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Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying


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Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying

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  • 1. Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying A Publication of ATTRA—National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service • 1-800-346-9140 • www.attra.ncat.orgBy Lee Rinehart In an era of high feed costs and uncertain milk prices, many dairy producers are looking to pasture toNCAT Agriculture provide most of the dry matter for lactating dairy cows during the growing season. This publicationSpecialist addresses aspects of pasture production beginning with animal selection and forage resource assess-© 2009 NCAT ment, grazing, facilities, reproduction and health, organic production and seasonal economics. Included are extensive resources for further reading.ContentsIntroduction ..................... 2Taking an inventoryof resources for grass-based dairying ................ 4Forages andgrazing ............................... 4Fencing and watersystems .............................. 8Seasonal dairying andconsiderations onreproduction ................. 10Grazing nutrition .......... 15Supplementingdairy cows ....................... 15Healthmanagement ................. 16Organic dairyproduction...................... 16Proposed organic dairygrazing standards ........ 17Grass-fed standardsand processverification ..................... 18 Jerseys grazing highly productive cool-season perennial pasture in Vermont. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS.Animal welfare .............. 19Seasonal economics ... 19 Basic concepts of observation and adaptive management, as pas-Marketing pasture-based livestock Pasture management is the basis of a sustainable ture quality and quantity changes given precipita-products .......................... 19 grass farm. Pasture can provide the main source of tion, day length, temperature, rest periods, plantConclusion ...................... 20 nutrition for the milking herd, dry cows and devel- species and much more.References ...................... 21 oping heifers during the grazing season. In order Stress management is the monitoring of animalFurther resources ......... 21 for pasture to provide the main source of nutrition stress that can result in disease, low productivity for lactating dairy cows you should first establish a and increased costs. Pasture access, ease of han- baseline of information by conducting a systematic dling and good nutrition are very important for assessment of the grazing resource. The grazing reducing stress in animals and operators.ATTRA—National SustainableAgriculture Information Service plan can then be implemented and periodically( is managed assessed with a pasture monitoring program. Dry cow management, or a dry cow program, isby the National Center for Appro- a year-long systematic plan that involves preven-priate Technology (NCAT) and is Grazing management is the systematic method-funded under a grant from the tative health care, nutrition, observation, proper ology of allotting pasture and ensuring deliveryUnited States Department of milking procedure, a commitment to animal wel-Agriculture’s Rural Business- of high-quality forage feedstuffs. This includes fare and treatment when conditions warrant.Cooperative Service. Visit the pasture system design such as fencing and waterNCAT Web site ( delivery systems; appropriate rotations with vari- Seasonal breeding involves a 12-month calvingsarc_current.php) formore information on able recovery periods; and haying management. interval, estrus detection, light culling and manipu-our sustainable agri- Grazing management requires a very high degree lation of day length and endocrine functions.culture projects.
  • 2. Introduction Adaptive management Grass-based dairying is best described as a Grass-based dairy farming requires a level method of marketing forage through milk of acumen and observational sophistication products. Success with grass-based dairy not approached in most conventional farms. farming requires high-quality pasture and It is critically important that farm employees livestock adapted to a high-forage diet. develop an appreciation for the rigor of adap-Related ATTRA Grass-based producers ensure that forages tive management. Adaptive management isPublications provide the bulk of the energy and protein characterized by:Cattle Production: needed to produce milk by providing high- • Resource assessmentConsiderations for quality pasture during the grazing season • Planned implementationPasture-Based Beef and and stored forages in the dormant season.Dairy Producers • Observation Supplementation is provided to cattle basedDairy Farm Sustainability • Adjustment to suit new conditionsChecksheet primarily on mineral and energy, as high- quality pasture tends to be high in proteinDairy Beef and energy is required to nourish rumenThe Economics of microorganisms and enable them to metab- Providing high-quality pasture as theGrass-based Dairying olize high-protein forages. principle feed source is not simple, asDairy Resource List: conditions and situations are alwaysOrganic and Sustainable grass-based dairies utilize changing. Planning for change is key toPasture-Based an ecological approach to health care adaptive management. Conduct a resourceRaising Dairy Heifers by relying on natural immunity that inventory to lay the groundwork for con-on Pasture comes with pasture access and exposure tinued adaptive management of the grazingValue-addedDairy Options to increased biodiversity. This is accom- system and overall farm plan. Detailed plished by developing an agroecosys- information on this important topic isRuminant Nutritionfor Graziers tem that displays a high degree of resil- provided later in this publication.A Brief Overview of ience; maintains the system in ecologicalNutrient Cycling in balance as much as possible to reducePastures pest and disease pressure; and ensures New Zealand-style dairyingAssessing the Pasture a high level of balanced nutrition to soil, Ninety percent of the milk produced in NewSoil Resource plants and animals. Developing a low- Zealand is exported at world market prices,Managed Grazing in input farming strategy that uses natural with no government subsidies or incentives.Riparian Areas ecological services instead of purchased Feeding grains and concentrates in NewPasture, Rangeland, and inputs as much as possible also reduces Zealand is 6 to 12 times as costly as grazing.Grazing Management production costs. This situation has forced New Zealand pro-Pastures: Sustainable ducers to be extremely proactive in devel-Management Grass-based dairies take advantage of oping low-cost production technologies,Pastures: Going Organic nutrient cycling for soil fertility, keep- and pasture has become the main factor inPaddock Design, ing nutrients on the farm and completing decreasing farm costs.Fencing, and Water the soil cycle by supplying natural fer-Systems for tilizers in manure and urine directly on Some of the tangible benefits of NewControlled Grazing the pastures while cattle graze. This level Zealand style grass-based dairyingRotational Grazing of nutrient management requires strict may include:NCAT’s Organic attention to pasture management, which • Maximum return to the farmerLivestock Workbook in grass-based dairies includes rotationalOrganic Livestock grazing systems to maximize forage intake • Low cost of feeding, housing,Documentation Forms and pasture health. Attention will be manure disposal and machinery given to grazing management in this pub- • High production per person, ideal lication, and more detailed information for family dairies can be found in the ATTRA publications • Flexibility in milking system design Rotational Grazing, Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers and Pasture, Rangeland and • Flexibility in grazing system design Grazing Management. • Increased pasture qualityPage 2 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 3. • Increased water quality in streams have been relying on harvested grain and • Increased fat and protein in grass- forages to provide high-quality feedstuffs fed milk products to support enormous milk yields. Mod- ern Holsteins can produce more than 60 • Cleaner cows (Holmes et al, 2007 pounds of milk per day, and many farms and GLCI, 2005) report herd averages in excess of 20,000Switching to grass-based dairy production pounds per lactation.provides other benefits as well, whetheryou choose to milk year-round or season- According to the American Livestockally. When you graze cows without feed- Breeds Conservancy, grass-based dairying any concentrates, you can reasonably farming is on the increase, and this neces-expect a decrease in gross income due to sitates a very different type of animal.reduced milk production. If the herd is not Low-cost, grass-based dairies often cannotwell adapted to a forage-only diet or pas- support the high nutritional requirementsture quality is not excellent, it may also be needed by large-framed, high-producingvery difficult to get cows bred back in the cattle. Grass-based dairy producers aredesired calving window. However, produc- utilizing Ayrshire and Jersey breeds for Gers in Pennsylvania have noticed a subse- their ability to maintain condition, milk rass-basedquent decrease in cow cost. Coupled with production and reproduction on forage. These cattle types are typically smaller andan increase in cow health and the efficien-cies of working a herd with fewer persons, framed and have lower nutrient require- seasonalproducers have realized an increase in net ments than Holsteins. Again, there is wide dairies, like all dairyincome, even with