Group: Knowledge Systems and Innovation, Division of Organic Farming,
Department for Sustainable Agricultural Systems, University of Natural
Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), Vienna, Austria 2Departement of Livestock Sciences, Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Ackerstrasse 113, Frick, 5070 Switzerland Christian R. Vogl, Email: email@example.com.Contributor Information.Corresponding author.#Contributed equally.
sustainable management of animal health and welfare is of increasing
importance to consumers and a key topic in the organic farming movement.
Few systematic studies have been undertaken investigating farmers’
local knowledge related to this issue. Ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM) is
a discipline focusing on local knowledge and folk methods in veterinary
medicine, however most ethnoveterinarian studies primarily address the
treatment of animal diseases. Very few studies have explored
ethnoveterinary research project in Eastern Tyrol (Austria) was
conducted in 2004 and 2005 to gather information about local knowledge
of animal husbandry from 144 informants, with the emphasis on plants
that maintain livestock health and welfare.
mentioned a total of 87 plants and 22 plant-based generic terms in the
context of maintaining and improving livestock health and welfare. The
most important preventive measures for maintaining and improving animal
health and welfare were practices related to “fodder” and “feeding”. In
this category the plants mentioned could be grouped according to three
different perceptions about their effect on animals: “Good or bad
fodder”, “Functional fodder” and “Fodder medicine”. In addition to
fodder, environmental management, the human-animal relationship,
household remedies and cultural/religious activities were also
mentioned. When asked about practices in the past that maintained animal
health and well-being, interviewees mentioned, for example, the
importance of the diversity of sources that used to be available to
obtain feed and fodder.
informants’ approach that feeding is central to livestock welfare is in
line with the standard scientific literature on animal health,
including in organic farming. Various scientific studies into common
fodder evaluate the nutritive and dietary value, efficiency and safety
of fodder. Future studies also have to consider the evaluation of
traditional, local fodder resources. In fact, the value of ‘food as
medicine’ for humans in the context of local knowledge has been widely
assessed, but the potential health benefits of fodder and nutraceuticals
in local and traditional ethnoveterinary methods require further
medicine, Traditional ecological knowledge, Local knowledge, Organic
farming, Animal feed, Animal husbandry, Preventive veterinary medicine
industrialised countries, the recent expansion of organic farming and
restrictions in the use of allopathic medicine, as well as frequent
discussions in the media and society at large about animal welfare, have
shown the growing interest among stakeholders in sustainable management
of animal health and welfare. In particular the Council Regulation
concerning organic production 
and its amendments clearly describe methods for assuring animal health
on organic farms. According to this regulation, the priority is on
keeping livestock healthy through breeding and management measures
(including feeding and housing). In the event of disease,
“phytotherapeutic, homeopathic and other products” shall primarily be
used as therapeutic measures, with “chemically synthesised allopathic
veterinary medicinal products” as a last resort and limited in the
frequency of their application. Moreover the thematic priority of the
current animal health legal framework of the European Union and the
World Organisation for Animal Health 
is “prevention is better than cure”. This approach also meets
consumers’ demand for high-quality animal food products and responds to
increased public interest in the way in which livestock are treated [3–5].
is a wide variety of approaches available to implement concepts of
sustainable animal health and welfare management, including diagnostic
tools of preventive veterinary medicine, advice to farmers about health
and management , structured exchanges of farmers’ experiences in what are known as “farmer field schools” [7, 8] for example, and complementary medicine .
In addition to these approaches, gathering information about the
existing knowledge held by farmers and their practices around health and
welfare management would improve the understanding of farmers’ views
and practices on this topic.
Local knowledge and folk methods based on plants are usually studied by ethnobotanists [10, 11] or scholars of ethnoveterinary medicine .
Ethnoveterinary medicine (EVM) is a discipline that focuses on local
knowledge or folk methods concerning the prevention and cure of animal
diseases [13, 14].
in many rural, developing countries where animal production plays an
important role, EVM remains essential to people’s livelihoods for
financial (lower costs) and practical (higher accessibility) reasons [15, 16].
In European countries, modern veterinary practices are common and there is a risk of EVM disappearing altogether [17, 18].
Very limited specific scientific research on EVM at a European level has been undertaken, with a few exceptions [17, 19–30],
although it is becoming increasingly important in organic farming (see
also the comprehensive review on European ethnoveterinary research by
Mayer et al. ).
term EVM is often equated with the concept of therapy or herbal
remedies and may suggest only the use of medicines. Indeed, most
ethnoveterinarian studies primarily address the treatment of animal
diseases with local remedies, especially botanicals, while far fewer
studies have featured prophylactic methods [13, 14, 16].
paper is based on data from a research project designed to show local
knowledge of therapy and medicine. However, the quantity and diversity
of the information about ways of maintaining and improving animal health
and welfare through preventive actions were unexpected. Due to the
practice of extensive agriculture and the historical form of land use,
local knowledge still exists in the study area about plant-based fodder,
which contributes to animal health. The authors of the present study
believe there is merit in these results being presented, even though the
data was collected in 2005. The information about local knowledge that
was collected remains relevant because farmers’ experiences over
generations are still valuable, and will possibly be of even greater
value in future. The US regulation on organic farming (National Organic
Program, NOP), for example, includes a full ban on antibiotics in
organic animal husbandry, although the EC Regulation for Organic Farming
is less strict. The debates within the Transatlantic Trade and
Investment Partnership (TTIP) have led to a move within the organic
farming movement to tighten European regulations as well, which would
result in an urgent need to search for alternatives. In support for this
search for alternatives and to implement concepts of sustainable animal
health and welfare, especially for the organic farming movement, there
is an urgent need to gather information about current practices and
local knowledge of animal husbandry, emphasising prophylactic methods
with regard to animal health and welfare. Therefore this paper was based
on the following research questions:
What knowledge do farmers have of general practices that maintain the health and welfare of livestock?
