Outcomes of a comparison between pastoral and silvopastoral management on beef cattle productivity, animal welfare and pasture depletion in a Mediterranean extensive farm

May 2023
Alice Ripamonti, Alberto Mantino, Francesco Annecchini, Alice Cappucci, Laura Casarosa, Luca Turini, Giulia Foggi, Marcello Mele


In spring 2021, 50 growing steers and heifers of the Maremmana breed (average age 321 d and weight 287 kg) were rotationally stocked under two different treatments (silvopastoral and pastoral). The aim was to evaluate the influence of grazing system on cattle growth and welfare, and pasture depletion. The experiment was carried out on a real Mediterranean agrosilvopastoral farm, located in central Italy. To implement rotational grazing, 3.69 ha of temporary grassland were split into six paddocks, three for each treatment. Cattle grazed for one week in one paddock and then were moved to the next one for a total of six weeks corresponding to six grazing periods. The group maintained on the silvopastoral system were allowed to access 3.31 ha of a Turkey oak (Quercus cerris L.) forest. Regarding the average daily gain, a significant interaction was found between the treatment and time. The average daily gain of the animals grazing in the open pasture was 1.20 kg d−1, while that of the cattle grazing in the silvopastoral system was 1.02 kg d−1. Despite the rate of growth being within the expected range for the Maremmana breed, the average daily gain of cattle in the silvopastoral system was significantly lower. One of the possible causes of this difference could be the higher energy requirements of the animals due to the different activity levels. The different management did not affect animal welfare indicators. Indeed, the serum cortisol concentration did not vary between treatments and among sampling times, while the hair cortisol concentration decreased significantly during the experiment for both groups. Regarding pasture health, allowing cattle to graze in the forest reduced pasture depletion because of the lower stocking rate and grazing pressure. Further studies are necessary to increase the knowledge of the role of forests and grazing management in other seasons than spring in extensive agrosilvopastoral systems.

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