reduced milk production variability in the expression of the traits operations, rely on(GLCI, 2005). However, some dairy farms important for pasture-based systems, even healthy, fertile cowshave experienced very negative health within dairy breeds. A good example is the Holstein genetics that are being developed of high genetic value.impacts due to zero grain feeding beforetheir herd and their pastures were ready. through selection by grass-based producersThis can result in some disastrous situa- in New Zealand.tions, so cow nutrition should be closely Grass-based and seasonal dairies, likeobserved if transitioning to grass-only all dairy operations, rely on healthy,feeding to ensure the cows maintain body fertile cows of high genetic value. Acondition, breed back on time and continue cow’s productivity is determined by itsto produce milk sustainably. management, especially feeding, health,Making a decision to switch to a grass-based and milking, and by its own inher-system includes a sober look at the weak- ent capabilities including genetic meritnesses of grazing as well. In addition to low (Holmes et al, 2007). Selection of appro-productivity, you can reasonably expect a priate animal genetics for grass-basedyearly variability in milk production and systems is therefore an important factorprofitability, as grass-based systems rely in the adaptive management process.on weather and forage growth to maintainproductivity. In addition, there are theinherent inefficiencies of seasonal milk sup- Factors influencing genetic meritply to processors that should be taken into in dairy cowsaccount (Holmes et al, 2007). • Milk production potential • Percent fat and proteinBreeds and animal types • Feed conversion efficiencyThe dairy industry in the United States • Health and reproduction traitshas been under very intensive consoli- • Cow longevity, or the ability todation and industrialization pressure to consistently produce large quantities ofmaximize the efficiencies that come with milk during a long lifetime of lactationslarge-scale production. Since the 1950s (Holmes et al, 2007)dairy farms have been getting bigger, ATTRA Page 3
  • 4. New Zealand dairy farmers seek to improve production, especially on a farm that relies genetic merit in cow herds by culling cows on pasture for a significant portion of feed of inferior merit and replacing them with for high-producing dairy cows. ATTRA cows of superior genetic merit. Some of the has a dairy sustainability checksheet that important traits in dairy production, such is designed to stimulate critical thinking in as milk fat, and protein yields, are herita- planning a farm on which a primary enter- ble (Holmes et al., 2007). Heritability is a prise is milk production. It contains a series characteristic of those traits that are suc- of questions intended to stimulate aware- cessfully transmitted from one generation to ness and define strong areas in your farm the next. Selecting bulls and cows that have management as well as areas that might be these heritable traits is the foundation of enhanced. The Dairy Farm Sustainability improving the genetics of a herd over time. Checksheet can be accessed at www.attra. Detailed information on using heritabil- org/attra-pub/PDF/dairychecksheet.pdf or ity for improving the genetic merit of dairy by calling ATTRA at 1-800-346-9140. herds can be found in Virginia Cooperative Darrell Emmick, a grazing specialist with Extension’s fact sheet Using Heritability New York National Resources Conservation for Genetic Improvement, available online Service, has suggested some steps to evalu- at ate resources when considering a new graz- 404-084.html. ing operation. First, identify your goals. For more information on livestock breeds, What it is you expect to do and get out of see the Oklahoma State University Depart- grazing cows? Then, identify problems to ment of Animal Science Web site at www. overcome and opportunities you can take Information on advantage of. List your on-farm assets as rare breeds can be found at the American they are now, such as land, livestock, for- Livestock Breeds Conservancy Web site at ages, water, lanes, buildings, machinery and wildlife (NRAES, 2006a). When the initial resource inventory is done, Taking an inventory of match your grazing goals to the resources resources for grass-based you have on hand to determine the feasibil- ity of a new transition. Adaptive manage- dairying ment comes to play as you begin to orient Taking a total farm asset inventory is the your existing resources to the new grazing first step in adaptive management. Inven- venture, evaluate successes and problems tory and monitoring of all aspects of the and adapting to new changes. For detailed farm are critical for sustainable dairy information on resource inventory, see chapter three in Managing and Marketing for Pasture-Based Livestock Production, published by the National Resource, Agri- culture and Engineering Service in 2006 (NRAES, 2006a). Forages and grazing Fertility, legumes, and nutrient cycling Legumes like clover, alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, sainfoin and vetch have the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen to the plant-available form of nitro-An inventory will allow you to match your resources with your grazing goals. gen through the symbiotic work ofPhoto courtesy USDA NRCS. Rhizobium bacteria, which occurPage 4 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 5. naturally in a healthy soil. A composi-tion of from 30 to 50 percent legumes in Managing spring-to-fall pasture recovery periods thoughpastures combined with nutrient cycling rotational grazingfrom high-impact grazing will provide Bill Murphy, a grazing expert in Vermont, relates a story about a success-all the nitrogen the pasture needs to be ful grazing dairy farm in Vermont in his chapter on Pasture Managementsustainably productive under optimum to Sustain Agriculture in Miguel Altiera’s book Agroecology: The Science ofconditions (Gerrish, 2007). Jim Ger- Sustainable Agriculture. On the farm, 60 lactating Holsteins and 15 dryrish, former Missouri pasture researcher cows and heifers were fed on six hectares (14.83 acres) of pasture fromand now a grazing consultant, has noted April 29 to about June 15. Total pasture size is 20 hectares (49.42 acres).that, based on your environment, you In late May, the Hansons harvested and ensiled surplus forage from the remaining 14 hectares (34.59 acres). In June, six hectares (14.83 acres) ofcan run your pasture program entirely the machine-harvested land was brought into the grazing rotation. Inon nitrogen coming from nitrogen-fixing July, a second crop of forage as hay was harvested from the other eightlegumes. In less favorable environments, hectares (19.77 acres). In September all 20 hectares (49.42 acres) wereadded inputs of lime and other soil nutri- included in the rotation. Cows grazed until mid October; heifers and dryents may be needed to allow legumes to cows grazed until about November 1 (Murphy, 1995).thrive (2007). For pastures under highdensity grazing systems, from 70 to 85percent of the nitrogen taken in by the high-quality forage to lactating cattle. Plantanimals is returned and cycled back to recovery periods between grazing eventsthe soil in the form of feces and urine. should correspond to seasonal changes inThus a diverse pasture with a significant plant growth rates (Murphy, 1995). Pas-legume component, which is managed ture plants grow faster in the spring thanintensively with heavy stocking and fre- in the summer, and cool season plants havequent moves, has the potential to become a second growth period in the fall. Manag-a stable, closed system. ing grazing according to plant growth and recovery is crucial to successful rotationalGrazing systems and plant grazing. Bill Murphy, a Vermont graz- ing expert and author, cites an examplerecovery time of a farm in Vermont that has successfullyIf given a choice, livestock will eat the high- negotiated the changes in pasture recoveryest quality, most palatable plants in a pas- rates to feed 75 dairy cattle on just over 49ture. In order to ensure that plant biodi- acres (Murphy, 1995). See the accompany-versity is maintained in the pasture, it is ing information box for details on how 49necessary to set up a grazing management acres of pasture can provide fresh foragesystem to better control livestock grazing. during the growing season as well as ensiledThe elements of grazing that should be con- forages for the winter.trolled are timing and intensity of grazing.This means controlling animal numbers, For more information, see the ATTRAhow long animals are in a pasture and the publications Rotational Grazing andlength of the recovery period the pasture Pasture, Rangeland and Grazing Man-is given before grazing again. Rotational agement or review ATTRA’s grass farminggrazing systems take full advantage of the publications at of nutrient cycling as well as the html#Grass.ecological balance that comes from therelationships between pastures and graz- Forage management during theing animals. High-density stocking for summer slumpshort periods followed by adequate recov- Cool-season perennial grass and legumeery periods helps to build soil organic mat- pastures will often begin to decline in lateter and develops highly productive, dense, July and August. Most of their growthresilient pastures. occurs in the spring and early summer,In rotational grazing systems, plant when you can have good forage yields andrecovery time is of crucial importance excellent grazing for dairy and beef pasture health and to the provision of But when the summer slump arrives, ATTRA Page 5