What knowledge do farmers have about plants that maintain the health and welfare of livestock?
the years 2004 and 2005, 144 informants from 16 communities in Eastern
Tyrol were interviewed by means of three free lists based on purposive
sampling and snowball sampling .
Informants were aged between 33 and 93 (mean: 62 years of age).
Seventy-five were female, 69 were male. The farms surveyed were situated
between 670 and 1,600 m a.s.l. Each of the studied farms keeps
differing numbers and types of animals: some may have all of these
animals or just specialise in one type e.g. cattle only. On average, the
studied households keep 18 cattle (119 farms), 47 sheep (23 farms), 6
goats (20 farms), 4 pigs (89 farms), 28 hens (69 farms) and 2 horses (16
farms). Farming is combined with different kinds of off-farm labour,
with 69 farms managed part-time and 47 full-time (28 informants did not
want to provide information about this). According to the farmers,
federal subsidies under the Austrian Environmental Programme for
Agriculture make up an important part of their income.
Data collection was based on three free lists . These were:
Free List 1 (FL 1, n = 144): The informants’ knowledge of general practices that maintain the health and welfare of livestock
Free List 2 (FL 2, n = 144): The informants’ knowledge of specific plants that maintain the health and welfare of livestock
Free List 3 (FL 3, n = 144):
The informants’ knowledge of plants that treat livestock diseases. The
informants also mentioned plants related to maintaining livestock health
and welfare here. Only this data is presented in this paper.
all the free lists, semi-structured interviews were also conducted
about the respondents’ knowledge of the use of the plants mentioned (n = 144).
2005, a semi-structured interview was conducted with five of the most
knowledgeable respondents from that sample, referred to here as key
informants, about the history of fodder and feeding, as the analysis
showed these to be key aspects in maintaining livestock health and
welfare (n = 5 from the above mentioned sample of 144
respondents). Four of the five key informants were male and one was
female. The five informants were aged between 48 and 78 and all were
farmers. One informant also worked as a forest ranger. The period of
time covered in these interviews was from 1940 to 2005 approximately.
the purposes of this paper, the term ‘plant’ is used for plants that
are classified as a single taxon, plants identified at genus level and
lichens. In addition, plants that were purchased as processed commercial
product are identified by their product name (apple cider vinegar, red
and white wine, peppermint oil, coffee, homeopathic medicine, black
tea). Plant-based material based on various plants is summarised in
generic terms (e.g. mountain meadow hay).
the plant taxa, checks were first undertaken to establish whether the
plants actually grow in the study area. The scientific name for the
plant name mentioned was then identified based on standard botanical
literature and the finding cross-checked with the informants based on
The authors, some of whom have botanical research experience in the
study area, are confident that the recorded plants are plant taxa that
are well known in the region. In cases in which plants could not be
related by the informants to one single plant taxon, the plants are
reported here at genus level only.
the interview commenced, a detailed written explanation of the project,
including an abstract and contact information for the authors and their
affiliation, was given to the respondents. Verbal consent for further
inquiry was obtained. The interview was recorded if the informants
agreed to it; if not, their answers were noted down. Whenever possible
and permitted, photographs were taken. Photographs and audio recordings
are deposited at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences
in Vienna (BOKU). The collected data was stored, categorised and
analysed in an MS ACCESS (Microsoft Inc. 2007) database.
Characteristics of the study area
The district of Lienz (Eastern Tyrol) is located in the Austrian part of the Eastern Alps (Fig. 1), the highest peak of which is the Grossglockner (3,797 m). The region has an area of 2,020 km2 and is home to 49,000 inhabitants living in 33 villages .
In Eastern Tyrol, 1,675 farms are managed by families; an additional
235 farms are managed by associations of varying legal status .
The study area includes the mountain range of the Hohe Tauern, which
contains a national park. The large altitudinal gradient from 600 m to
almost 4,000 m above sea level gives rise to a narrow sequence of
different natural and agricultural zones. At the lowest level, the
natural vegetation is deciduous and mixed forests characterised by beech
(Fagus sylvatica L.) and fir (Abies alba Mill.).
However, these forests have only survived in small enclaves due to the
huge changes made by humans over a long period of time. Spruce (Picea abies
(L.) H. Karst.) forests start at 1,000 m a.s.l. and extend to about
1,700 m a.s.l., before being replaced by open woods with larch (Larix decidua Mill.) and mountain pine (Pinus mugo
Turra) at elevations of about 2,100 m a.s.l.. Alpine pastures are
located up to 2,500 m a.s.l. Above the treeline, dwarf shrubs form a
transition to the high alpine grass formations and lichens at the upper
limit of vegetation .
Annual precipitation in the region is 826-1,354 mm and the mean annual
temperature is 2.8-6.9 °C (values depend on exposure and altitude). This
broad range of natural conditions within a small area has led to a
highly diverse pattern of human- environment relationships .
