Vista Alegre Baserria Feeding cows 4- How far along the road to agroecology and food sovereignty is the livestock feeding regime on the Vista Alegre farm?:
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4- How far along the road to agroecology and food sovereignty is the livestock feeding regime on the Vista Alegre farm?: PDF Print E-mail

4.1. The situation in 2011


The dairy cow feeding regime on the Vista Alegre farm is moving towards an agroecological approach in the context of food sovereignty. In Aril 2011, the farm joined the Basque organic livestock scheme. The following are just some of the changes such a move has and will imply:

• A growing percentage of fodder is generated by the farm’s own resources:
- The stocking rate has fallen to below 2 adult cows per hectare.
- The number of cows being milked has fallen from an average of 46 about 8 years ago to an average of 36 in 2011.
- Lactating cows, dry cows and heifers graze the fields and meadows run by the farm all those months the weather permits (basically from March-April to November).
- Grass is harvested from farm pasturelands for the winter months and is stored as hay or silage

silage bales

- At the same time, the amount of conventional concentrate fed to cows has been drastically reduced from 7 to 8 kilos per cow per day to only 3.5 kilos at present.
- Currently, resources on the Vista Alegre farm provide about 75% of the fodder given to heifers, dry cows and lactating cows during five months of the year and 25% during the rest of the year.
- The farm has proposed a research study to measure the nutritional value of the farm’s pasturelands (see document on this web site).

• The health and welfare of the farm’s dairy herd has improved:
In the past, a series of problems were observed in the health and welfare of the Vista Alegre dairy herd (mastitis for example or gestation-related problems such as difficulties to conceive), which were perceived to be the result of the intensive use of concentrates in fodder. The changes since made in fodder management have had immediate beneficial consequences for the health and welfare of the dairy herd:
- Cows are no longer expected to give as much milk as they did eight years ago. They currently produce about 23 litres per day, in comparison to the 30 litres they were expected to give before.
- As their daily ration of fodder includes less conventional concentrates, cows suffer fewer problems such as mastitis, stomach cramps and an improved capacity to come into heat (estrus) or conceive.
- As a consequence, considerably fewer veterinary products, especially antibiotics, are employed on the farm
- As the herd’s health has improved, so has each cow’s life span and the number of reproductive cycles they live through as herd replacement rates are higher under concentrate intensive fodder regimes.

• Environmental conditions on the farm have improved:
- There is a high level of floristic biodiversity in the fields and pastures run by the farm. Over 125 species of plants alone have been counted in these fields by the farmers themselves (see below). The number would be even higher if other species that inhabit the edges of fields but that are also accessible to livestock (according to the time of year) were also to be taken into account. The best way in which to appreciate this degree of biodiversity is to compare it with that of frequently resown pastures (which are usually sown with just one or two species) or with forage crops (generally of just one species).

Floristic diversity on the Vista Alegre farm; examples of plants found in meadows, pastures and their edges:

• Compositae (the daisy family): dandelion Taraxacum officinale, common cat’s-ear Hypochoeris radicata, groundsel Senecio vulgaris, common ragwort S. Jacobaea jacobaea, several hawkbits Leontodon sp., hawkweed oxtongue Picris hieracoides, mouse-ear hawkweed Pilosilla officinarum, smooth sow-thistle Sonthus oleraceus, prickly sow-thistle S. asper, perennial sow-thistle S. arvensis, oxeye daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, daisy Bellis perennis, yarrow or milfoil Achillea millefolium, chamomile Chamaemelum nobile, several thistles such as different Cirsium sp and milk thistle Silybum marianum, knapweeds Centaurea sp., nipplewort Lapsana communis, burdocks Arctium sp. and Euphatorium sp.


• Caryophyllacaea (the pink family): chickweed Stellaria media, lesser stichwort S. Graminea, common mouse-ear Cerastium holosteoides, bladder campion Silene vulgaris and catchfly (Spanish?) S. otites
• Ranunculaceae (the buttercup family): creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens, bulbous buttercup R. bulbosus, green hellebore Helleborus viridis, wood anenome Anenome nemorosa, common columbine Aquilegia vulgaris and traveller’s joy Clematic vitalba.
• Fumariaceae (the fumitory family): such as common fumitory Fumaria officinalis and white ramping-fumitory F. capreolata
• Cruciferae (the poppy family): there are numerous members of this family, such as shepherd’s purse Capsella bursa-pastoris
• Polygalaceae (the milkwort family): common milkwort Polygala vulgaris
• Linaceae (the flax family): pale flax Linum bienne and purging or fairy flax L. catharticum
• Hypericaeae (the St. John’s-wort family): perforate St. John’s-wort Hypericum perforatum, tutsan H. androsaemum and trailing St. John’s-wort H. humifusum
• Violaceae (the violet family): several violet species Viola sp.
• Amaranthaceae: fat hen Chenopodium alba
• Malvaceae (the mallow family): common mallow Malva sylvestris

hedgerow crane’s-bill

• Geraniaceae (the geranium family): herb robert Geranium robertianum, common stork’s-bill Erodium cicutarium, hedgerow crane’s-bill Geranium pyrenaicum and shining crane’s-bill G. lucidum