  • 6. 4) Add additional land into the grazing rotation by taking an early cut of hay from some fields, then allowing them to regrow before grazing them. 5) Consider warm-season annual crops to fill in during the summer slump. Mil- lets, sorghum x sudangrass and several varieties of brassicas such as turnips are available and can be spring planted and grazed during the late summer. Warm- season annual grasses are generally more nutritious than warm-season perennials and can maintain the cattle on a high plane of nutrition through the summer until the cool-season grasses recover.Forage legumes like red clover provide nitrogen fertility to the soil and high proteinfor grazing cows. Photo by Mary Rinehart. need to be able to extend the recovery peri- Extending the grazing season ods to give these pastures time to regrow. Stockpiling is defined as letting forage grow We also need to keep our animals on a high during the summer and deferring grazing plane of nutrition and maintain them with- to the fall or winter. This is an effective way out expensive feed inputs. to provide winter forage in some areas and can reduce the need for harvested forage. If Here is a list of several things you can do to it reduces hay use at all, significant savings get animals through this downtime in the can be realized. This system works well for summer when grazing cool-season grasses. early winter when spring-calving cows are 1) Graze cool-season pastures closely in the in mid pregnancy. Stockpiled grazing can spring, leaving about a 2-inch stubble. be followed with meadow feeding of high- Be careful to rotate at the right time so quality alfalfa hay prior to calving. animals do not have the time to graze the Stockpiling has been shown to work well regrowing shoots before the plant recov- given appropriate pasture management ers or you will begin to deplete the root and efficient allocation of dormant pasture reserves. Close grazing in the spring during the winter. Many grass species will makes cool-season grasses tiller, or send maintain a relatively high nutrient content out side shoots that grow into new leaves and palatability for several months after and more forage later on in the season. dormancy begins. In the Intermountain 2) As the temperature increases and West, Altai wildrye has been suggested for plant growth declines, leave a little stockpiling due to its large stature, abil- more residue on cool-season grasses if ity to stand up under snow and ability to you can. Move cattle when the grass is maintain nutrient quality and palatability from 3 to 4 inches in height. This will well into the winter. Others to consider are make more leaves available to cap- reed canarygrass, tall fescue and alfalfa. ture sunlight and supply nutrients the The use of stockpiling as a fall or winter plant needs to regrow. feeding strategy may not work in all cli- mates or on all soil types. 3) Slow the speed of your rotation when growth slows. Grazing removes older Two extra months of grazing can signifi- leaves and allows newer, more nutri- cantly reduce the costs associated with ent-dense leaves to take their place. producing and feeding hay. In some cases, However, grazing plants that are not producers have been able to utilize stock- fully recovered from the previous piled forage and eliminate the need for grazing will damage plants. Watch hay feeding. This usually works better in your residue height. climates where the dormant grass can bePage 6 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 7. preserved longer under adequate snow Silage can be an excellent source of supple-cover or because of reduced microbial mental nutrients. Allow pasture to be thedecomposition caused by low temperatures primary feedstuff for the cattle and feedand limited moisture. the supplement later in the day after the cattle have grazed for several hours. Pro-Stockpiled forages can either be limit fed tein tends to increase forage utilization by(allowing only so many hours of grazing per grazing livestock, but feeding too muchday) or fed by strip grazing with a movable protein can reduce pasture intake andelectric wire or poly tape. Other options result in inefficient pasture utilization.for feeding stockpiled forages are to swaththem with a hay mower, and then rake Unwilted, long-cut grass has been success-them into windrows. Termed swath graz- fully ensiled in piles and covered with whiteing, cattle graze directly off the windrow plastic. According to Allan Nation (2005),during the winter by using an electric wire editor of Stockman Grassfarmer, the grassor tape to ration hay on a daily basis. This is cut and blown with equipment such asis similar to strip grazing in that the wire is an Alpha-Ag Lacerator and blown into amoved each day to expose a predetermined wagon, then stacked, covered and vacu-amount of forage for grazing. This method, umed. Silage made this way can producewhile still relying on a tractor to cut and high-quality feed and will not spoil duringwindrow the hay, reduces the amount of feeding as long as it is fed out every day.fuel, materials and hay equipment needed The New England Small Farm Institutefor bale and feed hay by eliminating the and the Connecticut Cooperative Exten-baling process altogether. Swath grazing sion System has also done some researchworks best in dryer regions where weath- with this system and many farmers in Newering is less likely to reduce the nutritional England have successful used this tech-quality and palatability of the hay. nology (Markesich, 2002).Corn and grass-legume silage Types of silageCorn silage should be fed to ruminantson pasture when the forage energy con- Type Crude protein Fiber Energytent is inadequate, and if it is cost effec- Grass and smalltive to make and feed silage. Otherwise, grain silage High High Lowcorn silage is probably not worth it. Cornsilage is superior to grass silage for cattle Corn silage Low Low Highgrazing high-quality pasture. Feeding ahigh-protein, low-energy supplement such Legume silage High High Lowas grass or grass-legume silage to cows on (clovers, alfalfa)high-quality pasture causes cows to reducetheir grazing intake. However, high-energycorn silage has the opposite effect. Con- Dairy housingsider grass silage for winter feeding in Modernization of the following systemsaddition to high-quality hay. Grass silage provides the most cost-effective means ofcan be cut, baled and wrapped much like reducing energy use on the farm, includ-hay. This is referred to as haylage, and the ing the dairy barn itself:ensiling process is completed within thewrapped bale. • Water heating and space heating systemsGrass or alfalfa silage requires less energy • Lightinginputs than corn silage, due to the peren- • Ventilation fan motorsnial nature of these crops. Grass or alfalfa • Milking equipment, includingsilage does not require annual tillage, pre-coolers, energy-efficient com-planting or fertilization. However, the ratio pressors, variable speed pumpsof energy output per unit input is slightlylower than corn ATTRA Page 7
  • 8. • Electrical components, because • Provide at least 80 square feet per dirty contacts waste energy and cow for Holsteins and similar-sized pose a fire hazard breeds and 65 square feet for Jer- • Timers on heating components seys. Some producers provide 100 (Anon) square feet per cow. After addressing these areas of concern, • Use fi ne, dry wood shavings or you can begin to determine other areas sawdust for bedding. Alterna- that need treatment, such as installation tive bedding materials are being of solar fencing, solar or wind generated investigated. water pumps and more efficient manure • Aerate the pack twice daily 10 handling techniques. inches deep or deeper to keep it aerobic and fluffy. Biological activ- Compost bedding dairy barns ity helps dry the pack. Compost bedding dairy barns are an inte- • Add bedding when it begins to stick grated approach that solves many farm to the cows. Have bedding supply problems, including the problem of manure available so you don’t end up add- handling. This design also utilizes the heat ing fresh bedding too late. of aerobic fermentation to heat the barn • Enhance biological activity to gen- space. Compost is spread on fields season- erate heat to drive off moisture and ally, and nutrient loss is much less than ventilate the barn well to remove with spreading raw manure. However, the the moisture. compost bedding process requires aera- • Use excellent cow preparation at tion twice a day and ventilation to remove milking time (2008). moisture. Maintaining a compost bedding space requires constant attention and suffi- Whether a compost bedding barn or a cient equipment to aerate the bedding pack conventional barn with timely manure twice daily. Aeration can be accomplished removal is more efficient depends on sev- with a modified compost turner, a front eral elements, such as frequency of manure end loader, or a bobcat. Compost bedding removal, available land for disposal, pas- barns reduce the need to purchase and ture nutrient load (namely phosphorus) ship bedding materials such as wood shav- and personal preference. In addition to ings, which represents not only a cost sav- considering the energy and monetary cost ings but an energy savings as well. Marcia of inputs such as bedding and time, con- Endres and Kavin Janni of the University sider the amount of tractor time needed to of Minnesota suggest the following prac- remove manure versus aerating compost tices to ensure a successfully composted bedding twice daily. bedding pack: To assist you in determining energy effi- cient practices, you can access the online NRCS Energy Estimator for Animal Housing at gov. This interactive tool will allow you to input your farm data and energy costs. The tool will then recommend practices to conserve energy and estimate savings based on your location. Fencing and water systems Fencing for grass-based dairies can be a significant cost