Adaptive management of natural resources by Alpine small farmers has
created a typically diverse and multifunctional landscape. The
historical form of agriculture in this region can be described as
“mountain cereal grazing ”
where the farming of arable land (up to 1,700 m a.s.l.) for cereal
cultivation, field vegetables, fibre crops etc. and the farming of a
high diversity of animal species, with a low number of individuals per
species, were the main components of the subsistence system until the
of Austria (upper right) and map of Eastern Tyrol (lower left). Circles
indicate the valleys where the interviews were done (A: Drautal, B:
Villgratental, C: Defferegental, D: Virgental, E: Iseltal). Scale:
distance Sillian – Lienz approx. ...
History of feed and fodder in the study area
to the key informants, most of the cultivated land in close proximity
to the homesteads was used for the production of food in arable farming.
A patchwork of plots from lowland to highland was required to feed the
animals not just with fresh, green fodder during the vegetation period,
but also to provide fodder for storage and feeding during the winter. A
great variety of pastures with different systems of grazing existed.
Communally and individually-owned resources distributed over different
vegetation levels allowed the farmers to maximise the period of grazing
between spring and autumn. The animals were kept on open areas, such as
steep slopes, wood pastures and alpine grazing grounds. Livestock
movement by shepherding (especially for sheep) was widespread, and the
use of plots and the timing of this use were regulated through informal
and formal institutions.
During the summer (June -
September), almost all the animals were transferred to the high Alpine
grazing grounds, accompanied by some members of the farmer’s family.
During this time, only a few animals were kept at the homestead, such as
a cow or a goat, to provide milk for family members who had to attend
to the remaining business at the homestead.
of fresh (as distinct from grazing) and dried fodder was distributed
over a diverse range of plots and carried out with different management
practices. Mowing of grassland near the homestead was designated to
habitats where tillage was not possible. Therefore, only boundary areas,
areas with poor soils, wet and sedgy grassland and steep slopes were
designated to produce grass hay. Most winter fodder was produced on
alpine meadows at elevations of at least 1,900 m above sea level. The
informants stressed that given the steepness of most of these slopes,
this was always hard labour performed by hand. Mowing and removing the
cuttings was not only labour intensive, but extremely dangerous as well.
For example, the hay had to be carried on people’s backs to a barn
situated near the meadow, and then transported to the homestead in
winter on special sledges.
Another traditional and
important fodder resource included leafy fodder and leaf hay from trees
and shrubs. Single deciduous trees were therefore grown near the
farmhouse or hedgerows which, combined with deciduous trees, served as
boundaries to neighbouring plots. On erodible slopes, trees and meadows
were combined not only to produce leaf hay, but also for soil
conservation purposes. Trees such ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) were pollarded. Shrubs such as hazel (Corylus avellana
L.) were felled at ground level with the intention of promoting basal
shoots for harvest in future. Branches were bunched and dried or
sometimes the foliage was fed fresh. Pollarding and thinning out
hedgerows was not only necessary to produce leaf hay, but also to limit
the number and size of trees and shrubs so as not to inhibit the growth
of crops or grass in enclosed fields. The twigs of plants such as
raspberries (Rubus idaeus L.) were also collected in the summer
on the edges and glades of woods. They were cut as a whole, tied
together in bundles, and dried.
A common practice in
conifer stands was not only to gather needles from the forest floor for
use as bedding for livestock (mainly from larch L. decidua; local term: Streibekotto), but also to pollard conifers such as common spruce (P. abies).
A special meal was produced (stamped or ground) from the dried spruce
needles and used as an addition to cattle fodder, known locally as
“black concentrate feed” (local term: schwarzes Leck).
wild fodder plants were frequently gathered in various alpine habitats
(e.g. different taxa of dock and thistles, common juniper, Iceland
moss). In ruderal habitats, plants such as stinging nettles or docks
were collected frequently. This fodder was either fed directly to
livestock or gathered for winter fodder.
and by-products from all cultivated plants were common traditional
fodder resources. High-quality crop products fit for human consumption
were rarely used. Such feedstuffs were not entirely excluded, but the
proportion was very reduced and only utilised in particular periods
(e.g. Linum usitatissimum L. prior to breeding animals).
the past in the study area, it had been essential for all of the
‘weeded’ plants from cultivated crops or from home gardens to be used as
fodder (local term: Gross) for goats, pigs and even for cows. The term ‘weed’ was not used at all in the past, but rather the term Gross
(grass), emphasising its former use as fodder. This weed fodder was the
only payment women received for weeding the fields of large farmers.
However, not only the weeded plants as a whole, but also specific taxa
were mentioned as being essential for subsistence. Common chickweed (Stellaria media (L.) Vill.), for instance, used to be popular for feeding to chickens and pigs ([40, 41] for further details on the use of “weeds”).
only were the places from which fodder was acquired multifaceted and
the composition of the fodder itself diverse, but there were also many
methods for processing feedstuff. Processing ranged from reducing
particle size by simply cutting the pieces, grinding, chaff cutting or
squashing all the way to brewing, soaking and boiling. Informants
pointed out that this made the fodder more digestible and tasty, and
even improved the nutritional value of the crop residues, for example,
which are said not to be particularly nutritious or palatable. Cut or
ground feedstuff allowed an easy mixing of different fodder resources
too. Processing was undertaken on a daily basis, and the composition of
daily feed rations was adapted not only to different animal species but
also to their different roles (e.g. working animals, pregnant animals
etc.). The use of externally produced fodder imported to the region was
not common. Although in the past it used to be hard to feed the animals
due to fodder shortages, the different kinds of fodder used back then
were said to be very healthy. The informants’ perception is that in the
past few decades there has been a fundamental shift in animal nutrition.
basic changes in the land use system are abandonment of arable farming
and specialisation in grassland with higher livestock productivity and
increased mechanisation. At the same time, arable land near the
homestead is being converted into permanent meadows where hay is
produced for winter fodder. The grass plots are fertilised regularly
with liquid (slurry) or solid manure. An increasing practice is the
renovation of grassland with improved, commercially available
grass/legume cultivars to raise the green-matter yield. With these
activities, generally high yields with poor diversity can be achieved.
