The importance of cows for resilient communities

30 May 2024 by
The importance of cows for resilient communities
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These past few years, cows and farmers have been more and more criticised for their contribution to climate change. This has led to an increase in the consumption of plant-based products, for example, but also in agri-bashing, which really affects farmers.

If we can’t deny that dairy cows add substantial amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, we can put more perspective to the dairy industry in its globality. Because as for any topic, it’s never only black or white (unless some cows 😉).

Cows play a pivotal role in various aspects of environmental, economic, and social domains. Their importance extends beyond mere milk production, impacting landscapes, biodiversity, tourism, agriculture, rural economies, and even climate change mitigation. Here’s an in-depth look at why cows are crucial:

Cows contribute significantly to the maintenance of pastures, maintaining beautiful landscapes as we know them in North-West Europe. By grazing, cows help manage grasslands, preventing overgrowth and promoting a healthy ecosystem. This grazing process encourages a diversity of plant species to thrive, which supports various wildlife habitats. Cows play therefore an essential role in preserving biodiversity. Pastures can also prevent soil erosion, promoting soil health and fertility. They also play an essential role in limiting groundwater contamination and act as really efficient carbon storage.

Pastures usually enable to use lands that are not fit for other agricultural purposes, and they prevent overubanisation. If we stop breeding cows, we can only imagine what would replace all the pastures. Pastures also make our regions attractive for tourism, which has a positive economic impact.

Cows produce manure, a natural fertilizer rich in nutrients necessary for crop growth. The use of manure reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, which can be harmful to the environment and have a big carbon impact at the farm level. Manure improves soil structure, enhances water retention, and promotes the activity of beneficial soil microorganisms. By recycling nutrients back into the soil, cows help sustain agricultural productivity and environmental health. Cows are therefore at the centre of a really virtuous circle.

Dairy cows are crucial when it comes to food security. They provide milk, which is a vital source of calcium and proteins essential for human health. Dairy products, derived from cow's milk, form an integral part of diets worldwide, offering nutritional benefits that support bone health and muscle development. In many parts of the world, milk and dairy products are fundamental to dietary habits and nutritional well-being. In the United States, a team of researchers measured the impact of replacing dairy cows by fruit and vegetables crops, or by nuts and pulses, showing that it would seriously reduce the supply of various essential nutrients that milk provides.

Cows are vital to the socio-economic development of rural communities. Livestock farming provides livelihoods for millions of people globally. Smallholder farmers, in particular, rely on cows for income through the sale of milk, meat, and other by-products. This livestock dependency fosters economic stability and growth in rural areas, reducing poverty and enhancing quality of life.

The dairy industry plays a role in preserving traditional and indigenous breeds, which are often adapted to local environments and resilient to specific climatic conditions. These breeds are part of cultural heritage and biodiversity. Maintaining diverse cattle breeds ensures genetic diversity, which is crucial for the adaptability and resilience of livestock populations in the face of changing environmental conditions and disease threats.

6. Carbon sequestration​

Managed grazing by cows can contribute to carbon sequestration, a process where CO2 is captured from the atmosphere and stored in the soil. Well-managed pastures with healthy grasslands can act as carbon storage, mitigating the effects of climate change. Cows' grazing promotes plant growth, which in turn absorbs CO2. This natural carbon sequestration process helps reduce the overall greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector, compensating, at least partially, for the greenhouse gas emissions of cows.

Cows are indispensable to environmental sustainability, food security, rural economies, and cultural heritage. Their multifaceted contributions range from maintaining biodiversity and enhancing soil fertility to providing essential nutrients and supporting livelihoods. Moreover, their role in carbon sequestration highlights their potential in fighting climate change. The agricultural and dairy sectors are in a continuous quest to becoming more and more environmentally neutral and to having a positive impact. Understanding and appreciating the importance of cows can lead to more sustainable and integrated approaches to livestock farming and environmental management. 

The resilience of our communities highly depends on our local farms, so let’s support them!

To go further:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO): Reports on sustainable livestock production and the role of grazing animals in maintaining ecosystems.

"Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems" journal articles: Discuss the benefits of manure for soil fertility and reduced dependence on chemical fertilizers.

"Why The World Is A Better Place With Dairy Cows"

"Cows And Climate Change",those%20that%20are%20energy%20intensive.

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