and should be designed for ease of use and flexibility of paddockDairy cattle graze paddocks divided with a single strand of electric poly wire. size, as paddock size will likely changePhoto by Linda Coffey. as the growing season progresses.Page 8 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 9. More and more grass-based dairy produc-ers are utilizing electric fencing for perma-nent perimeter fencing and for inner pad-dock sections. The permanent perimeterfence is usually constructed with woodenor steel posts and high-tensile wire. Theperimeter fence carries a current that isdistributed to the fences that subdivide theindividual paddocks. The paddocks canbe divided with either permanent fencingor with temporary posts and poly wire ortape. The advantage of temporary paddockfencing is that the paddock sizes can bechanged according to animal numbers orforage production throughout the season.Some of the necessary equipment fordesigning and constructing electric fences Electric poly wire is a cost-effective tool for maximizing pasture utilization.include: Photo courtesy USDA NRCS. • A charger (energizer) and ground- • Tools, including volt meters, crimp- ing rods ing devices, lightning arrestors and • High-tensile wire, 10, 12.5, or surge protectors 14 gauge • Posts, such as wood and steel (for • Tensioners and insulators permanent and corner braces) and • Poly tape and poly wire for section- step in (temporary) ing off paddocks There are many manufacturers and dis- tributors of electric fencing equipment. Your local feed store or farm co-op might be the first place to look. Online dealers such as Gallagher are also a good place to obtain materials. Visit the Web site at Water is the most important nutrient for dairy cattle (NRC, 2001). An ade- quate water supply is necessary to renew the cows’ body water content that is lost daily through milk production, urine and feces, sweating and exhalation. A 1,500- pound lactating cow producing 60 pounds of milk per day requires 21.8 gallons in cool weather, about 40 degrees Fahren- heit, and 28.9 gallons in hot weather, about 80 degrees (Waldner and Looper). Water should be clean and fresh, as dirty water decreases water intake. Nutrient metabo-A simple electric fence provides protected access to lism in the body depends on water, and ifa stream for livestock watering. PVC pipe is used as aflotation device for the bottom strand. Photo courtesy a cow stops drinking, nutrient metabolismAlice Beetz. (growth and lactation) will ATTRA Page 9
  • 10. pumping, including further resources, can be found in the ATTRA publication Solar-Powered Livestock Watering Systems online at solarlswater.pdf or by calling ATTRA at 1-800-346-9140. Ram pumps utilize stream flow to pump water and can lift water from a stream to a tank without electricity. Clemson University has plans and specifi- cations for building a ram pump at www. The USDA booklets Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers and Watering Systems for Serious Graziers from Missouri Natu- ral Resources Conservation Service containA single source provides water to multiple paddocks. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS. detailed suggestions, plans and trouble- shooting ideas and should prove valuable to producers designing and constructing fenc- Water should be delivered to cattle in the ing and watering systems. See the Further most efficient manner possible. Tanks can resources section below for information on be placed in each paddock, or can be made how to order these guides. portable and moved to individual paddocks as the cattle move. Water can come from Seasonal dairying and municipal sources, wells, springs, ponds or streams. Solar pumping systems are effec- considerations on tive for delivery from wells or ponds, and reproduction low-input technologies such as ram pumps Dairying in the United States has tradi- can supply minimum water flow to tanks tionally produced milk on a year-round from running streams and can even pump basis with a feeding system of silage, hay water uphill if sufficient head is achieved. and grain. However, seasonal dairying is Detailed information on solar water becoming more popular. It was first prac- ticed in New Zealand, where little grain is grown and government subsidies disap- peared years ago. Seasonal systems match the reproductive cycle of the cows to avail- ability of forage. The periods of highest nutrient requirements of the cow — during calving and lactation — are timed to occur in the season of highest grazing quality and quantity. This usually is in the spring. In seasonal dairying, since all the cows dry off at once, it is not necessary to milk for a couple of months during the year. The idea is to avoid the period when milk production is most expensive. In very hot, humid cli- mates, summer might be the time to dry off the cows. Many dairy producers appreci- ate this rare opportunity for time off from Homemade hydraulic ram pump. Ram pumps are milking, but all must adjust to a period of simple and inexpensive to build. All the materials can be purchased at your local hardware store. Photo cour- no income from milk. As more dairies have tesy Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. become seasonal, milk processors have begun indicating that producers may bePage 10 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 11. penalized, especially in certain parts of the breeding is accomplished during thecountry where there is already an oversup- cooler months. In addition, seasonalply of milk in the spring of the year. calving allows the farmer to concen- trate on the actual process of calvingManaging for a short-season calving period for an intense period of time, and to beis critical for the seasonal dairy farmer. available for help if needed.The goal is for all cows to calve within asix- to eight-week period. This can be donewithout hormonal injections and achieve The estrous cyclea fairly high degree of success. Success The reproductive cycle for cattle is knowndepends on body condition, adequate as the estrous cycle, after estrus, or heat.nutrition and good all-around reproduc- Cows cycle every 21 days beginning withtive management. Getting cows bred in a the onset of puberty, which begins whenshort time period may be the biggest chal- cows are about eight months old. Manag-lenge in a seasonal dairy program. Pro- ing the estrous cycle is a challenging task,ducers are finding that getting cows off especially for organic dairy farmers. Syn-concrete and into pasture aids in detecting thetic hormones commonly used in conven-estrus in cows. Unfortunately, producers tional dairies are not allowed in organicare also learning that vegetative forages are production. This section will describe thevery high in rumen degradable protein and characteristics of estrus and some consid-low in energy. Poor body condition and low erations for managing reproduction forenergy intake have a negative impact on organic and seasonal dairying.reproduction; therefore some grain feedingshould be done to counter the tendency forcows to lose condition because of decreased Characteristics of estrus and breeding in cattleavailable energy. Estrus – the period of time when a cow shows behavioral signs of heatKeys to success for transitioning to seasonal Estrous – of, relating to or characteristic of estrus; being in heatproduction include: Age at puberty: • Synchronizing estrus From 12 to 18 months, usually first bred at 15 months depending • Detecting heat on breed and size • Breeding cows within a narrow Cycle type: window of time; approximately Polyestrous, or all year six weeks Cycle length: 21 days, with a range of from 18 to 24 days • Maintaining cows on a high plane of nutrition Duration of estrus (heat): 18 hours with a range of from 10 to 24 • Providing adequate facilities for calving, calf raising and breeding Length of lactation: Approximately 280 days (Merck, 2006) in one season Best time to breed: • Culling late breeders, or letting At the first sign of heat. As the egg ages conception rates may them go through a complete breed- decrease. The younger the egg, the better the conception rate ing season and trying to get them (Karreman, 2007) bred next season First estrus after parturition: Varies, best to breed at 60-90 days post partum (Merck, 2006)Benefits of seasonal calving Ovulation:With spring calving, a producer has Occurs from 10 to12 hours after the end of estrus.the ability to match peak lactation with Uterine bleeding occurs about 24 hours after ovulation in mostforage production. The cows are also cows, but may require vaginal examination for detection. Bleed-offdry when forage is scarce in the win- usually indicates heat occurred from 2 to 3 days prior (Karreman,ter months. For fall calving, the cows personal communication)are dry during the hot summer months. Length of Gestation:Milk prices are generally higher, and 283 ATTRA Page 11
