevent illness and infection. It is also worth noting that the somatic cell count on the organic farm (farm 3) has been gradually declining during the process of de-intensification (less feedstuff per cow per day, amongst other aspects) and conversion to organic livestock farming (see figure 2), which is also a further possible link between animal feed and milk quality.

Figure 3. Mean monthly somatic cell count 2008-2011 on farm 3
_____ Maximum permitted for A class milk _____ Level below which farmer would prefer his somatic cell count not to fall _____ Farm 3 somatic cell count

Unfortunately no such data is available for farms 1 and 2.

The bacteria content in milk is directly related to the hygiene of cows, cow barns and the milking parlour and equipment. One of the places that need to be clean are the barns; the bedding needs to be clean and barns were cleaned out at least once a day by a robotic yard scraper on each of the farms visited. On farm 1 and 2 they have rubber mats for the cows to lie down on which get washed when mucky. Farm 3 has straw and sawdust bedding, which is regularly changed to prevent it from becoming very mucky. Grazing is also important to keep cows clean. Washing down the milking parlour before and after milking and making sure all the pipes, which the milk passes through during milking, are clean is also vital. The milking process itself also has to be hygienic. This means washing the udders before milking and applying iodine after to ensure the cows udders stay healthy. Thorough cleaning of the milk cooling tank is also important and as regular samples of milk are also taken from the tank, also reveal the degree to which hygiene is taken into account on a farm.

These are all factors which affect the bacteria content in the milk. The local farm output cooperative, which all three farmers belonged to, gives a premium to any farmer that has less than 100,000 bacteria/ml (when in conjunction with complying by all other quality indicators simultaneously). Farm 3 has had this premium for the last 3 years. Unfortunately such data was not forthcoming on the other farms.

Figure 4. The average bacteria content for each farm

From looking around farm 1 and comparing it to the other two farms in the chart, it would appear that the data might be incorrect due to human error. A visual evaluation of the farm suggested a certain degree of hygiene and cleanliness but not as much as on farms 2 and 3. Additionally, the farmer indicated that the herd suffered a relatively high number of infections and during the time spent by the author in the field the local vets visited the farm a number of times. On the other hand, the graph reflects the visual image of farm 3 as very clean and hygienic.

6.1.2. Nutritional quality

All milk from dairy farms in the European Union should be regularly tested for fat and protein content, which are considered to be good indicators of the nutritional value of cows’ milk.

Figure 5. Average fat content for the three farms interviewed and an average data from several farms in the region Bizkaia

Figure 5 show that the organic farm (farm 3) has the highest reading of fats. The farmer and available literature (Villar Bonnet, A et al, 2011), conclude that this is due to the milk herd’s diet. The fresh nutrient-rich grass that the cows get fed daily during 5-7 months of the year (depending on the weather) and the overall higher percentage of forage they eat, in comparison to the high amounts of feedstuff fed to the cows on intensive farms, boost the fat content in the milk. Farm 3 sells most of their milk to a local cooperative, which gives them a premium for having a fat content of over 3.7%, something farm 3 has achieved regularly over the last 6 years.  Farms 1 and 2 are just around the 3.7% mark, which is a good standard of fat content, which they have been actively trying to attain. However as intensive farms, their aim is to produce the maximum quantity of milk they can per cow per milking cycle. This influences the feed regime of the two herds and, the fat content of their milk. It seems that as far as the overall fat content is concerned the organic farm is achieving better quality milk than the intensive farms.

Nevertheless, following interviews with the three farmers in the north of Spain and a review of available literature, it seems more detailed information would be necessary to accept the total fat content of milk as an adequate indicator of the nutritional value of milk. A more detailed analysis of the fat content could be undertaken to reveal the degree to which each sort of milk, intensive or organic, is more or less heart-healthy. Milk contains both saturated and unsaturated fats (known as fatty acids). Inadequate consumption of milk promotes the heart problems associated with the saturated fats, whilst the unsaturated fats are known to protect against heart conditions. No regular analyses measure the percentage of each type of fat in milk, although specific studies have revealed that organic milk contains more heart healthy fats than milk from intensive dairy herds. Farm 3 has undertaken a series of special analyses to determine the level of heart healthy fats in its milk and the results confirm the data found in the literature. The heart healthy omega 3 and omega 6 content of its milk are higher than average values for milk from intensive farms and, additionally, are in the necessary proportion between them (no more than 4 omega 6 to one omega 3: on farm three the relation was 3:1 in winter and 2:1 in spring). Farmers 1 and 2 had not undertaken any such analysis; they also felt that the tests were unnecessary.

