Happy cows?


 (c) Inken Christoph-Schulz

Societal expectations towards ecological dairy cattle husbandry

While husbandry of pigs and poultry is discussed frequently dairy cattle husbandry seems to be of less importance. But does this really mean that the society is not interested in it? Or does it mean that they agree to it or do they even have no perception about it?

Background and Objective

Many consumers and citizens dream of an agriculture like in their children’s books. But many areas of modern agriculture are nowadays highly technically driven. As a consequence, the gap between farmers and many parts of the society is increasing. Especially modern animal husbandry is seen very critically. Several studies have already been conducted regarding the keeping of poultry and pigs. But how do societal groups in Germany perceive the keeping of dairy cattle? What is important for them and what do they want to be changed? Are there causal correlations between the perceptions and does this result in changed behavior? The aim of the study is to investigate the perception of different societal groups towards dairy cattle farming. Afterwards, the requests of change of the regarded group will be analysed. Farmers as political decision-makers will get an orientation of the main points of criticism and of possible ways towards an improved perception of the dairy cattle farming in Germany. Perceived and expected differences between conventional and ecological dairy cattle husbandry are of special interest. This includes also the pros and cons of both husbandry systems.

Alm (© Inken Christoph-Schulz)
Stallhaltung (© aid.infodienst, Bonn, P. Meyer)


The project is structured in two parts: First, focus groups are conducted in three German cities (Hannover, Dresden and Munich). Main point of interest are the perception and imagination as well as their expectations of the participants towards dairy cattle farming in Germany. A special focus is laid on the differences between perception and expectations towards ecological dairy cattle farming compared to conventional dairy cattle farming. Based on these focus groups a quantitative online survey will be developed to examine those topics in more detail.

Data and Methods

Focus groups were documented in audio and video format. Afterwards, records are typed (transcribed) and analysed using open coding. Within this step categories (e.g. perception stable, space requirement) are generated and answers from the discussions are assigned to the different categories. In a second step an online-survey will be developed based on the focus groups to examine the results in more detail and to quantify the outcome representatively. Data will be analysed using among other things factor and cluster analysis. It is also intended to analyses respondents attitude in more detail and to perform a segmentation of different societal groups.


In general, dairy cattle farming is perceived as very technical by most of the focus group discussants. Big stables and a treatment as if they were on a conveyer belt are described. Also terms like “factory”, “industry” and “sterile” were used. Some participants are sure that the animals have only a minimal freedom of movement and that they stay with up to thousand other animals in one stable. The prophylactic use of veterinary medicinal products, especially antibiotics, with the feed was assumed by lots of the discussants. The reason for this is the risk of infectious diseases spreading but also the performance-enhancing effects of antibiotics were discussed.However, supplements are not refused by all participants as long these supplements are not artificially. More available space is the main aspect mentioned when asked for their expectations regarding dairy cattle farming. The freedom to move is not the only necessary aspect when mentioning space. More available space is associated with the possibility of contacting conspecifics and of choosing feed on their own. Another important aspect for the discussants are regular controls by vets of the farms and the feed to ensure that the animals are fine. At least some of the participants realize that the discussed aspects result in increased demand of space and staff. The spiralling of prices was discussed within this context.



hits: 3

  1. Christoph-Schulz IB, Salamon P, Weible D (2015) What about the calves? : how society perceives dairy farming. In: Dumitras DE, Jitea IM, AertsS (eds) Know your food: food ethics and innivation 2015. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publ, pp 318-324, DOI:10.3920/978-90-8686-813-1_48
  2. Christoph-Schulz IB, Salamon P, Weible D (2015) What is the benefit of organically-reared dairy cattle? : societal perception towards conventional and organic dairy farming [online]. Int J Food Syst Dynam 6(3):139-146, zu finden in <http://centmapress.ilb.uni-bonn.de/ojs/index.php/fsd/article/download/632/494> [zitiert am 18.09.2015]
    pdf document (limited accessibility) 402 kb
  3. Christoph-Schulz IB, Weible D, Salamon P (2015) Zwischen Heidi-Idyll und Agrarfabrik - zur Wahrnehmung der Milchviehhaltung. Jb Österr Ges Agrarökon / J Austrian Soc Agric Econ 24:245-254