  • 12. Figure 1. The estrous cycle Day 21 is estrus. Standing heat occurs. Ovulation occurs from 25 to 32 hours after onset of estrus. Signs of heat The primary sign that indicates a cow is in heat is a cow standing to be mounted, termed standing heat. Some secondary signs that occur before, during or after standing heat and are not necessarily related to ovulation include: • Mounting other cows • Discharging mucus • Swelling and reddening of vulva • Bellowing, restlessness and trailing • Rubbed tailhead or dirty flanks • Chin resting or back rubbing • Sniffing genitalia • Not letting milk down as usual These secondary heat signs indicate that breeding time is getting close. Another sign to look for is metestrus bleeding, which is a bloody mucus discharge that occurs one to three days after estrus and is caused by high estrogen levels. Met-FSH: follicle-stimulating hormone, responsible for development of follicles estrus bleeding is variable from cow to cow.Follicle: releases ovum (egg)LH: luteinizing hormone, stimulates ovulation and forms corpus luteum It signals that an animal was in heat, and isCL: corpus luteum, mature follicle after ovulation, produces progesterone either bred or open. If the cow is open sheProgesterone: hormone that maintains pregnancy will be in estrus in another 18 or 19 days.Graph courtesy of University of Missouri Extension. Detecting estrus The cow’s estrous cycle lasts for 21 days. Most mounting activity occurs in the The cycle is split into four periods: evening and early morning. It is impor- metestrus, diestrus, proestrus and estrus. tant to time observations accordingly. Days one through three are in metestrus. Provide ample room for cattle to behave This occurs immediately following ovula- naturally and minimize muddy, slippery tion and is indicated by a rise in progester- conditions. Employees should be trained one, which maintains pregnancy. in heat detection and assigned to duties accordingly, observing cows for 30 min- Days three through 19 are diestrus, wich utes in the morning, again in mid to late is marked by high progesterone and afternoon and again at midnight. At low estrogen in system. If pregnant, the the very least, observe cows in the early animal will remain in this phase through- morning and early evening. Maintain out her pregnancy. records of activity, record all heats and Days 19 and 20 are in proestrus. This is develop a heat expectancy chart for each marked by a decrease in progesterone and cow. Consider using heat detection aids, a rise in estrogen if the cow is not pregnant, such as those listed in the box on the top and signs of heat begin. of the next page:Page 12 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 13. Conception rates Heat detection aids A 60-percent conception rate for the first • Use heat detection records and expectancy charts to estimate heat periods. service is average for most dairy herds, and about 2 percent of the cows in an • Perform cow-side milk progesterone assays average herd need more than five services for problem cows. to conceive. A high number of repeat • Use tailhead markings such as paint or Kamar breeders can indicate a problem. Con- pressure-sensitive devices. These are effec- sider culling for severe repeat breeders. tive but conception rates are usually lower if not accompanied with direct visual obser- vation of standing heat. Tailhead markings Synthetic hormones and can give false positives due to any number organic production of situations that would result in markings Synthetic hormones are not allowed in being smudged or rubbed off. organic production. Therefore, the rou- • Consider heat detector animals. Gomer bulls tine manipulation of reproduction such are surgically altered but still mount to breed. as heat synchronization with hormones Cows will also mount cows in estrus. and the administration of gonadotropin- • Understand that cows are generally more releasing hormone (GnRH) to improve active during estrus. conceptions rates are not allowed in organic dairy farming. Organic dairy farmers rely on cultural practices suchTiming of breeding or as heat detection, photoperiod manipula-insemination tion, culling and homeopathic or botani- cal aids to synchronize estrus.Cattle sperm is viable in the cow’s vaginaand uterus for from 18 to 24 hours. Ovu-lated eggs remain viable for from 10 to 20 Natural and homeopathic aidshours. The older the egg is when fertilized, for estrus synchronizationthe greater are the chances for embryonic Dr. Hubert Karreman, a Pennsylvaniadeath. For optimum fertilization, insemi- veterinarian who has seen and treatednate cows as soon as possible because dur- his fair share of organic dairy cattleing estrous observation you may have only on farms throughout the mid-Atlan-seen the cow’s very last standing mount. tic region, suggests that observation of even the slightest change in behaviorPhotoperiod extension is critical to successful heat detection.According to a 1994 study in Ohio, it is He has noted that good dairy farmersthought that spring breeding is favored can “just see” that a cow is in estrus byby photoperiod extension, which improves the way she looks and behaves, includ-endocrine gland activity related to ovula- ing such characteristics as milk letdowntion (Zartman, 1994). Photoperiod exten- and feed intake (Karreman, 2007).sion is nothing more than extending day His book Treating Dairy Cows Natu-length with artificial light. Some produc- rally, which includes a section abouters may be able to take advantage of pho- reproduction and heat cycles, providestoperiod extension for seasonal dairying, first-hand knowledge from an expe-especially in mild regions where cattle are rienced veterinary practitioner. Theless likely to experience breeding problems section describes basic anatomy andassociated with hot climates. Photoperiods physiology; nutritional effects on fertil-can also be manipulated to increase lacta- ity; heat detection methods and sugges-tion efficiency. For detailed information on tions; reproductive disorders; and botan-photoperiod manipulation, see the articles ical and homeopathic treatments. See theby Geoffrey Dahl referenced below in the Further resources section for informa-Further resources section. tion on obtaining a copy of the ATTRA Page 13
  • 14. Dry cow management hormonal change and imbalance. Do not carry out any treatments, Develop a working relationship with a large vaccinations or other procedures animal veterinarian who is qualified and during this time. Leave her udder comfortable working with grass-based sys- alone during this time as well. tems. If you are considering organic pro- Plenty of free choice mineral and duction, you might also consider a quali- vitamin supplementation begin- fied holistic veterinary practitioner. The ning three months before dry off main point is that any health program, will help the immune system cope including a dry cow program, should be with these natural changes. developed with the input of a veterinarian who understands and respects the systems • Animal handling should be exer- approach to production that is exemplified cised with extreme care. Yell- by grass-based dairies. ing, pulling, hitting and banging of gates causes stress and lowers A dry cow program is a year-long natural immunity. Sunshine and systematic plan that involves preven- pasture are important for animal tative health, nutrition, observation, well-being and maintenance ofI f you are proper milking procedure, a commit- natural immunity. ment to animal welfare and treatment • Observe somatic cell counts prior considering when conditions warrant. The follow- to dry-off period. Think of treating organic ing points should be kept in mind when only those cows with high counts.production, developing a dry cow program: Probiotics and whey products haveyou might also • The cow should be in good been successful treatments. Causesconsider a qualified condition at dry off. Dry-off time of a high somatic cell count include is too late for rebuilding nutri- acidosis, lack of barn and equip-holistic veterinary tional reserves. ment sanitation, poor milkingpractitioner. • The cow requires minerals, procedure and negligent cow vitamins, amino acids and handling, which can cause stress. enzymes to rebuild her body • Observe the cow after calving. Calv- stores and get ready for the next ing difficulty and health problems production cycle. associated with calving are indica- • Dry cow management begins three tors of low immunity at calving. months before calving, which is usually a month before dry off. Sample dry cow management system • Salt, kelp, calcium and phospho- • Feed an adequate amount of dry hay for rus must be made available with rumen function. free choice. • Provide calcium, phosphorus and trace • Feed bulk dry cow rations such minerals including salt available free choice as grass, hay and no more than 5- at all times. or-so pounds of grain. Too much • Provide vitamin A and E and selenium sup- energy will fatten her and can plementation if needed, especially in the cause parturition difficulty. Corn winter when green forage isn’t available. silage is also a very good dry cow • Natural treatments help boost immune system feed; just be sure not to feed too and include kelp with or in addition to aloe much. Feed 20 pounds or less per vera pellets at two weeks prior to calving. day for cows on grass. • Use whey products and probiotics for high • Prepare the cow for a natural somatic cell count cows at one week after dry up. immune system drop after dry off. This generally occurs about seven • Consider pre-milking for cows with past udder trouble. Pre-milking is stimulating days after dry off, and again two the udder by hand massaging to encour- to three weeks before and after age milk let-down. calving. These are stressful times ofPage 14 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 15. Grazing nutritionRuminants are adapted to use foragebecause of a symbiotic relationship withrumen microbes. Therefore, feeding therumen microbes will in turn feed theanimal and maintain ruminant healthand productivity. Some basic principlesof grazing nutrition include: • Ruminant nutritional needs change depending on age, stage of production and weather. • Adequate quantities of green forage can supply most —if not all — the energy and protein a ruminant needs. • Forage nutritional composition High-quality legume pasture. Photo courtesy USDA NRCS. changes depending on plant matu- rity, species, season, moisture and grazing system. Supplementing dairy cows • Supplementation may be necessary The energy requirements of lactating when grass is short, too mature, cattle can be met with fresh pasture or dormant or