The higher alpine zones are dominated by pastureland, where animals
(mainly cattle and sheep) remain throughout the summer.
scarcity of manpower caused by an exodus of the rural population and
the enormous rise in labour costs due to fundamental economical and
political changes result not just in farm mechanisation wherever
possible, but also to a decline in labour-intensive traditional
techniques such as tree pruning or making alpine hay on steep slopes
where mechanisation is not possible. Most former hay-making areas on
higher elevations have been converted into extensive pastures or
secondary fallow, and the typical treetops of pollarded trees are no
longer part of the cultural landscape. Traditional shepherding
techniques have for the most part been replaced by large-scale
free-range grazing. The practices of gathering fodder plants, feeding
weed-fodder to livestock or pollarding conifers have almost all
Nevertheless, when compared
with intensive livestock production, which is characteristic of various
European areas where cows are mainly fed silage, second and third-growth
crop and concentrated feedingstuffs, livestock production on farms in
Eastern Tyrol can still be described as extensive agriculture, which is
typical for marginal areas in Europe.
most important preventive measures in maintaining and improving
livestock health and welfare are practices related to fodder and
feeding, followed by practices related to management measures.
Management measures can be divided into management directly related to
the animal (animal care or management) and management of the animals’
environment (environmental management), especially in animal housing
and number of practices mentioned per category in relation to the
farmers’ aim of maintaining and improving livestock health and welfare (n = 144; 1,139 practices mentioned)
the category fodder/feeding, the quality of the fodder (mentioned 125
times) and the kind of fodder given to the animals (mentioned 116 times)
were the most frequent sub-categories mentioned (Table 2).
Concerning “quality of fodder”, informants mentioned for example that
fodder given to the animals on a daily basis, such as roughage, has to
be well dried, clean and not mouldy, discoloured or soiled. Good
harvesting and storage of fodder are essential. The best meadow grasses
come from nitrogen-poor swards with a large quantity of “herbs”. This
fodder is said to be appetising, easily digestible and therefore healthy
for the animals. Informants also pointed out that clean water is
essential for the animals’ good health and that this water should have
the quality of potable water.
Sub-categories from the “feeding/fodder” category (Table 1), categorised and sorted by the authors by coincidences in contents (n = 144; 16 informants with no answer in this category; 1 questionnaire not analysable; ...
the “kind of fodder”, the informants mentioned plant-based fodder but
also other feedstuffs such as colostrum, mineral supplements and salt.
Different “feeding compositions at particular stages” of the animals’
development are mainly offered prior to birth and after birth (see the
chapter on fodder medicine).
regard to “feeding rations”, informants spoke about the negative impact
of the massive uses of silage or feeding concentrates on animal rations
and welfare, and reported digestive disorders and reduced fertility. In
the sub-category “method of fodder production”, informants stressed
different techniques for obtaining high quality fodder. These included
mowing after sunset or mowing when grasses are mature.
Knowledge of plants that maintain livestock health and welfare
total of 87 plants and 22 plant-based generic terms were documented
related to maintaining livestock health and welfare (FL2, FL 3, key
informant interviews) (Table 3). Of these, 51 different plants and a total of 16 plant-based generic terms were mentioned in FL 2.
and number of plants/generic terms per category in relation to the
farmers’ aim of maintaining animal health and welfare in the free lists
FL2, FL3 and in interviews on history of fodder and feeding (HI, n = 144, including ...
the treatment of livestock diseases, a total of 98 different plants
were known to be useful (FL 3; plants not shown here). Of these 98
plants, 39 are not only used to treat diseases, but are also used
preventively to maintain livestock health and welfare.
With regard to the history of animal husbandry, 69 plants and 22 generic terms were mentioned.
The most frequently cited plants were linseed (L. usitatissimum), Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica (L.) Ach.), common spruce (P. abies) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium L.). The most frequent generic terms were mountain meadow hay (Bergheu), hay-blossoms (Heublumen), herbs (Kräuter) and hard liquor (Schnaps).
These plants and generic terms were all part of the “fodder/feeding”
category. They are traditional fodder resources, with the key aspect
that they have a diverse range of uses for animal health and welfare.
Kind of fodder/feed
listed 77 plants and 20 generic terms that can be attributed to the
“kind of fodder/feed” category, to which 55 plants and 14 generic terms
were exclusively attributed. Informants’ perceptions of the degree of
the relationship between fodder and livestock health and welfare were
The plants mentioned could be grouped
according to three different perceptions of the plants’ effects on
animals. Almost all the plants were perceived in more than one group.
This chapter only presents the structure for categorising fodder/feed.
Details on their uses and examples are presented in the chapter on
details of the knowledge of the kind of fodder/feed.
or bad fodder”: 34 plants and 13 generic terms were perceived as being
fodder of “good quality” and nine plants as fodder of “bad quality” in
general (three plants were listed in the category “good” and “bad”
quality, depending on their mode of administration; Table 4).
