Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Positive deviant strategies implemented by organic multi-species livestock farms in Europe

Ulukan, Defne; Grillot, Myriam; Benoit, Marc; Bernes, Gun; Dumont, Bertrand; Magne, Marie-Angelina; Monteiro, Leonardo; Parsons, David; Veysset, Patrick; Ryschawy, Julie; Steinmetz, Lucille; Martin, Guillaume


CONTEXT: Transitions to more sustainable livestock production systems are increasingly demanded by parts of society. Scientists suggest moving towards diversified farming systems due to their potential environmental and economic benefits, especially in the organic sector. However, empirical knowledge of multi-species livestock farms, i.e. farms keeping two or more animal species, is lacking.OBJECTIVE: Our objectives were to identify European organic multi-species livestock farms that outperform their peers despite having the same resources and constraints, and characterize their distinctive management principles.METHODS: We conducted surveys on 102 farms in seven European countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Ger-many, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. We restricted the analysis to a sub-sample of 75 farms that had complete data and that covered 3 main livestock combinations (cattle and sheep, cattle and pigs, cattle and poultry) with similar number of farms. We implemented a positive deviant approach based on three indicators: land pro-ductivity, nitrogen input dependence and satisfaction regarding income.RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Five structurally diverse positive deviant farms were identified with 4 types of livestock combinations represented, and farmland area ranging from 25 to 273 ha, herd size from 33 to 146 livestock units (LU) and total workforce size from 1 to 24 annual worker units (AWU). These farms were located on a trade-off between land productivity and autonomy for feed, and all but one had high overall autonomy for feed (89-100% against a mean of 76% for the whole sample). Their diversity of pastures, crops and livestock species and their diversification beyond agricultural production were controlled (e.g. no agritourism) and below that of the other sample farms, to remain manageable by the farmers while still allowing to buffer shocks and hazards. Interactions among farm enterprises remained limited to matter (mainly grain, straw, hay, manure) flows, and practices requiring specific efforts and investments (e.g. for fencing), such as co-grazing of different livestock and crop residues grazing, were avoided.SIGNIFICANCE: We conducted the first integrated study on European organic multi-species livestock farms and identified key management principles implemented on positive deviant farms. We showed that whatever their size, farms outperforming their peers do not necessarily maximize diversity of agricultural productions and of non-agricultural activities, and interactions among farm enterprises but that they remain at a level of complexity manageable by the farmers. These principles will inform farmers running multi-species livestock farms or transitioning to this model.


Organic farming; Diversified farming; Mixed livestock system; Pareto frontiers; Multi-objective optimization

Published in

Agricultural Systems
2022, Volume: 201, article number: 103453

      SLU Authors

    • Bernes, Gun

      • Department of Agricultural Research for Northern Sweden, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
      • Monteiro, Leonardo

        • Department of Agricultural Research for Northern Sweden, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
        • University of Kentucky
        • Parsons, David

          • Department of Agricultural Research for Northern Sweden, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

        Sustainable Development Goals

        Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

        UKÄ Subject classification

        Agricultural Science

        Publication identifier


        Permanent link to this page (URI)