when high-producing with high-quality grass-legume hay or animals require it. silage in the winter. However, energy supplementation on pasture is often • Excessive supplementation may effective in maintaining high gains and reduce the ability of the rumen higher milk production. Dry cows can microbes to use forage. subsist on lower-quality feedstuffs but • Supplementation with a high- will need to be maintained at an accept- protein forage or grain when the able body condition score to successfully herd is grazing grass-legume breed and deliver a healthy calf. pastures may cause animals to Energy is important for cattle on high- refuse more pasture and produce protein pasture because the microbes less milk. If protein overfeeding that occupy the rumen need energy to continues for too long, cows may digest all the protein the animal ingests. lose condition, not breed back and If the microbes do not get enough energy, develop hoof problems. the protein is converted to urea and isGrazing cattle require green, growing, passed through in the urine, resultingleafy grass and legumes to meet the pro- in inefficient protein use. For very high-tein and energy requirements needed producing dairy cattle, an energy sup-to maintain lactation. As the cow pro- plement such as grain or corn silage cangresses through her lactation period, the result in better protein digestion, andamount of forage required will increase. therefore higher milk production andMaintaining a high plane of nutrition is greater weight gains for growing cattle.critical for good grazing management, as Most dairy graziers who supplement theircovered in the Forage and Grazing sec- cattle provide from 8 to 18 pounds of corntion above. Appropriate supplementation or another high-energy grain per headis necessary when forage is inadequate, per day, depending on the quality of thewhich is the subject of the next section. pasture, in addition to forage or ATTRA Page 15
  • 16. pasture exposure and provid- When to supplement ing high-quality forage in the Supplementing energy is helpful on dormant season. vegetative, well-managed pastures for Recordkeeping is a critical component more efficient utilization of forage protein for of a livestock health plan, and is of vital high-producing animals. importance to a dairy farmer. ATTRA has Supplementing with protein is necessary on a set of organic livestock recordkeeping low-quality pasture and rangeland or when forms that help the producer document continuously grazing temperate warm- pasture use, livestock inventory, indi- season pastures. vidual cow health and breeding records. To access these forms, visit http://attra. or call Digestible fiber feeds are good energy 1-800-346-9140. sources for dairy cattle on high-quality forage because digestible fiber feeds do not To learn more about animal health reduce intake and provide energy for pro- and disease prevention, see the ATTRA tein metabolism. Examples of digestible publication Cattle Production: Consid- fiber feeds include corn gluten feed, made erations for Pasture-Based Beef and with corn gluten meal and bran; wheat Dairy Producers. midds, made from screenings from wheat flour processing; and whole cottonseed. Organic dairy production For more in-depth information on cattle There is an increasing demand for nutrition refer to the ATTRA publication organic and pasture-based dairy prod- Ruminant Nutrition for Graziers. ucts. Many conventional dairy farms are transitioning to pasture-based pro- Health management duction and also becoming certified organic. This section will discuss how The natural living conditions of pastures to get started in transitioning a dairy to decrease animal stress and remove unneces- certified organic production. sary burdens on the immune system. Other practices such as sanitation, quarantine of Several challenges are typical in the transi- new animals and the use of probiotics in tion period of changing from conventional young animals can also foster a healthier to organic production. The primary con- environment for livestock. Disease preven- cern is to develop an ecological approach tion is the best health plan you can develop to production as opposed to an input for your cow herd, and a well-planned pas- approach. In practical terms, this means ture-based system will effectively eliminate developing soil fertility through grazing many vectors for disease and alleviate many management; careful use of winter manure; nutritional disorders. controlling pests and disease through san- Cattle health management is a disease itation, plant and animal diversity; and prevention strategy that includes: stress reduction. These are just a few con- cerns during the transition period. • Fostering natural immunity in animals by increasing animal and In transitioning to organic production, plant biodiversity on the farm you will be confronted with new and often • Balancing nutrition through rigorous recordkeeping and management pasture grazing management and requirements. Yearly inspections will be mineral supplementation required to verify compliance to the organic • Development of a proactive dry regulations. In addition, there can be a sub- cow management program stantial cost to the certification process. • Proper milking procedures The first step in transitioning to organic • Reducing animal stress through production is to select a certifier in your appropriate facility design and area. Many states have one or morePage 16 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 17. • Health care – The producer USDA accredited certifying agents must establish and maintain pre- The USDA maintains a list of accredited ventative health care practices, certifiers, listed by state, on the National including selection of appropriate Organic Program Web site at www.ams. livestock species, adequate nutri- If you would like a printed list of the certifiers in your area, contact tion, appropriate housing and ATTRA at 1-800-346-9140. sanitation, freedom of movement and reduction of stress, admin- istration of vaccines and propercertifying agencies that are authorized treatment of sick animals even ifagents by the National Organic Program. organic status could be affected.Once you select a certifier, you will com- • Livestock living conditions – Theplete an application packet, which will producer must establish andbecome your organic system plan. Remem- maintain living conditions thatber that it takes three years from the date accommodate health and natu-of the last application or use of a restricted ral animal behavior, includingsubstance such as synthetic herbicides and pasture for ruminants. Ifertilizers until a product can be sold as • Recordkeeping – The producer t takes threeorganic. It also takes one year to transition must maintain records concern- years from thea herd to organic. Alternatively, an organic ing production, harvesting and date of the lastherd can be purchased once the farm is handling of agricultural products. application or usecertified organic. The records must fully disclose all of a restricted activities and transactions, be read-The organic system plan (OSP) ily understood and audited and be substance such asAccording to the National Organic Pro- maintained for five years. synthetic herbicidesgram Regulations, every certified organic Detailed information on these crite- and fertilizers until afarm, ranch and handling operation must ria can be obtained from the National product can be soldsubmit an organic system plan when apply- Organic Program’s Web site at www. as for certification. The OSP must be or by contactingupdated annually or more frequently if ATTRA at 1-800-346-9140.operational changes are made. The Northeast Organic Dairy Produc-An OSP includes the name and contact ers Alliance (NODPA) has many usefulinformation of the producer, the type of documents on their Web site for farmersoperation seeking certification and a live- thinking about transitioning. Access thestock inventory. In addition, the following information at should be documented to main-tain an audit trail in order to establish Proposed organic dairyorganic system integrity: grazing standards • Livestock origin – Livestock prod- As of this writing, the National Organic ucts that are to be sold, labeled Program is considering a new section or represented as organic must of the rule that covers grazing and be from livestock under continu- ous organic management, except housing of organic livestock. The fi nal as is provided for in the National rule should be published in 2009. Organic Program regulations. The National Organic Program regulations • Feed – The total feed ration currently include grazing as a portion of must be composed of agricul- the total feed requirements of ruminant tural products, including pasture livestock. According to NOP § 205.237, and forage, that are organically the producer of an organic livestock opera- produced and, if applicable, tion must provide livestock with a total feed organically processed. ration composed of agricultural products, ATTRA Page 17