Plants and generic terms mentioned as maintaining and improving the health of animals in Eastern Tyrol (n = 144)
fodder”: 25 plants and 7 generic terms were perceived as being fodder
with a positive effect on health, natural resistance and/or performance.
This kind of fodder could also be indicated as functional fodder (
used the term functional food). Functional food is characterised as
having other effects on body functions besides their main nutritional or
delight purposes. Fodder from plants mentioned in this survey as
increasing the health, natural resistance and performance of livestock
are given over a longer period of time and sometimes even on a daily
basis (in contrast to fodder medicine).
medicine”: 44 plants and 8 generic terms were perceived as being fodder
to avoid disorders or diseases, and used as a preventive treatment
(ingested in a “fodder context”) in order to obtain a specific medicinal
used the term food medicine). Fodder medicine is given anywhere from
single administrations to up to a few days and on specific, discreet
occasions only. Plants used as fodder medicine are also used in a
therapeutic intervention, where livestock is treated when a disease is
already present (details on these plants are not presented here ( for details)).
Care of the animals
Peppermint oil is used to clean the udder and teats of milking cows. When animals are given a wash, a yellow soft soap (Schmierseife) is used which is subsequently rinsed with water to which some apple cider vinegar is added.
the category human-animal relationship, one practice was mentioned that
could be explained as deepening the friendship with an animal by using
Bunches of Melissa officinalis L. or Juglans regia L. in particular or together with Mentha spp. and/or Sambucus nigra
L., for example, are put up in the stable to scent the air and hamper
the development of insects, especially flies. Apple cider vinegar is not
only given to animals as fodder but also vaporised in the stable.
Various blessed herbs or Juniperus communis L. or Salix spp. are fumigated in the stable to prevent diseases in general. Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn is used as bedding material for chickens and moss is placed in pig stys to prevent swine erysipelas. Bedding with J. regia
is said to be healthy in general and sawdust is said to have a negative
effect, especially on young animals, because they always nibble on the
bedding. Spruce (P. abies), larch (L. decidua), ash (F. excelsior), fir (A. alba) and straw are mentioned as good bedding material in addition to their uses as fodder.
Household remedy (excluding fodder medicine)
To prevent a retained placenta, different practices were mentioned: tincture of mountain arnica (Arnica montana
L.) or hard liquor is used as an unction on the back of the cows;
scalded hay-blossoms are put in a burlap bag and, while still hot, put
on the back of cows; cows are rubbed with straw. Hordeum vulgare L., L. usitatissimum, Matricaria chamomilla L. or Salix
spp. are used to administer a clyster after artificial insemination to
maintain and improve pregnancy. To prevent swine erysipelas, swine
wallow in the earth underneath S. nigra.
a manifestation of religious practices based on Catholic beliefs,
blessed herbs given on certain days were mentioned. Different medicinal
plants, blessed on Mariä Himmelfahrt (Feast of the Assumption, 15
August), should prevent animals from contracting diseases in general and
protect them from being hit by lightning and other such dangers. This
mixture of plants is fed to the animals on the day on which the herbs
are blessed, on the nights leading up to Christmas, on New Year’s day
and at Epiphany, and also before animals go up to the alpine pastures.
For the same reason, the catkins of blessed willow (Salix spp.) are fed to animals on Palm Sunday, with bread and salt or the peelings of the blessed horseradish (Armoracia rusticana P. Gaertn., B. Mey. & Scherb.).
Details of knowledge of the kind of fodder/feed
of plants that help maintain livestock health and welfare showed that,
for the informants, fodder and feeding practices were key determinants
of preventive measures (Table 4).
As pointed out earlier, the relationships between fodder and livestock
health and welfare are diverse, and details of this connection merit
Good/bad fodder and functional fodder
maintain and/or increase the health and overall performance of the
animals, it is essential that the animals demonstrate “appropriate”
digestion according to those interviewed. Digestive processes are
therefore evaluated by inspecting the dung. The consistency of a fresh
cowpat has the look of a traditional flat loaf of bread: not too liquid,
but not too dry and firm. To enhance and improve digestion in general,
several plants were mentioned. The most frequently mentioned plants were
linseed (L. usitatissimum), dried and ground needles of common spruce (P. abies), as well as dried or fresh entire stinging nettle plants (Urtica dioica L.) and the decoction of common juniper berries (J. communis).
Informants considered U. dioica
not only to be digestive, but also to be of good quality in a general
alimentary way and very nutritious, not just for cattle (whose
considerable values were, according to the informants, a great
improvement in the animal’s general appearance, especially obvious in a
glossy coat, improved milk yields and an increase in milk fat), but for
pigs and chickens too. Nettle, when chopped and blanched, is said to
serve as fattening fodder for pigs. It was also mentioned as improving
the performance of laying chickens and the condition of eggshells. The
same use was mentioned for different taxa of dock (Rumex spp.).
