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CAB Reviews

A reviews journal covering agriculture, global health, nutrition, natural resources and veterinary science

CAB Review

Relevance of the dairy cow biodiversity in the development of a profitable and environmentally sustainable livestock.

Abstract

The theme of the loss of biodiversity in recent years has become increasingly important as highlighted by the United Nations General Assembly which declared the 2011-2020 period as the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity. In this context, the preservation and rational use of autochthonous cattle breeds play a key role in the maintenance of the biodiversity. The animal husbandry of the twenty-first century has brought about a decline in biodiversity of bovine breeds, due to the abandonment of autochthonous cows in favour of more productive cosmopolitan breeds. The intense selection for milk traits applied on the cosmopolitan breeds has resulted nowadays in peculiar physiological features, which have impaired some immune defence mechanisms, increasing the incidence of infectious and metabolic diseases, and worsened both fertility and longevity. The situation is dramatically different within the autochthonous breeds. These animals, despite the apparent 'low production', present some important characteristics like great rusticity, frugality, longevity, disease resistance and resilience. They are able to adapt to marginal habitats and extensive production systems, maintaining adequate milk and meat production of high quality, using diets based on forage or pasture, which reduce also the competition with the human society for the food sources. These features make these animals the first choice in marginal areas where they can guarantee an economic return to farmers and play an important environmental role by helping the preservation of the habitats and landscapes.