AMP grazing and animal welfare
Alongside the positive environmental and economic aspects of adaptive multi-paddock (AMP) grazing, AMP has the potential to benefit the welfare of the animals.
Some examples of these potential impacts are discussed below. As part of the McDonald’s AMP project we are employing behavioural observations as well as a suite of health related measures to really understand the impact of the system on the welfare of the herd. We hope to have more substantive evidence around some of these points as a result of the 4-year project.
Addressing the root cause of health and welfare issues
AMP is a holistic system that considers the root cause of issues rather than repeatedly treating or dealing with the symptoms. In a regenerative system, disease issues are seen as red flags; highlighting that something within nature’s dynamic network is not quite right. Traditionally, we might treat animals for a disease, for example by providing antibiotics, and think that the problem is solved. However, thinking regeneratively, antibiotics are merely treating the symptoms of the disease and not addressing the root cause. An example of this is where we had issues with New Forest eye in the cattle; a bacterial infection that is carried by flies. You can read more about howe we tackled New Forest eye in this case study. By considering the root cause we hope to address the underlying issue, rebalancing the system such that it does not come back. Overtime, regenerative principles should improve health and welfare by removing or reducing the cause and subsequent challenge.
Inherent selection for breeds that have better health and welfare
The low intervention and low input nature of an AMP grazing system means that it favours the use of breeds of animal that are more robust and are less prone to health and welfare issues due to high selection pressures. For example, AMP grazing systems require breeds that are easy calving and robust enough to be able to outwinter on forage. Such breeds tend to be more resilient to endemic disease pressures whilst thriving in a low-input system. Since the commencement of the AMP project we have altered our selection process to specifically choose bulls that are known to thrive in this system.
Constant access to a wider variety of plants and nutrients
AMP systems mimic natural plains grazing, such that wild cattle would graze a patch of land before moving onto new pasture with a large variation of available plants. In set stocked systems, cattle will generally first graze and deplete their preferred plants and then are left with no further variation until the next time they are moved, which could be weeks or months later. AMP cattle are provided with new pasture regularly increasing the diversity of plants available (and therefore the available bio-nutrients), increasing interest and exploration and allowing cattle to self-select which plants they need for optimal health and welfare. A key focus is of AMP is to leave greater residuals than would traditionally be left (i.e. not grazing right down to the base of the plant) - this means that cattle are moved long before the grass is so short that they may experience hunger and frustration from a lack of available forage.
Outdoor housing all year round
Because cattle are moved regularly, AMP grazed cattle can be outwintered whilst providing plentiful nutrition and without causing long term damage to the pasture. Providing cattle with all year round outdoor housing reduces the potential for indoor-housing related health issues such as respiratory diseases and ringworm. Outdoor access provides cattle with more space and greater opportunities to express natural behaviours.
Stable social groups
By moving to an AMP grazing system, we have reduced what was previously seven groups of cattle into one large group. Managing the cattle in one group vastly reduces mixing, thus minimises the disruption of social networks, which we know is stressful for cattle.
Regular, consistent and rewarding handling from stockpeople
In an AMP system, cattle are moved generally every day or other day. This constant fencing and moving of cattle in a clear and consistent way means that the cattle come to associate interactions with stockpeople with the positive rewarding experience of being moved to new pasture. We have found that as a result of this, the cattle have become much calmer and easier to handle. Our stockpeople have commented that they enjoy the time out moving the fence and seeing the cattle moving into their new paddock, and have got to know the herd better as a result.
A more natural system
AMP systems are more than just grazing. AMP is more in harmony with the landscape ecosystem such that we aim to restore depleted biodiversity. There is no of use pesticides or artificial fertilisers therefore avoiding exposure of cattle to agrichemicals and secondary exposure of pesticides to wild animals. In this way, the animal welfare benefits span further than the cattle, benefitting wild animal populations as well.
eLearning: Foundations of Regenerative Agriculture
It starts with you
This course is the perfect starting point for anyone looking to learn more about one of the most promising potential solutions to biodiversity loss and global warming. Through an interactive online learning you will better understand the challenges and opportunities of regenerative agriculture.
We explain how leveraging ecological principles and processes can move us towards food production practices that build resilience while at the same time producing the highest quality, nutrient-dense and delicious foods.