A practice to improve milk fat in the past was to feed the livestock
nettle together with the chopped or stamped young sprouts and berries of
common juniper (J. communis) and different taxa of thistles (e.g. Cirsium spinosissimum (L.) Scop., Carlina acaulis L.) and thyme (Thymus
spp.). According to the informants, this was an excellent supplementary
fodder in the summer, especially for dairy cows when they were up in
the alpine meadows. Collecting and preparing this fodder was a large
amount of work, particularly the destroying of thistle leaf prickles,
which had to be beaten up or crushed in a mill. In winter, fresh chopped
turnips (Brassica rapa var. rapa L.), which were
stored in cellars, were fed to lactating dairy cows to improve milk
yields. Today this traditional alpine crop plant is rarely cultivated
and no longer used as fodder. Fodder beet (Beta vulgaris L.), which is purchased rather than cultivated in the region, is still used for this purpose.
link between fodder and skin health, udder health and hoof quality of
livestock was mentioned several times (in correlation with linseed,
nettle and others, Table 4). Iceland moss was mentioned most. Traditionally Iceland moss (C. islandica)
is not only used therapeutically, but is also seen as a nutritious and
easily-digested fodder that improves not only the health of the animals’
skin, but also their health and fitness in general. In addition, it was
mentioned that it contributes to weight gain and was used as a
fattening fodder for pigs and bullocks, and as a restorer after
diseases. Hay-blossoms were and are still used as concentrated feed and
protein sources for cattle and fattening fodder for pigs. Stewed
hay-blossoms mixed with grains are used to improve the laying
performance of chickens. In addition, common chickweed (St. media), dead nettle (Lamium spp.), dock (Rumex spp.) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) are mentioned as fodder with good feeding value for chicken and chicks.
plants mentioned as good quality fodder and healthy in general for
ruminants (without specifying why) are dried leaves (leaf hay) of common
ash (F. excelsior), oak (Quercus spp.), raspberry (R. idaeus), cherry (Prunus avium L.), common hazel (C. avellana) as well as the needles of fir (A. alba) and larch (L. decidua). Good fodder quality for pigs includes potato (Solanum tuberosum L), fodder beet (B. vulgaris), turnip (B. rapa var. rapa) and pumpkin (Cucurbita spp.). Usnea spp. and Elymus repens (L.) Gould were used when fodder was scarce. To improve the physical shape of animals in general, the juice of birch (Betula spp.) was mentioned.
Plants such as Rhinanthus spp. and Ranunculus
spp. were reported to have negative effects if represented in a fairly
large quantity in meadows or grazing grounds. Green alder (Alnus alnobetula (Ehrh.) K.Koch and alpine rose (Rhododendron
spp.) were mentioned as weeds in alpine grassland. Three plants were
reported as having a negative impact, but were also welcomed when cut
and carried to the animals as “fresh” fodder (Anthriscus sylvestris (L.) Hoffm.) or as fodder prepared specifically for a particular animal species (Rumex spp. for chicken) or used in small quantities (Achillea millefolium L.).
general, informants addressed the effects of the form of presentation
(fresh, dry, cooked, chopped etc.) or the methods of improving food
substance on increasing the fodder’s acceptability by livestock. This
was mentioned in particular for Iceland moss, which has to be cooked,
hay-blossoms, which have to be brewed, or spruce needles, which have to
be dried and ground before being presented to livestock. In addition,
the mode of harvesting is essential for good quality and acceptability.
In former times, hay-blossoms were never contaminated with soil because
all of the working steps were performed manually, from harvesting to
cleaning, with a special coarse-meshed sieve. However, hay exclusively
produced by hand is an exception nowadays.
pointed out that it is important to note that the acceptability of a
particular type of fodder (e.g. dried stinging nettle, meal of spruce
needles) is due to the fact that animals have become used to it, and
that the ration of this functional fodder has to be carefully composed
otherwise it could be toxic (e.g. animals must not be fed too many
ground spruce needles).
appetite, which is digestive in origin and does not correlate with a
serious disorder or pain (e.g. teeth problems), is treated with several
plants. The most important one for stimulating digestion is wormwood (A. absinthium),
which is used mainly for cows. The whole plant can be eaten either
fresh or dried. The chopped or stamped sprouts and berries of common
juniper (J. communis) or fresh thyme mixed with concentrated feed are used in a similar fusion. Decoctions containing common yarrow (A. millefolium), chamomile (M. chamomilla), marigold (Calendula officinalis L.), wormwood, juniper and dwarf mallow (Malva neglecta Wallr.) were said to be good for digestion and also had a calming effect. These plants can be used either alone or together.
To regulate digestion when the dung is too fluid, feeding the animal alpine meadow hay (Bergheu,
acquired at a height of 1900 m above sea level and higher) was
mentioned most. Other solutions are wheat bran and leaf hay. Alpine
meadow hay is, in addition, considered to be very healthy for overall
vitality and fitness, and as palatable and easily digested by livestock,
but it is not useful for enhancing livestock performance. It is used
only in small amounts and seen as “medicinal”, and not as fodder like
hay, which is harvested near the homesteads. This is also due to the low
quantity of alpine hay that can be harvested. In this context,
informants mentioned a correlation between the composition of fodder,
efficient digestion and reproductive performance. Feeding livestock
alpine meadow hay is said to prevent disorders in fertility in general.
The same is said for leaf hay.
Regarding fertility, liquid from fermented cabbage (Sauerkrautsaft, Brassica oleracea var. capitata
L.) or apple cider vinegar is given together with concentrated
feedingstuffs in order to avoid silent oestrus or as an oestrus inducer.