As far as protein content is concerned, the interviews and the literature also suggest that it is related to the diet and health of the dairy herd.

Figure 6. Average protein content for the three different farms and random sample farm.

As in the case of fat content, these levels do not stay the same throughout the year, but rather change between winter and summer, related in part to the amount of fresh grass and other foods with water in it, which dilutes the different nutrients (in particular the fat content). To get the local cooperative premium, milk has to have over 3.1% protein content. Once again, the results of the data given by the three farmers on protein content suggest that the quality of milk on the organic farm exceeds that of the intensive farms.

6.2. Comparing the health and welfare of cows on intensive and organic dairy farms:


Farm 2



Farm 1



Farm 3


Table 1. Average miilking cycles per cow on each farm

How many milk cycles will the cows have from the two different farm types? The data gathered shows that the more intensive farms have less milk cycles on average than the organic farm. This is due to the amount of milk the cattle are forced to give and the feed that they eat. Cows with a higher welfare standard tend to produce more milk (and better quality of milk) in the long run than a cow that is intensively milked. It should be noted that the data for farm 1 may be incorrect as the farm is just as intense as farm 2 if not more.

Table 2. Type and intensity of health problems on each farm as indicated by farmers.


Farm 1

Farm 2

Farm 3



* 10% due to environmental problem

* Very little

Stomach cramps



Hoof problems, rot


* 10% a year

*Now and again




Not in the last 2 years

Not conceiving



*Now and again


Vaccinate for other potential diseases

What are the main health problems with cows in intensive farms? The information gathered in the interviews shows that cows that live in an intensive environment get a lot more common infections and diseases such as:

  • Mastitis
  • Stomach cramps
  • Hoof rot

Some improvements can be made to help reduce these conditions, such as using rubber mats to lie on instead of straw, but rubber mats are very expensive. Cattle on intensive farms also have a higher chance of not conceiving or having an abortion. This is due to the intensive feed regime of unifeed, which is mixed hay, maize, barley and dehydrated alfalfa. One of the farmers quoted ‘’Less feedstuff and concentrate then the less stomach cramps’’; he generally feels that the less feedstuff you give cows the less infections and diseases they will get. The table shows the difference in diseases and infections between the two different farm models. The farm 3 has had fewer problems some of which are can’t be avoided, although some from the other two farms may be the same. Farm 1 admits, in the questionnaire, that stomach cramps are a result of intensive feed and high milk yield. This is most likely the same problem for farm 2 although the farmer didn’t think that the feed was the problem.

Hoof problems are usually because of cows been permanently stood in slurry. This creates an infection in the cow’s hoof, which makes it lame. However this is not the case on farm 3 because they are usually not stood in the slurry long enough for it to have an effect. The farmer says it’s a case of when they move cows across roads into fields and a cow steps on a stone it could cause an infection.

The farmer from Farm 3 believes the intensity of the food relates to the herd’s hygiene and potentially can create an infection in the cow’s udder called mastitis. Antibiotics that get injected into the cows can treat this. The cow’s milk cannot be sold until the entire drug has passed out of the body. To reduce the amount of mastitis there are different control measurements. It all comes down to hygiene, making sure that the bedding it dry and clean, applying iodine to the cow’s udders after milking. Another control method is having a nutrient rich diet. It could be inferred that farm 1 and 2 could be giving their cows a very nutrient poor diet. Farm two says that they have a mastitis problem due to environmental problems. This could be due to chronically infected cows being used for breeding purposes.

The advantages of turning organic: The milk quality will be dramatically improved. The data shows that the cows will have less health problems and therefore there is less need for veterinary services.  More and more people want to buy organic produces because they feel it is a safer option especially as they feel they can’t trust the transgenic products that are in intensive milking cow’s diets. Organic milk is more likely to have to contain better levels of omega 3, omega 6, omega 9, and calcium (, 2011).