  • 18. including pasture and forage. In addition, Animal welfare livestock living conditions are addressed Animal agriculture has become signifi- to accommodate the health and natural cantly focused on production efficiency, as behavior of livestock. A proposed change to evidenced by confinement systems, total the rule states that producers shall ensure mixed ration delivery of concentrated feed- that, during a pasture growing season of stuffs, genetic selection for high-producing at least 121 days, at least 30 percent of the cows and the use of hormones and antibiot- cow’s dry matter intake shall come from ics to sustain high production levels. These green, growing pasture. practices have increased the production of milk and milk products dramatically, The proposed organic pasture rule states but often at the expense of animal welfare. that all ruminants should be managed on From an economic perspective, grass-based pasture year-round by providing graz- and organic dairies place more attention ing throughout the growing season and on income than on high productivity. It access to the outdoors throughout the has been mentioned that some dairy farm- year, including during the nongrowing ers with less extensive production systems season. Dry lots and feedlots will no lon- achieve a higher income by lowering their ger be permitted in organic production production costs. From an ecological per- under this proposed rule. Instead, the spective, grass-based and organic dairy pasture system must include a sacrificial farms measure success in increased animal pasture for grazing and to protect the other health and a more appropriate quality of pastures from excessive damage during life for the farm family. periods when saturated soil conditions render the pastures too wet for animals to The grass-fed claim for ruminant graze (USDA AMS, 2000). animals and products This publication will be amended in the The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Stan- future to reflect changes to the rule by dards for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claims, Grass (Forage) Fed claim gives authority to label the National Organic Program. For more grass-fed livestock products according to the information on the proposed rule, see the following language: Grass and forage shall be USDA National Organic Program Web site the feed source consumed for the lifetime of at the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The diet shall be derived solely from forage consisting of grass Grass-fed standards and (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, process verification Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Animals cannot be The USDA initiated a voluntary grass-fed fed grain or grain byproducts and must have claim standard in 2007 that allows produc- continuous access to pasture during the grow- ers to use the Process Verified term and ing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop shield in their marketing and label their residue without grain, and other roughage products as grass-fed. The producer will sources may also be included as acceptable feed document all verification points, or those sources. Routine mineral and vitamin supple- mentation may also be included in the feeding substantive and verifiable production regimen. If incidental supplementation occurs claims that add value to the product, and due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feed- have them verified by a third party. Two stuffs or to ensure the animal’s well being at all organizations approved for third-party times during adverse environmental or physical verification from the USDA are AgIn- conditions, the producer must fully document foLink,, and IMI (e.g., receipts, ingredients, and tear tags) supple- Global, mentation that occurs including the amount, the frequency, and the supplements provided See the Further resources section below (USDA AMS, 2007). for detailed contact information.Page 18 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 19. Grass-based dairies foster an environ- management considerations should alsoment that is conducive to animal health factor into making decisions about sea-and longevity. Some of the factors that sonal dairying (Groover, 2000). Hispositively affect animal welfare on grass- publication The Income Side of Sea-based farms are: sonal vs. Year-Round Pasture-based Milk Production explains the impli- • Outside access and reduced con- cations of the seasonal price index finement, which decreases respira- and milk sales in comparing seasonal tory problems from dust versus yearlong production. See the • Forage-based ration instead Further resources section for information of grain-based, which reduces on obtaining a copy of the book. incidence of acidosis • Low-stress weaning for calves and Marketing pasture-based cows, which reduces sickness livestock products • Natural grazing rhythms, which Grass-based and seasonal dairy products keep animals stress free since cows likely need marketing schemes that differ F graze when they are physiologically from traditional marketing channels. Many ready, not when they have to rom an grass-based and seasonal dairy producers • Pasture, which improves the have a niche product and try to receive ecological cows’ comfort premium prices. This is because seasonal perspective, producers have a hard time finding a tra- grass-based andSeasonal economics ditional milk buyer who can accommo- organic dairy farmsSeasonal production is known to lower feed date seasonal milk production. Most buy- measure success incosts and capital requirements, ultimately ers want to know they have milk coming increased animalleading to higher farm profitability. How- all year, especially given the seasonal milkever, maintaining a high level of manage- health and a more fluctuations that already affect them.ment is crucial to realizing potential prof- appropriate qualityits in a seasonal system. Tom Kriegl of the Niche markets and product of life for the farmUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison Center differentiation family.for Dairy Profitability has suggested thata moderate expectation of financial return If feasible, grass-based and seasonal milkshould be expected even by experienced producers should consider marketingand highly capable managers committed private-label milk and dairy the seasonal system (Kriegl, 2005). The Selling milk locally is another good optionstudies, which ran from 1995 to 2005, pro- to get premium prices, but requires avide insight to the factors that influence commitment of equipment, expertise andnet farm income from operations (NFIFO) time. Local and artisan cheese makersper cow and per hundredweight equiva- can also be a market for grass-based andlent (CWT EQ) in comparing seasonal seasonal producers. Producers can seek cheese makers who want to make a grass-and conventional dairies. See the Further fed cheese and are willing to pay a pre-resources sectopm for contact information mium for the milk. The ATTRA publica-for the University of Wisconsin-Madison tion Adding Value to Farm Products: AnCenter for Dairy Profitability, which main- Overview discusses the concept of addingtains links to Kriegl’s studies online. value to farm products, the differencesAccording to Gordon Groover, an exten- between creating and capturing valuesion economist and associate professor at and the implications for value-addedVirginia Tech, “selling most of the milk enterprises. It describes some differ-produced during the lowest price period has ent approaches to adding value, includ-little impact on total gross sales.” There- ing starting a food processing business,fore sound financial analysis and time with a brief look at nonfood ATTRA Page 19
  • 20. Marketing basics and estimate sales volume. Look for costs and potential profitability. Enterprise evaluation – Ascertain the an unfilled niche market. Seek out For more detailed information and feasibility of new enterprises and clar- information on consumer habits and marketing resources, including feasi- ify goals. Identify financial resources competitors. bility studies and business planning and potential customers. Marketing plan – Identify advertising guides, see ATTRA’s Direct Marketing Market research – Identify and define strategies for reaching customers. publication, available at www.attra. your product. Consider production, Clarify objectives, appropriate actions, processing and packaging needs, projected income, pricing structures, or by calling 1-800-346-9140 The publication is available at http://attra. Supplementation on pasture is provided or to cattle based on energy needs, and an by calling 1-800-346-9140. ecological approach to health care is cru- Of course grass-based producers can cial to developing a low-input farming still sell milk through traditional chan- strategy that reduces production costs nels. Keeping costs low through grazing and increases profitability. has been a very effective means of stay- ing profitable. Acknowledgements Special thanks to Hubert Karreman, Conclusion doctor of veterinary medicine, and Sarah Grass-based and seasonal dairying is Flack, grazing consultant, for provid- a viable choice for many farmers look- ing technical review to this publication. ing to increase profitability and main- Thanks also to Margo Hale and Jeff tain a farming lifestyle for generations Schahczenski of NCAT for providing to come. The importance of forage man- input for the equipment, marketing, and agement cannot be overemphasized. economics sections of this publication.References GLCI. 2005. Converting to a Grass Based Dairy (DVD, 18 minutes). Pennsylvania Grazing LandsEndres, Marcia I and Kevin A. Janni. 2008. Conservation Initiative.Compost Bedded Pack Barns for Dairy Cows.University of Minnesota, St. Paul. Accessed March Groover, Gordon. 2000. The Income Side of Seasonal vs. Year-Round Pasture-based Milk Production.13, 2009. Virginia Tech. Accessed March 13, 2009.Bedded_Pack_Barns_for_Dairy_Cows, Clarence M. (ed). 2006. The Merck Veterinary Holmes, C.W., I.M. Brookes, D.J. Garrick, D.D.S.Manual. 7th ed. Rahway, NJ: Merck & Co. 1832 p. MacKenzie, T.J. Parkinson, and G.F. Wilson. 2007.Gerrish, J. 2007. Can legume nitrogen do it alone? Milk Production from Pasture: Principles andBEEF Magazine, April 2007. Accessed March 13, Practices. NZ: Massey University. 