Sprouting grains of rye (Secale cereale L.) mixed with yeast
are also used. In this context, it was emphasised that sprouted grains
are more useful than the dried ones. Grains of Avena sativa L. either boiled or macerated are fed to animals. Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench) is fed to livestock to bring mares in season (to facilitate ovulation). Tea of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla spp.) and cranesbill (Geranium
spp.) was mentioned as being good for female organs and is given before
the females are inseminated (bred) to ensure better acceptance of a
Many practices relate to pregnancy. Special attention is given to the nutrition of the pregnant animal. Linseed (L. usitatissimum)
or a combination of linseed and different ingredients, such as wheat
bran, barley, oat or rye, eggs, chamomile and/or Iceland moss, is fed to
the animals during the last three weeks of pregnancy to avoid problems
As preparatory fodder to facilitate delivery, liquid from fermented cabbage and linseed are mentioned. Seeds of Cannabis sativa L. are mixed with butter as a labour inducer, and to stimulate uterine contractions. Raw onion (Allium cepa
L.), sometimes in combination with lard, is administered as fodder to
widen the birth canal and help with the quick expulsion of the placenta.
Also, as a preventive cleansing agent, a decoction of common yarrow (A. millefolium), caraway (Carum carvi L.), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.) and the oily extraction of St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum
L.) are used. Another mixture is boiled Iceland moss, linseed and
barley. For the same purpose, tincture of mountain arnica is given
internally in small amounts.
After birth, a strong
coffee or black tea is sometimes mixed with schnapps or eggs and butter
and given to cows and/or calves as refreshment and to avoid circulatory
disorders. Nettle seeds (U. dioica) are mentioned as a restorer
not only after delivery, but also after any disease, especially for
horses. A decoction of hay-blossoms is said to be helpful in general.
To avoid milk fever, besides the feed already mentioned for pregnancy, a boiled mash of dock (Rumex spp.), Iceland moss and skimmed milk or a broth of hay-blossoms is fed to the animals at this time.
the prevention of bovine influenza and to improve health and fitness of
cows in general, the berries from junipers and Iceland moss are
combined with black tea and schnapps or a concentrate of elderberry
berries (S. nigra) and fed to cattle. Apple cider vinegar or vinegar produced from fermented turnips (B. rapa var. rapa, Rübenkrautessig)
is given during the winter housing period in the watering trough or
with concentrated feed once a week. An infusion of thyme is sprayed in
the mouth and on the nose of cattle. Also, for prevention, the oily
extraction of St. John’s wort (H. perforatum) is mixed with
concentrated feeding stuff or mixed into milk for calves and fed to
cows. To avoid swine erysipelas, a slurry of stinging nettle and
hay-blossoms is used. Newly hatched chicks are fed a decoction of
chamomile (M. chamomilla) and burnet saxifrage (Pimpinella saxifraga
L.) to give them a good start and prevent diseases. Avoiding stress is
said to minimise the outbreak of illness, including bovine influenza.
Here, in addition to management practices, some plants that can be used
in this context were also mentioned. When calves are bought in or
transported, chamomile or mint tea is administered as a sedative and
helps prevent bovine influenza. To avoid irritating the animals and as a
type of sedative in general, oat cereal (A. sativa), wormwood leaves (A. absinthium), sunflower seeds (Helianthus annuus L.) and hard liquor were listed.
nutritional support and reduction of stress may, according to the
informants, also contribute to preventing intestinal parasites. Feeding
animals branches of common spruce (P. abies) for a period of at
least one or two weeks before ruminants are driven up to the alpine
pastures and in autumn before they are brought into the winter housing,
is said to be an adequate diet to protect the animals against parasites.
Feeding livestock dry or fresh bracken (P. aquilinum) in very
small amounts was also mentioned in this context. When deworming with
anthelminthics, a supplementary feeding of stinging nettle contributes
to normalising and calming the digestive tract.
success of domestic livestock farming depends on animal health and
welfare. Farmers’ attitudes and the attention given to their herds
appear to be crucial success factors in herd health and welfare
situations. These success factors are key determinants of the animals’
reproductive and growth rates [8, 43].
The informants in this study viewed fodder and feeding as the most
important preventive measures for ensuring animal health and welfare.
That feeding is central to the welfare of livestock is in line with the
standard scientific literature on animal health and in organic farming
as well [44–46].
among other factors, is an important element of ethnoveterinary methods
in disease prevention and general health maintenance worldwide [13, 14, 21, 47–50].
By regularly consuming medicinal foods or food medicines, particularly
wild greens, animals – like humans – also ingest important non-nutrient
In fact, the value of ‘food as medicine’ for humans in the context of
local knowledge has been widely assessed through research , but the potential health benefits of fodder and nutraceuticals  in ethnoveterinary methods require further attention [17, 42, 50].
Viewing a practice as nutritional or medicinal is often only a matter
of definition. The boundary between food and medicine is rooted in emic
cultural interpretations and is thus difficult to assess. The role of
gathered food plants merits greater attention due to their biomedical
value and their socio-economic importance. A veterinary governmental
regulation was implemented that aims to legally distinguish between
plants that are either to be fed or applied as medicine [51, 52]. This regulatory differentiation is seen by the authors as an artefact.
not every traditional practice can be said to be based on
pharmacological evidence or effective in every condition, and results of
ethnoveterinary research have to be critically discussed bearing in
mind the recent results of pharmacological, toxicological and clinical
studies before they can be recommended for wider practice. A
considerable proportion of the documented uses of plant taxa is in
accordance with established pharmacological effects .
generally assumed that feeding strategies in the past were healthier
because of the previous diversity of high-quality local feeding stuff
from diverse feed sources and the mode of presentation. Overall, the
plants most frequently mentioned in this study were traditional plants.
