Limiting Protein Supply in Cattle Feeding

Grassland-based milk and meat production promotes the site-specific feeding of ruminants. With the AP22+, the reduction of protein supply via concentrates is under discussion. Agroscope studied the effects of limited protein supply.

In January 2014, the Swiss federal government introduced the Grassland-Based Milk and Meat Production (‘GMF’) Programme as part of the Direct Payment Ordinance. The aim of the GMF Programme is to preserve a grass-based site-specific feeding regime for ruminants and to promote the reduced use of concentrates. An evaluation conducted shortly after the introduction of the GMF Programme identified vulnerabilities to be eliminated. The solution now under discussion aims to increase the percentage of feed protein in cattle rations produced on the meadows and pastures of the farm itself.

Further development of grassland-based milk and meat production

In order to further develop the GMF Programme, in 2018 the Federal Office for Agriculture tasked Agroscope’s ‘Ruminants’ Research Group with investigating the effects of forgoing the use of protein concentrate on feeding, feed production, animal health, profitability, the environment (will be explored in greater depth in future) and the controllability of the programme.
For the GMF Programme, Agroscope studied three different feeding regimes proposed by the Federal Office for Agriculture:

  1. Exclusive use of meadow- and pasture forage produced on-farm
  2. Feeds with a maximum protein content of 120g per kg dry matter are permitted in addition to the farm’s own meadow and pasture forage.
  3. Feeds with a maximum protein content of 250g per kg dry matter are permitted in addition to the farm’s own meadow and pasture forage.

The study focused on dairy cows. The variants were also tested with rearing cattle, fattening cattle and suckler cows.

Variants 1 and 2 were highly restrictive for producers, and entailed various challenges such as:

  • offering high-quality meadow and pasture forage at all times;
  • providing a balance between energy and protein;
  • preventing feed shortages and malnutrition;
  • coming to terms with the extreme fluctuations in production and income;
  • lack of opportunity to purchase roughage;
  • a ban or limitation on the use of by-products of the food industry.

Variant 3 scarcely limits protein supply, doing so at most in maize-dominated rations used in livestock fattening – and was therefore not pursued any further.

Clear and comprehensible rules would be required for the implementation of all variants. This includes information in greater detail on the permitted feeds such as e.g. milk, straw or whole-plant silages. The trade in forage, by-product use, summer alpine grazing, flexible participation in the GMF Programme, exit options, and the handling of the farm’s own products also require clarification.


  • The new variants of the Grassland-Based Milk and Meat Production Programme as well as the permitted feeds must be described in greater detail.
  • With the exclusive use of the farm’s own meadow and pasture fodder, the energy intake of dairy cows would in general pose a greater challenge than their protein supply.
  • With the exclusive use of protein-reduced concentrates (max. 12% protein), a protein deficiency in the total ration would be likely. A significant protein deficiency can adversely affect feed intake, performance, health, fertility and animal welfare.
  • In the case of rations supplemented with concentrates (max. 12% protein), the minimum meadow- and pasture-fodder percentages may be under 65%, and 1500kg concentrates per cow and year are possible.
  • Income shortfalls in the event of reduced protein supplementation depend on the initial situation, and thus vary significantly.
  • Approx. 9–14% of milk producers could implement the variant through the exclusive feeding of the farm’s own meadow and pasture forage.

Feedback from the Federal Office for Agriculture

The FOAG takes note of the results of the study, and thanks Agroscope for its valuable findings on the targeted further development of the Grassland-Based Milk and Meat Production Programme.
The measures within the context of the AP22+ are meant to further promote the preservation of site-specific milk and meat production. The aim of limiting protein supply is to ensure that the animals’ protein requirements are primarily met with forage produced on-farm.
This leads to livestock populations adapted to the site in question and to site-specific feed regimes, resulting in closed nutrient cycles and preventing the increased regional accrual of farmyard manure. ‘Grassland Switzerland’ aims to fully exploit the potential of herbage protein for purposes of milk and meat production. In addition, the use of protein feeds such as soybean meal, maize gluten, etc. in cattle feeding regimes is reduced.
This offers a clear potential for differentiation vis-à-vis production outside of Switzerland, and can contribute to the value-added strategy. Furthermore, this measure supports the Swiss federal government’s livestock breeding strategy. The further development of the GMF Programme envisaged in AP22+ will take the findings from Agroscope’s study into account.

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