Potential of legume-based grassland - livestock systems in Europe: a review

A Luscher, I Mueller-Harvey, JF Soussana, RM Rees, JL Payraud

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    European grassland-based livestock production systems face the challenge of producing more meat and milk to meet increasing world demands and to achieve this using fewer resources. Legumes offer great potential for achieving these objectives. They have numerous features that can act together at different stages in the soil–plant–animal–atmosphere system, and these are most effective in mixed swards with a legume proportion of 30–50%. The resulting benefits include reduced dependence on fossil energy and industrial N-fertilizer, lower quantities of harmful emissions to the environment (greenhouse gases and nitrate), lower production costs, higher productivity and increased protein self-sufficiency. Some legume species offer opportunities for improving animal health with less medication, due to the presence of bioactive secondary metabolites. In addition, legumes may offer an adaptation option to rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations and climate change. Legumes generate these benefits at the level of the managed land-area unit and also at the level of the final product unit. However, legumes suffer from some limitations, and suggestions are made for future research to exploit more fully the opportunities that legumes can offer. In conclusion, the development of legume-based grassland–livestock systems undoubtedly constitutes one of the pillars for more sustainable and competitive ruminant production systems, and it can be expected that forage legumes will become more important in the future.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)206 - 228
    Number of pages23
    JournalGrass and Forage Science
    Issue number2
    Publication statusFirst published - 2014

    Bibliographical note



    • Animal health
    • Animal performance
    • Bloat
    • Climate change
    • Energy
    • Forage quality
    • Greenhouse gas emission
    • Helminths
    • Management
    • Nitrate leaching
    • Plant secondary metabolites
    • Symbiotic N2 fixation
    • Tannins
    • Yield


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