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Sustainable Livestock Farming: Types & Benefits

Sustainable Livestock Farming: Types & Benefits

Surely you may have read or heard something about sustainable livestock farming; its most common meaning is applied to the environmental context, where production processes are based on techniques and technologies with the least possible impact for the earth. 

It is a much-discussed topic in our society, because it becomes a criterion for consumers’ choice in animal protein decision-making. 

However, now let’s step back for a moment to understand the different spheres that the concept of sustainability touches. 

Concept of sustainability 

Sustainability can be classified into environmental, social and economic:

  • Environmental sustainability: it is the use of goods and natural resources to meet our needs without depleting them for future generations 
  • Social sustainability: it can be defined as all the actions aimed at improving the quality of life of all individuals, reducing social inequalities and increasing access to the basic rights and services
  • Economic sustainability: it is a set of economic and financial administrative practices aimed at maintaining production processes, which lead to profit, without causing damage to the environment. 

Types of livestock farming

Within the concept of “livestock farming” there are different practices, which can be divided into two systems: extensive and intensive livestock farming. 

Extensive farming

Extensive livestock farming is considered the most traditional system of farming and it is considered an ethical type of farming. The animals are raised in large areas (grazing); this means that, in these breeding areas, the livestock is left free. The popularity of this system is due to a big advantage: low investment. The animals are raised on large expanses of pasture, where the cattle can get all of the nutrients they need; this make the production very economical. 

Intensive farming 

Intensive farming is considered the opposite of the extensive farming; the first characteristic that differentiates these two systems is that the animals are kept in smaller areas, in a confinement system. The livestosk is separated into batches and it’s reared in a confined area, which can be a pen or a barn; the animals reared in intensive farming are mainly meat animals (pigs, chickens, cattle, sheep), but also dairy animals. Since there are no pastures, the animals are fed through troughs. The diet is balanced and it is goal-oriented. In dairy farming, it is possible to increase the milk production of the cows and, in beef cattle, it’s possible to reduce the time the animal takes to reach the ideal slaughter weight. 

In summary, what are the differences between extensive and intensive farming?

Basically, in the intensive farming, livestock are confined in small spaces; through the use of technological procedures, the animals can be monitored and the productivity can be maximised. However, the labour for this goal must be specialised, which requires higher costs. In the extensive farming, cattle are let free in very large pastures; it’s harder to monitorate the animals, so the nutrition and the health cannot be assessed frequently. In any case, it’s not necessary a high investment, because the animals get their nutrients from the pasture itself and no skilled labour is employed. 

How to know if a cattle farm is sustainable?

Sustainable cattle farming refers to the production process that aims to make cattle production more efficient, with practices that increase product profitability, reduce losses and costs, optimise natural resources and improve the routine and welfare of the animals and the employees. All of this is done with full respect for the earth and for the animals. Since this is a hotly debated topic, there are many chains looking for sustainable meat farming that meets sustainability standards, making these practices a good path to follow for farmers looking to be in the business for the next ten years. 

Technology for sustainable livestock farming 

The climate change, the degradation of native forests and the unavailability of water resources are some of the factors driving the evolution and the spread of the sustainable livestock farming practices. 

According to the Friend of the Earth portal, the main features that contribute to the sustainable growth of livestock, refer to the good actions focused on the recovery of pastures, the reuse of animal waste and its fertirrigation, the creation of organic mineral fertilisers, and above all, the use of the integrated production system. 

Among the different activities carried out in the country with this goal, we can mention the line of meat with certification of products from sustainable agriculture and breeding, developed by Friend of the Earth, which is currently an excellent example of the application of technological resources and good practices within the production process. 

Sustainable livestock farming pdf

There are some requirements the companies wishing to join the Sustainable Farming Certification programme must have; all the informations can be viewed and downloaded from the company’s website. 

About the author:

Friend of the Earth is an international certification scheme for sustainable agriculture and breeding that has been developed within the guidelines of the Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and whose principles are based on the safeguarding and protection of the entire ecosystem.


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