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16 European case studies were chosen to explore the diversity of beef production systems in the five countries studied according to three main criteria: country of origin, system type (cow-calf, fattener, dairy, etc.), plant resources used (all grass, etc.) and their land type (mountain, plain, proximity to a cereal basin). A case study representative of a region in a European country described the technical choices made by the farmer in terms of animal husbandry, land use and investments and provides information on the economic results of this system. Briefly, a cow-calf-fattener system is a farm that breeds and fattens animals on the farm. A specialized cow-calf system gives birth to the animals on the farm and raises them to the weaning stage (weaned animal, 7 to 10 months old) and then sell them to the fattener. A specialized finishing system only fattens animals purchased from cowcalf farms. Almost half of all the case studies also sold grain crops. The farming systems examined included two mountain grass based cowcalf systems in France, one lowland grass based in Ireland, and in Belgium two associated with crops. One dairy system, without calf finishing in a grassland area found in Belgium, another associated with a suckler herd in mountain areas in France. In addition, one grass-based finishing system is in Ireland, two intensive systems in Italy and one in Germany.
Most of the case studies used were created for the needs of the current project as existing European references were not sufficiently detailed: the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) does not distinguish between the different beef cattle production systems (cow-calf, cow-calf-finisher), agri benchmark offers very synthetic sheets, without any system described for Belgium. The French case studies were built by the technicians of the INOSYS farm network (Charroin et al., 2005) based on a set of real viable farms. In the other countries, real farms were selected by experts from the DAEA (Department of Agricultural Economic Analysis) and ELEVEO-AWE group (Walloon Breeders’ Association) networks in Belgium, by TEAGASC for Ireland, and the CREA network for Italy and for the University of Bonn for Germany. In Ireland, data for the cow-calf and finishing systems were derived from the Irish National Farm Survey (FADN) database and the integrated system was derived from research data from the Teagasc Beef Research Centre, Grange, Co. Meath.
The data available in these case studies and their presentation were harmonised between participating institutions. Details include the structure of the farms (number of workers (WU), utilised agricultural area, herd size, distribution of areas, etc.), the areas farmed (yield, fertilization, crop sold or intra-consumed, etc.), the herd size (average composition of the herd over a year, animals bought and sold, breed, category, sex, live weight, age, etc.), the feeds used (quantities ingested per category of animal for each type of feed, grazing periods) and the economic results (details of charges and products). However, farm IT-F2 was excluded from the farm-level indicators because its cash crop enterprise was not represented in the case study, making these indicators irrelevant.
There is a complete cow-calffinishing system in every country except Italy: grass based beef cattle in Ireland, and mixed crop-beef cattle in France and Belgium, mixed cropdairy cattle in Germany. For Italy, in order to study the system as a whole, i.e. from birth to the slaughter of the animals, a reconstruction of the meat production chain was made (FR-CC2 + IT-F2) by aggregating a specialized French cow-calf system (FR-CC2) with the corresponding specialized Italian fattener system (IT-F2). This is considered as a representative system, as a large number of calves finished in Italy are imported from the Massif Central in France (GEB-Idele, 2016) The reconstituted farm encompasses the entire production of the French farm in addition to the Italian farm: the Italian farm, which fattens 913 animals, has been reduced to 55 young cattle produced to adjust to the 55 weanlings sold by the cow-calf system (all charges and consumption have been reduced proportionally). There is, however, a time gap of forty days between the time of sale of the French weaned calf and the date the Italian farm purchases its young male for finishing. To overcome this discrepancy it is assumed the French weanling is fed a basal diet of hay (4 kg DM/weanling per day) and concentrates (3 kg gross/ weanling per day), with the animal operational costs adjusted accordingly to an assumed 2.5 LU, in accordance with the data per LU of the source (French) case. The differences between the farm profiles were reflected in their share of “finished meat” (kilogram live-weight of animals ready for slaughter). This share varied from 0% for a cow-calf system where all the animals, including cows, are fattened on another farm, to 100% for fattener or cow-calf-fattener systems (Table 1). The type and quantity of feed consumed by the animals was the basis for the calculation of the consumption of resources that are edible by human, such as cereals. Cow-calf farms consume little concentrated feed. Grass resources are generally sufficient to cover the needs of the growing animal. Finishing systems require considerably more concentrated feed in energy for their animals to deposit fat. However, these values vary from farm to farm depending on their degree of intensification, such as IT-F2 which uses four times as much feed as GE-F2 where animals exhibit low average daily gains. Two of the farms with a dairy herd and cow-calf-fattener system have intermediate feed consumptions. The German dairy farmer GE-DF uses a large amount of corn silage due to its zero-grazing herd management.
Table : Main characteristics of the case studies, quantity of meat produced.
Cow-Calf (CC) systems of Dairy (D) systems without finishing