Should cows graze?

A relational approach to understanding farmer perspectives on the ethics of grazing and indoor dairy systems


In the United Kingdom, around 20% of dairy farms house cows all year round. Research suggests that farmers value animal health and comfort over the expression of natural behaviour through grazing. The concept of natural behaviour is notoriously complex, however. The article reframes the topic of grazing through a relational approach to understand farmer views on the practice in Great Britain, using qualitative interviews. The article also considers critiques of the relational approach. In this study, participants were reluctant to see a distinction between farms that graze and those that do not in terms of animal welfare, but they also valued the positive affective experience of grazing their cows on their own farm. The article argues that the latter account is not adequately included in debates about grazing. What this account excludes is the situated nature and limitations of relationships on farm even when cows graze.

Orla Shortall Bw

Dr Orla Shortall

Agricultural Social Scientist,

The James Hutton Institute