The disadvantages of turning organic: When cows have a health problem special veterinary services must be used, employing organic medicines when appropriate and, currently, there are very few such vets in the area studied. It could also be argued that if all farms turned organic there would not be enough food to feed the world. Most of the E.U. grants at the moment favour intensive farms as they get more money per cow.

The Stockage rate is the head of cattle per hector. The ideal stockage rate for a farm is 2 heads of cattle per hector. This is so that: a suitable crop of hay and silage can be obtained from the land,the land is not overgrazed and all the slurry gathered over the year canl be spread on the fields sustainably. Farmers operating stockage rates above 2 heads of cow will have far too much slurry, a situation that generates management and environmental problems. The farmer from farm 2 made a very clear statement saying that slurry is not a waste product and is very valuable product that can be used to fertilise fields and will cut costs of buying in artificial fertiliser.

Figure 7 Stockage rate on the 3 farms

This chart shows that farm 1, with the biggest milking herd has the largest stockage rate. Farm 2 most likely has too much slurry and may have to pay slurry contractors to take it away to other farms to be used. Personal research revealed that Farm 1 has too much slurry and has illegally dumped it, the farm has been formally asked to solve the pollution problem it has caused and has been given a further given a warning (this is, arguably, not sufficient and perhaps a fine should be considered). Farm 3 on the other hand has just enough slurry infact they sometimes do not produce enough. The stockage rate doesn’t just affect the slurry management it also affects the amount of forage that has to be bought in. Farm 3 almost produces enough forage for spring, summer and autumn months but has to buy in for the winter months .

Environmental questions

Intensive farms usually have a stockage rate of over 2. This means they usually produce far too much slurry. This could lead to illegally dumped slurry (as farm 1 has done: see Figures 8, 9 and 10).

Figures 8 and 9: Illegally dumped slurry (photos taken by the author, 2011)

Farms with too much slurry for their own land only really have one option, which is to employ a slurry contractor to take it away and spread it on another farm’s fields. Due to new legislation by the EU, farmers have to use slurry contractors to transport slurry from one farm to another. The farmer of farm 3 says this is just another way of taking money of farmers for no reason.

Figure 10 shows illegally dumped slurry by farm 1

Figure 10 is just one of many sites in which farm one illegally dumped slurry. This will have a huge effect on the springs and other water sources in the area. When the slurry gets into the water systems it will dramatically reduce the amount of oxygen in the water. It will also make the water far too rich in nitrates for most animals to drink. Thus slurry dumping is potentially killing habitats and affecting species. An even bigger worry is that all the local houses get their water from springs in the surrounding hillsides. A European directive states that water should not contain more than 50 milligrams of nitrates per litre of water (, 2011).

Farm 3 sometimes does not have enough slurry for all his land but has got the stockage rate about right. The farmer has to buy in straw, organic feedstuff and some winter forage, as he can’t grow it due to the surrounding landscape and the climate in the mountain range in which they live. Other than this farm 3 does not buy in any other forage as he grows and harvests grass silage, fresh grass and hay himself on his farm. Farm 3 used to get slurry from farm 1 but then new legislation said that he would have to get a slurry contractor to take the slurry from farm 1 to farm 3 even though there is less than 400 metres between to two farms.

Farm 1 only takes crops of hay and silage off their land for heifers and dry cows. Farm 2 gives the milking herd a bit of grass silage. The heifer’s main diet is grass silage. This all comes from the farm.

Interesting Statistics

Figure 11. Average litres of milk produced per cow per day on each farm

This shows that farm 1, 2 and the average data from the random farm goes for quantity and produce a lot more milk than farm 3. This is down to diets and breeds. Farm 3 (the organic

farm) is going for quality over quantity, which is shown above in Figures 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and Tables 1 and 2. The milk quality is related to the diets of the cows and the health. If they are unhealthy and in pain they will eat less food, produce less milk and the quality of that milk will also be very poor.