Nonetheless it is obvious that although people in the region still have
knowledge about the use of certain traditional plants, their actual use
is continuing to decrease or has already disappeared altogether. Regular
feeding with tree fodder is widely seen as being beneficial for animals
, especially in the context of tannin-rich forages and intestinal parasites [54–56]. In Eastern Tyrolean feeding practices, the use of dried and grounded spruce needles (P. abies)
as concentrated feeding stuff for example was common and highly
recommended for animal health and welfare, but this feeding practice was
only practised by one farmer at the time of the survey.
spruce needles might reduce emissions of methane as they are known to
enhance and improve digestion. There is considerable discussion about
the correlation between feeding practice and methane emissions [57, 58].
The value of such feeding techniques should be assessed in greater
detail and might contribute to climate change mitigation. Spruce could
also be considered as one of the plants with economical potential for
the study area. Spruce needles and branches are often seen as a waste
product and are accumulated in great quantities in the forest. This raw
material would be locally available in larger quantities and
inexpensive, however it's harvesting and preparation would present a
challenge if this fodder resource were to be incorporated into “modern”
animal farming at all. Plieninger and Wilbrand argue that there is
evidence to suggest that labour-intensive techniques, such as manual
handling for providing traditional fodder resources, will be a crucial
factor in their future viability .
the potential of unconventional plants is increasingly being identified
in the context of underutilised crops for human food [60, 61] but not for animal fodder, and this would be of huge importance to the organic farming movement .
For example nettles, one of the plants mentioned most frequently in
this study, are among the most undervalued economic plants [60, 63, 64] and attract little attention in scientific research as a fodder plant with just a few exceptions [21, 65].
research on underutilised crops shows that the use of traditional
fodder plants is declining because of two factors: they cannot easily be
harvested mechanically and wheat (or other grain or soya) is easier to
use in their place .
In the present study, grain feeding (barley and oats) was mentioned by
the informants as favouring animal health and welfare, being recommended
prior to breeding and being required only in low quantities. This
traditional feeding practice is different from the massive use of grain
feeding, material fit for human consumption, which plays such an
important role in industrialised agriculture [3, 66].
Massive grain feeding is discussed as having a negative impact on
animal welfare, with increasing economic relevance also due to the
resulting disorders [3, 67] and organic farming research projects such as “feed not food” .
Unlike other farming systems, external inputs are clearly limited in
organic farming and adaptation to local conditions is needed, where feed
sources must be seen as part of the agroecologial system [44, 69] and not as the separation of agriculture from the local environment .
Hence knowledge of traditional feeding practices could be of great
importance. Moreover while recent animal nutrition science has focused
on the impact of feed on animal growth and performance and on product
quality, the health aspect becomes even more important in organic
favouring some currently neglected and underutilised fodder crops,
local conditions also have to be assessed, such as the abundance and
occurrence of plants or their conservation status. If wild plants are
rarely available, for example, the possibility of cultivation might be
examined. It is not sensible to recommend gathering wild fodder plants
to promote animal health and welfare while causing harm to the plant
population and the wider environment.
of fodder preparations and their effects on nutritive and dietary
value, efficiency and safety etc. have been evaluated in several
scientific studies for common fodder  and have to be considered in the evaluation of traditional, local fodder resources e.g. including fodder from trees .
They have to be given particular consideration because past knowledge
is being transformed and lost in the rapid process of acculturation
faced by traditional societies [13, 17].
study shows that farmers’ local and traditional ethnoveterinary
knowledge of animal health and welfare is of importance to the organic
farming movement. Although there is no desire by the authors to
generalise, this knowledge deserves more attention. Future studies have
to prove or disprove the sufficiency of individual practices,
nevertheless local knowledge is clearly one of the starting points for
the further development of sustainable animal health care programmes.
are very grateful to the informants, who were interested in and
enthusiastic about sharing their expertise of the research topic. Data
was collected by the authors with the support of Martina Bizaj, Susanne
Grasser, Anja Christanell, Birgit Pekarek and Christian Bertsch.
research was funded by the Province of Tyrol and the Ministry of
Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management (BM:LFUW Project
Nr. 1272, GZ 21.210/41-II1).
Availability of data and materials
The dataset(s) supporting the conclusions of this article is(are) included within the article.
elaborated the research proposal, served as project coordinator,
trained the staff on the methods to be used, supervised data analysis
and together with BVL equally contributed to elaborating the text of the
manuscript. BVL implemented the data collection together with the
persons mentioned in the acknowledgements, supervised the correct
botanical identification of plants and the precise documentation of all
other findings. She was leading the analysis and together with CRV
equally contributed to elaborating the text of the manuscript. MW
supported the analysis and the elaboration of the manuscript with
veterinary expertise, i.e, assessing, questioning and complementing all
aspects related to the reported uses use of the species mentioned. In
addition he supported editing and streamlining of the manuscript. All
authors read and approved the final manuscript.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Consent for publication
were informed about the plan of publishing the obtained data in an
anonymous way and given the opportunity to step back from participation
if they would not allow any further use of the data obtained.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
the interview commenced, a detailed written explanation of the project,
including an abstract and contact information for the authors and their
affiliation, was given to every respondent. After having presented and
discussed personally the purpose of the study, verbal consent for
further inquiry was obtained. The interview was recorded if the
informants agreed to it; if not, their answers were noted down. Whenever
possible and permitted, photographs were taken.
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