ERA-NET project starts integrated assessment of free walk farming systems spread over Europe
FreeWalk is an ERA-NET research project that focuses on the development of economically sound free walk cattle farming systems, which improve animal welfare, health and manure quality, while being appreciated by society. The project started May 2017 with a Kick-Off meeting in the Netherlands. Abele Kuipers and Paul Galama, researchers at Wageningen Research, are participants in this project of ERA-NET Cofund SusAn.
Due to concerns on animal welfare, environmental and societal aspects about cattle housing and land use, interest has been aroused in alternative housing and manure management systems. Against this background, two innovative cattle housing systems will be tested in the FreeWalk project, and will be compared with cubicle barns for reference: the compost bedded pack barn and the cow garden, both applied with a completely free walking and lying area. The bedded pack barns are supplied with a bedding of organic waste material. The composted bedding material can be used as a soil improver and fertiliser. Furthermore, the bedding and free movement has the potential to elevate welfare and longevity of animals and improve the soil quality. The highly innovative cow garden has an artificial floor of several layers and is self-cleaning while separating manure and urine.
Galama: “The project approach is to deliver an integrated assessment of case farms spread over Europe, using experimental and modelling methods to evaluate systems performance. Housing as part of intensive and extensive farming will be examined in a holistic context, encompassing the whole farm. Kuipers: “The overall ambition of the project is to deliver a new free walk housing concept, that elevates economic return by improved health and longevity. This will be combined with better animal welfare and at least comparable NPC balances at farm level, compared with cubicle housing, while improving soil structure.” FreeWalk also aims to find out how to manage the two housing systems optimally under different climate conditions in Europe and with the use of various raw materials in the composted bedding.
Kuipers and Galama became involved in this project when the present Slovenian partner in FreeWalk approached Galama to jointly write a research proposal for the joint call of SusAn, the ERA-NET Cofund on sustainable animal production. Galama: “I was quite happy with this request, because the three call topics of SusAn fitted very well with a research proposal on innovative cattle housing systems for which I still was looking for funding in the Netherlands. This call launched by SusAn provided a new opportunity for me to get funding for research on this specific subject.”
Kuipers and Galama took the lead in writing the FreeWalk research proposal, in cooperation with the Slovenian and other partners. Both Dutch researchers also played an important role in assembling the project team. “We have found most of the partners through contacts at conferences”, says Kuipers. Unexpected helpful in this exercise were a couple of videos that showed innovative cattle housing systems in practise, which Galama had put on Youtube before. Galama: “Several of the present partners had watched these videos and had become interested in research on these housing systems. Some of them even knew the names of the farmers concerned.”
The FreeWalk project team consists of 9 partners from 8 European countries. Although a maximum of 8 partners is allowed, Austria really wanted to join, and participates in the project at its own additional budget. Besides this European consortium, also the USA and Israel join the project and contribute with their own funding. Kuipers: “I expect that this research team will be a perfect match of knowledge, expertise and experience, in order to deliver a new free walk housing concept that will be applicable in different countries with different climates and the use of different raw materials for the beddings.”
ERA-NET Cofund SusAn
FreeWalk is one of the 14 research projects funded under the ERA-NET Cofund SusAn joint call on sustainable animal production, that was launched in 2016. The total budget is €16M, funded by 23 European Funding parties and the European Commission. The Netherlands participates in 6 of these projects. SusAn is a joint action under the H2020 ERA-NET Cofund instrument.
Researchers in the spotlight with projects funded through jointly programmed calls
One of the aims of joint programming is aligning research & research funding and this usually results in a joint call to which proposals can be submitted. In a series of interviews, researchers from Wageningen University and Research present their granted projects from such joint calls.