G. pyrenaicum

• Leguminosae (the pea family): gorse Ulex europaeus, spiny restharrow Ononis spinosa, white clover Trifolium repens, red clover T. pratense, slender trefoil T. micranthum, hop trefoil T. campestre, bird’s foot Ornithopus perpusillus, black meddick Medicago lupulina, spotted meddick M. arabica, several vetches Vicia sp, and peas such as tuberous pea Lathyrus tuberosa and bitter vetch L. montanus and common bird’s-foot-trefoil Lotus corniculatus
• Rosaceae (the rose family): tormentil Potentilla erecta, creeping cinquefoil P. reptans, great burnet Sanguisorba officinalis and herb Bennet or wood avens Geum urbanum
• Urticaceae (the nettle family): common nettle Urtica dioica and small or annual nettle U. urens

stinging nettle

• Euphorbiaceae (the spurge family): wood spurge Euphorbia amygdaloides, dwarf spurge E. exigua and sun spurge E. helioscopio
• Polygonaceae (the dock family): several docks Rumex sp., and redshank Polygonum persicaria
• Ericaceae (the heather family): heather or ling Calluna vulgaris, St. Daboec’s heath Daboecia cantabrica, Cornish heath Erica vagans and tree heather E. arborea
• Primulaceae (the primrose family): primrose Primula vulgaris, creeping-Jenny Lysimachia nummularia and scarlet pimpernel Anagallis arvensis
• Gentianaceae (the gentian family): common centaury Centaurium erythraea
• Solanaceae (the nightshade family): (examples of plants that are poisonous for cows) thorn apple Datura stramonium and black nightshade Solanum nigrum
• Scrophulariaceae (the figwort family): several speedwells such as common field speedwell Veronica persica, germander speedwell V. chamaedrys, brooklime V. beccabunga, thyme-leaved speedwell V. serpyllifolia, heath speedwell V. officinalis and wall speedwell V. arvensis, common figwort Scrophularia nodosa and common eye-bright Euphrasia nemorosa
• Valerianaceae (the valerian family): corn salad Valerianella locusta
• Oxalidaceae (the wood-sorrel family): wood-sorrel or oxalis Oxalis acetosella and yellow oxalis O. corniculata
• Labiatae (the labiate or mint family): mints Mentha sp., red dead-nettle Lamium purpureum, betony Betonica officinalis, selfheal Prunella vulgaris, large selfheal P. grandiflora, bugle Ajuga reptans, yellow archangel Galeobdolon luteum, thyme Thymus sp., wood sage Teucrium scorodonia and Pyrenean germander T. pyrenaicum
• Orobanchaceae (the broomrape family): very occasionally
• Plantaginaceae (the plantain family): ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata and greater plantain P. major
• Campanulaceae (the bellflower family): heath lobelia Lobelia ureas
• Dipsacaceae (the scabious family): different scabious Scabiosa sp.
• Boraginaceae (the borage family): purple or creeping gromwell Lithospermum purpurocaeruleum, common comfrey Symphytum officinale, changing forget-me-not Myosotis discolor, early forget-me-not M. ramosissima and lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis
• Liliaceae (the lily family): asphodel Asphodelus albus, autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale, autumn squill Scilla autumnalis, spring squill S. verna and alliums Allium sp.
• Amaryllidaceae (the daffodil family): wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus

• Iridaceae (the iris family): sand crocus Romulea columnae, English iris Iris xiphioides
• Saxifragaceae (the saxifrage family): Saxifraga rotundifolia? and Opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium
• Rubiaceae (the bedstraw family): field madder Sherardia arvensis, wild madder Rubia peregrina, cleavers or goosegrass Galium aparine and hedge bedstraw G. mollugo
• Caprifoliaceae (the honeysuckle family): honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum
• Smilacaceae: Smilax sp.
• Verbenaceae (the verbena family): vervain Verbena officinalis

. Thymelaeaceae: Daphne family) mezereon Daphne mezereum
• And, of course, many grass species Gramineae



Due to both the conservation and increase in floristic diversity and the maintenance of different structural elements in the landscape (such as walls, fences, hedges, spinneys...), a variety of animal wildlife uses the farm’s fields for feeding, shelter, nesting, etc. There are large mammals such as roe deer, boar, red squirrels and hedgehogs; insects such as numerous species of flies, bees, butterflies and moths; and many birds, such as the red kite and buzzard amongst birds of prey, carrion eaters such as the griffon vulture and a pair of Egyptian vulture every spring-summer, nocturnal birds such as the nightjar and barn owl and numerous species of small birds.