The milking herd in farm 3 has a main diet of forage from fresh grass being brought in and grazing during the day and night. They also have 3 kilos of concentrate, which they have cut down on (previously 8 kilos), and, until 2011, 10-12 kilos of maize silage. This varies a lot through winter though as they can’t get fresh grass in. They exchange the fresh grass for hay and sugar beet pulp, and increase the amount of maize silage by a couple of kilos.

Figure 12. Windrowing a hay crop on farm 3.

Farm 1 and 2 both have their milking cows on a diet of unifeed which is a mix of grain, soy flour, cottonseed, barley grain, rapeseed flour, soy husks, and wheat bran.  All 3 farms interviewed said that their cows’ diet might contain cereals that are transgenic. Farm 3 has stopped buying the concentrate that might be transgenic as they are in the process of turning organic and they are not happy feeding their cows transgenic foods (and under organic rules must not).This basically rules out soya and maize. Farm 2 is also not happy about feeding his cows transgenes. Farm 1 on the other hand though came across as not particularly bothered about feeding it to them.

The cost of fuel used for forage on the farms is an interesting statistic. Unfortunately data was not available for farm 1.

Figure 13. Fuel costs of producing forage on farms 2 and 3

Figure 13 shows the cost of fuel used from producing forage the farms (to be posted).

As this bar chart shows farm 3 (the organic farm) spends a lot more fuel on harvesting hay and silage and cutting fresh grass every day for the cows than farm 2 does. This is because farm two gives their cows a different diet and does not cut fresh grass every day for their cows. They also buy in some of their hay. The main reason is because farm two buys in an intensive unifeed mixture. Thus it would be of interest to gauge fuel costs for all feed to correctly compare energy costs on the different farms.

Overall the project helps promote knowledge concerning the implications of going organic, particularly concerning implications for health, throwing light on  the down sides to intensive farming. The most interesting and not very surprising fact is that all farmers said that they would not be able to make a profit of their farms if it wasn’t for the E.U. grants. This has caused many farmers all over Europe to diversify and transform the milk from their cattle into other products. For example farm 3 has just set up a small dairy in which they sell their own pasteurised milk, soft cheeses, and yoghurts.

Conclusion: As a result of an organic diet and a more active life out in the fields the cow’s milk and health improve dramatically as is shown by data gathered. Organic farming isn’t just good for the environment and the cow’s welfare. At the end of the day it’s humans that are drinking the milk that is produced by these cows, so it comes down to their welfare as well. The data gathered from the interviews came from farms in Spain and it is reasonable to suggest that the results would be similar throughout Europe. It would be of great interest to visit different countries in Europe and gather data to confirm this hypothesis.


  1. I strongly recommend going onto this website after December 2011 when the language will have an English option. The knowledge and information on the site is easy reading yet very educational.
  3. Villar Bonnet, A., Barrachin Fuentevilla, M. & Salcedo Díaz, G. –  (2011) : Analisis comparativo de la calidad y perfil de acidos grasos de la leche de vacuno procedente de explotaciones con manejo convencional y ecologico [Approximately translates as; Comparative analysis of the quality and fatty acid content of cows’ milk from conventional and organic dairy farms : Cria Salud Volume 38pages, 40-44, 46-49


  5. Farm Extension Service - Bizkaia, Spain, average data from intensive farms.
  6. Basque Farmers’ Union, EHNE,

(b) Neiker Reserach project

At the beginning of Spring 2019, Leire Jauregi from the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources of the Agricultural Research Institute, Neiker, visited our farm to collect a sample of manure from our heifers for a research project. In May, Leire was able to confirm the aims of the project, which is now underway:


“An experiment using the ecotoxicological tool known as PICT (Pollution-induced community tolerance) was used to evaluate the tolerance of capacity of  microbial communities in the soil to pollutants. The study material, manure from organically reared heifers, was obtained from the Vista Alegre Farm. The manure will be used as a fertilizer using the same amount as would be used in farming. These soils will then be “polluted” with an antibiotic to study the changes induced in microbial communities”.



Special corner for schools: visit our special corner for schools for special information about our farm and the farm dairy. There are resource materials for teachers. In this corner you can find out how to arrange a class outing to our farm.

Copy left: With due regard to both constructive criticism and respect, the information posted on this website may be used freely for socially orientated and solidarity minded projects in order to further food sovereignty.