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Abstract

Since decoupling of the CAP, many Scottish suckler cow farms are facing financial difficulties. In response, many farmers are out-wintering extensively managed suckler cows to minimise production costs. These systems are of animal welfare concern. A range of trade-offs between animal welfare indicators and between animal welfare and farm profitability can be identified. A Dynamic Programming (DP) model was developed to study these trade-offs. Two herds were modelled assuming their feeding regimes were either low (LHERD) or high (HHERD). The objective of the DP was to maximise the expected net margin from a current cow and its successors over an infinite time horizon. Preliminary results showed that the rate of voluntary culling was higher in HHERD than in LHERD. Animals in HHERD had shorter life expectancy. The expected net present value was 58% lower in LHERD than HHERD (-£41.5 and -£24.3 respectively). These results suggest a heavier culling rate and shorter longevity for animals in HHERD that compromises animal welfare. Also HHERD had a greater implied stocking density than LHERD. This increase of the cows’ population may adversely affect the environment. The presented model provides some of the basic information required to explore some of the trade-offs between farm profit, animal welfare and the environment.

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