In publica commoda

Press release: How cows and cattle can get back to the pastures

No. 171 - 09.09.2019

Collaborative research led by Göttingen investigates new ways of pasture management

Modern livestock farming increases the pressure to use arable land for fodder production. The result: modern dairy farms no longer send their cows out to pasture. The "Green Grass" project, led by the University of Göttingen, brings researchers, industry and stakeholders together in an interdisciplinary network stretching across Germany. They are investigating how grazing livestock can be brought back into the landscape and finding new ways of creating sustainable and efficiently managed pasture.


"The increasing intensification of dairy farming in particular is threatening the diversity of grassland and thus also the diversity of plant and insect species," says Professor Johannes Isselstein, Head of the Institute of Grassland Sciences Department at the University of Göttingen and spokesperson for the network. But how will the return to pasture farming with dairy cows and cattle work? The network is focusing on the development of innovative technologies such as virtual fences and the monitoring of the seasonal supply of forage plants on pasture using state-of-the-art remote sensing systems. With the help of these technologies, the immense workload of pasture farming can be reduced and sustainable pasture use made possible. "Efficient pasture management can cover the cows' nutrient requirements, mainly with fresh grass, and at the same time reduce the amount of concentrated and supplementary feed," says Isselstein.


The movement of the animals on the pasture can be controlled using virtual fences. The cattle get a combination of a warning tone with an unpleasant stimulus so that they no longer cross the virtual boundary to a certain part of the pasture. "After a short learning phase, the majority of the cattle learned to associate the virtual fence with the warning tone and adapt within a few hours - even when the area is moved," says Dr Juliane Horn from the Institute of Grassland Science and coordinator of the project. "However, there are individual differences between the animals. Some animals avoid the defined grazing area immediately after first contact, whereas others test the virtual fences more frequently. To ensure animal welfare and practicality, these differences will have to be taken into account in the further development of the technology". The possibility to set variable virtual fences in space and time can improve the structural and biological diversity of grasslands, for example by specifically maintaining as well as promoting landscape features or habitats for ground-nesting birds.


Partners from research, industry and agriculture are also focusing on the production of milk, meat and other commodities using this new pasture management system and tracking the associated costs and benefits. The joint project will be funded with a total of 5.5 million euros over a period of five years within the framework of the BMBF funding line "Agrarsystems of the Future" with 1.3 million euros going to the University of Göttingen.



Dr Juliane Horn

University of Göttingen

Department of Crop Sciences

Institute of Grassland Science

Von-Siebold-Str. 8, 37075 Göttingen

Tel:  +49 (0)551 3922251



Professor Johannes Isselstein

University of Göttingen

Department of Crop Sciences

Tel: +49 (0) 551 3922253