How many cows graze in fields?
Three quarters of dairy cows aged two years and over were at pasture during the grazing season in 2020, which is nearly 1.2 million animals. The grazing season runs from late April into October. The number of field-grazed cows has been increasing every year since 2016. Cows do, however, graze in pastures for increasingly shorter periods. In 2020, field-grazed cows were outside for about 8.5 hours a day on average, versus 8.9 hours two years previously.
Everyone has seen the images of cows being allowed back into the meadow to graze after having spent a winter in their stables. Cows spending time outdoors is not a matter of course. Up to 2015, the share of dairy cows annually at pasture during the grazing season fell to 65 percent in that year. Policies and public opinion prompted a turnaround and by 2020, 74 percent of cows were grazing outside again. This brought grazing back to the 2010 level.
|Perioden||Farms with field-grazed cows||Field-grazed cows|
Cows mostly grazed during office hours
Although the number of field-grazed cows is increasing, the time they spend in the field has decreased. Whereas in 2013, 34 percent of cows were at pasture for over 1,440 hours during the grazing season, this had dropped to 23 percent in 2020. The number of cows spending shorter periods of time outdoors, between 720 and 1,440 hours, actually went up over the same period; from 32 to 48 percent.
Most notably, there has been a shift from day and night grazing to daytime only. Cows grazed in pastures day and night for an average of 17 hours in 2020, with the remaining time spent in the barn for milking. Cows that only go outside during the day were at pasture for an average of 7 hours; the time between milking in the morning and late afternoon.
|Jaarta||< 720 hrs||720 to 1,439 hrs||1,440 to 2,159 hrs||2,160 to 2,879 hrs||2,880 hrs or more||No grazing|
|¹⁾ No figures available.|
1 in 3 large dairy farms keep cows stabled
The drop in the average number of hours a cow is at pasture is largely due to the increase in scale in dairy farming. The larger the holding, the more often the animals will be kept indoors. Livestock were stabled all year in 34 percent of holdings with 161 cows or more, and in 17 percent of holdings with 81 to 121 cows. Larger dairy farms do not always have sufficient pasture for grazing available near the barn. This makes it more difficult to graze livestock at a reasonable distance from the barn during the grazing season.
|Aantal melkkoeien||Field-grazed||Stabled all year round|
|1 to 40 dairy cows||91.58||8.42|
|41 to 80||88.47||11.53|
|81 to 120||83.40||16.60|
|121 to 160||76.68||23.32|
|161 dairy cows or more||65.74||34.26|
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