Peacock butterfly

- Machinery is used in the fields for tasks such as mowing and bringing in hay or grass, or muck spreading, but the use of fossil fuels to provide fodder has fallen considerably on the Vista Alegre farm since the farm’s stocking rate was reduced, as grazing has been encouraged throughout the months that the weather permits and since the amount of bought-in concentrate has been significantly reduced.

- The farm’s contribution to solving the climate crisis:
- Less use of fossil fuels in the production and transport of fodder and in slurry management
- Lower emissions of methane (CH4) and nitric oxide (N2O) due to a lower stocking rate
- Conservation of the vegetation cover in most fields over several decades, which helps fix carbon and prevent carbon release into the atmosphere.

• The farm is becoming less dependent on external economic and technological interests or stakeholders:
- As the amount of concentrates used in dairy cow fodder on the Vista Alegre farm decreases (to date by more than 50%) so does the level of dependence of the farm on the policies and economic speculation of the big transnational companies that control most of the production and market of concentrates
- As the farm phased out soy from dairy cow feed, GM-free cow fodder became possible as does independence from the technology that genetically engineered crops imply (and other problems such crops pose).
• The quality of milk has improved:
- Analyses of milk from the Vista Alegre herd, undertaken by an officially approved laboratory, show that the milk is of a good quality: low somatic cell count (148.000 in may 2011) and a high average content in protein (3.23 in 2010) and fat (4.04 in 2010). More detailed analyses of milk quality are being undertaken according to the type of fodder given to dairy cows’ at different times of the year and this information will hopefully be supplemented by analyses in a proposed research project (see above).
- Herbicides were used in the past to control the presence of docks (Rumex sp) in the fields, although this was reduced to spot application and from 2011 docks are being removed manually. No other agro-chemicals have been used in the fields and there is, thus, very little risk that residues of synthetic chemicals be present in milk. Such a possibility will be zero in the future, given that the farm has joined the Basque organic livestock farming scheme.
- Identification of organic sources of fodder supplements will have similar results as far as the zero presence of chemical residues in milk is concerned.
- Due to the reduction and eventual elimination of soy in the farm herd’s fodder, a zero presence of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) can be guaranteed and any possible impacts of GMOs on milk quality avoided. Should the presence of GMOs be suspected at any time, the fodder in question would be removed.

• The negative impact of the farm herd’s feeding regime on the global South has been lowered. Basically, the drastic reduction in the use of imported concentrates, particularly soy, has lessened the farm’s socio-ecological footprint in third countries.

However, although the farm’s cows graze and consume harvested forage from the farm’s fields, the farm still depends to a certain degree on imported fodder: on the one hand concentrates in the form of barley and soy (20%), and sugar beet pulp and, on the other hand, forage such as dried alfalfa and maize silage. As has been mentioned above, in spring and summer the farm provides about 75% of the cows’ fodder needs from its own resources, but this percentage falls to about 25% in the autumn/winter period. The need to import a certain amount of feed and forage is due to:

• Lack of access to arable lands for cultivating forage crops on the farm
• A stocking rate that is still excessive (and difficulties in gaining access to more farmland to reduce it)

In the future, the stocking rate will be further reduced until there is an average of 25 lactating cows, soy will no longer be present in fodder and sources of organic fodder will be identified, to be bought directly from arable farmers at the shortest possible distance from the Vista Alegre farm. The stiuation from 2014 on is analysed in the next section of this document. One of the best options from an agroecological point of view, employing more grazing land, is made difficult by the huge problems of access to farmland that the farming community suffers in the area, although the Vista Alegre farm has requested 10 hectares in a new local government (Bizkaian County Council) scheme to facilitate access to farmland (an answer has yet to be received).


4.2. The situation in 2014, a year after reaching full organic status


Currently the dairy herd feed regime is characterized by the following points:


* Total absence of soy, due to both the problems caused by GM contamiantion and to the social problems soy production is causing in other parts of the world


* Total absence of fodder corn, also due to the problems caused by GM contamination, but additionally because of the problems of sourcing organic fodder corn (apparently due to the difficulties involved in organic management of this particular crop).


* Grazing whenever the weather permits: thus, the cows are usually in the barn in December and January, but are outside grazing most ot the other months (although less in February and November, for example)


* Gathering fresh green grass to take to the cows and also taking hay and silage crops off the fields we run


* Buying in certified organic feed supplement in the form of dried alfalfa and vetches, and feedstuffs containing barley, wheat, oats, peas, field beans and a little corn. The cows currently receive 3-4 kilos of concentrate a day, varying according to the quality of the accompanying forrage and the general health of each cow in the herd.


In the documento entitled "Milk from the Vista Alegre farm" we refer to the consequences of these changes in the dairy herd feed regime to organic standards in the milk our cows give, results that also reflect changes in the health and welfare of our animals.


Updated: Apri, 2014

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