602 p.2009. Karreman, H. 2007. Treating Dairy Cows Naturally.jim-gerrish/legume_nitrogen Austin, TX: Acres USA. 412 p.Page 20 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 21. Kriegl, Tom. 2005. Production Costs on Selected Further resourcesWisconsin Grazing Farms, 1995-2005. University ofWisconsin, Center for Dairy Profitability. Accessed Housing and equipment resourcesMarch 13, 2009. Dairymaster USA Inc.Markesich, Kim Colavito. 2002. Direct-cut vac- 2120 Tuley Roaduum silage, in Farmer research groups tackle real Indian Springs, OH 45015world issues. Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2. University www.dairymaster.comof Connecticut College of Agriculture and Natu- Milking equipment suitable for small-scaleral Resources. grass dairiesjournal%20pdf%20files/apr_may_june02.pdf Gay, Susan Wood and Rick D. Heidel. 2003.Murphy, Bill. 1995. Pasture Management to Sustain Fencing Materials for Livestock Systems.Agriculture, in Agroecology: The Science of Sustain- Virginia Tech. Agriculture, 2nd Edition. M. Altieri, Editor. 442-131/442-131.htmlBoulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 321 – 347. Fencing types, materials, and costsNation, Allan. 2005. Tips on how to make direct-cut Gay, Susan W. 2004. Site Selection for Dairyvacuum silage. The Stockman Grassfarmer, Novem- Housing Systems. Biological Systems Engineering,ber 2005. Accessed March 13, 2009. www.stockman Virginia Tech. 442-096/442-096.htmlNRAES. 2006a. Managing and Marketing for Iowa State University Extension. Estimating costsPasture-Based Livestock Production. Edward B. for livestock fencing, FM 1855. www.extension.Rayburn, Editor. Natural Resource, Agriculture, Engineering Service. Compares the costs of building a quarter-mile (1,320 feet) straight perimeter fence with wovenNRC. 2001. Nutrient Requirements of Dairy wire, barbed wire, high-tensile non-electric andCattle, 7th Revised Edition. Washington DC: high-tensile electrified and temporary interiorNational Research Council. fencing.Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Kammel, D.W. 2001. Remodeled Parlors. BiologicalAffairs (OMAFRA). Options to Reduce Energy use on Systems Engineering Department, CALS, Univer-the Farm. Accessed March 13, 2009. www.omafra. sity of Wisconsin-Madison. pdf/Remodeled%20Parlors.pdfUSDA AMS. 2000. National Organic Program. Code Reinemann, D.J. 1995. Milking Facilities for theof Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 205. National Expanding Dairy. University of Wisconsin-Madison,Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Department of Agricultural Engineering, Milk-Federal Register. ing Research and Instruction Lab. 2007. Federal Register, Docket No. uwmril/pdf/MilkingParlors/95_WVMA_Parlors.pdfAMS–LS–07–0113; LS–05–09; Grass-Fed Tranel, Larry. 2007. Transforming a Dairy ParlorLivestock Claim. at Low Cost. Iowa State University Extension. www.Waldner, Dan N. and Michael L. Looper. No date. for Dairy Cattle. Oklahoma Cooperative 4456-B3D6-1ED769C2D495/61848/pm2033transiowExtension. aparlor12Mg.pdfF-4275web.pdf University of Kentucky. Online interactive fencingZartman, D.L. 1994. Intensive Grazing/Seasonal cost calculator. The Mahoning County Dairy Program, Calculators/LivestockCalculator_Fence1987-1991. OARDC Research Bulletin 1190. The WovenBarbed.htm.Ohio State University, OARDC, Department of This site will allow you to enter various materialsDairy Science. and configurations to compare fencing ATTRA Page 21
  • 22. University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension 266 Animal Science BuildingDairy Modernization Web site. Madison, WI 53706ces/dairymod/index.cfm (608) 263-5665 Detailed information on parlor design, dairy hous- ing, feed storage systems and manure handling Comprehensive research project reports compar-University of Wisconsin. Low Cost Parlor Options ing conventional, organic, seasonal and pasture-CD. 2001. Dairy Modernization-Retrofit Team of based dairy farms in the Midwest. An excellentthe University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension resource for dairy farmers considering a transi-in cooperation with the UW Center for Dairy Prof- tion to organic and pasture-based production.itability and the Biological Systems Engineering Dunaway, V. 2000. The Small Dairy ResourceDepartment of the University of Wisconsin. Book. Beltsville, MD: Sustainable Agriculture Single copies of the CD may be purchased from Research and Education. the Center for Dairy Profitability for $25. publications/dairyresource/dairyresource.pdf This price includes shipping and handling. Send orders to: Gildersleeve, Rhonda R. 2008. Useful Grazing Arlin Brannstrom, Resources & Reference Materials. University of 285 Animal Science Building Wisconsin Cooperative Extension. 1675 Observatory Drive ces/cty/iowa/ag/documents/UsefulGrazing Madison, WI 53706, 608-265-3030 Resourcesrev508.pdf or Resource listing for grazing, forage, fencing, andTessa I.E.C, Group Limited livestock GLCI. 2005. Converting to a Grass Based Dairy Dairy production mini-plants (DVD, 18 minutes). Pennsylvania Grazing LandsUSDA. 2005. Electric Fencing for Serious Graziers. Conservation Initiative.Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Conser- Jana Malotvation Service. State Grazing SpecialistMO%20NRCS%20Electric%20Fencing_low.pdf One Credit Union Place, Suite 340 Topics include selecting an energizer, ground- Harrisburg, PA 17110-2912 ing, selecting wire, temporary fencing, gates (717) 237-2247 and braces, tools, safety and troubleshooting. (717) 237-2238 FAX jana.malot@pa.usda.govUSDA. 2006. Watering Systems for Serious Graziers.Columbia, MO: Missouri Natural Resources Groover, Gordon. 2000. The Income Side ofConservation Service. Seasonal vs. Year-Round Pasture-based Milkimages/Watering%20Systemslow.pdf Production. Virginia Tech. Topics include livestock water needs, water dairy/404-113/404-113.html sources, delivery systems, tanks, protecting watering areas, tank location, installing pipes Holmes, C.W., I.M. Brookes, D.J. Garrick, D.D.S. and spring water development. MacKenzie, T.J. Parkinson, and G.F. Wilson. 2007. Milk Production from Pasture: PrinciplesThe preceding two USDA NRCS publications can and Practices. NZ: Massey downloaded in PDF or ordered from: Centre for Professional Development & USDA NRCS Conferences Private Bag 11 222 601 Business Loop 70 West, Suite 250 Palmerston North, New Zealand Columbia, MO 65203 This book focuses on the principles and prac-Grass-based and seasonal dairy tices of intensive milk production from grazedmanagement resources pastures. In New Zealand, these pastoral dairyCenter for Dairy Profitability systems are able to produce highest quality milkUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison at the lowest costs in the world. Therefore, they1675 Observatory Drive are of increasing interest in many other placesPage 22 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 23. in the world, including parts of Australia, South Cropper. Natural Resources Conservation Service. Africa, North and South America and Europe. publications/tn_rp_1_a.pdfJohnson, D. and D. Schwartz, Jr. 2002. Milk This technical note defines grazing-basedProduction Costs: How Much Does It Cost You dairies and describes their ecological, socialto produce 100 Pounds of Milk? University of and economic benefits and the considerationsMaryland. involved in developing or making the transitionPDFs/FS790.pdf to a grazing-based dairy. It also contains a series Worksheets for calculating costs per hundred- of case studies from different parts of the country. weight. Wahlberg, Mark. 2008. Beef End Product: LivestockMinnesota Department of Agriculture. 2006. Update, VA Tech. Voluntary Standards for a For-Dairy Your Way: A Guide to Management Options age-Fed Livestock Marketing Claim. Agriculturalfor the Upper Midwest. Meg Moynihan, Editor. Marketing Service. Docket No. AMS–LS–07–0113; LS–05–09. United States Standards for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claims, Grass (Forage) Fed Claim forNation, Allan. 2003. Farm Fresh: Direct Marketing Ruminant Livestock and the Meat Products DerivedMeats & Milk. Green Park Press. www.stockman From Such Livestock.) cals/livestock/aps-08_06/aps-0604.htmlSchlabach, Matthew. 2008. My Reasons forSeasonal Grass Dairying, in Farming Magazine, Grazing and pasture resourcesSpring 2008. Mt. Hope, OH. www.farmingmagazine. Cooper, D. and D. Cosgrove. Pasture Forage Intakenet/Articles/My%20Reasons%20for%20Seasonal%2 Calculator for Dairy Cows. University of Wisconsin0Dairying.pdf Extension., Francis. 2004. Organic Grass Based Dairy Cosgrove, Dennis and Dennis Cooper. Estimat-Products for Local Markets. Presented at Animals in ing Dry Matter Intake of Grazing Dairy Cattle,the Food System: A Conference to Consider Pasture- in Grazier’s Notebook, Vol. 2 No. 2. University ofBased Alternatives and Challenges for Research, Wisconsin Extension. and Development. Kellogg Biological uwforage/GN-EstimatingDMintake.pdfStation, Michigan State University. www.foodand Emmick, Darrell L. and Danny G. Fox. 1993. scribed Grazing Management to Improve PastureGrass_Based_Dairy_Products_for_Local_M.htm Productivity in New York. Cornell University., Larry F. 1994. Dollars and Sense: AHandbook for Seasonal Grass Based Dairying. McCrory, Lisa. 2007. Measuring 30% DM fromGreen Park Press. Pasture, in Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Out of print. Try libraries or online book sellers Alliance News, Vol. 7 Issue 2. to obtain a copy. IndustryNews/Measuring_30_Percent_may2007.pdfTranel, Larry. 2006. Increasing Dairy Base with NRAES. 2006b. Forage Production for Pasture-Millionaire Model Dairy Farms, A.S. Leaflet Based Livestock Production. Edward B. Rayburn,R2098. Iowa State University Animal Industry Editor. Natural Resource, Agriculture, andReport 2006. Engineering Service.2006pdf/R2098.pdf NRAES. 2007. Forage Utilization for Pasture- Based Livestock Production. Edward B. Rayburn,University of Missouri-Columbia. 2001. SW Cen- Editor. Natural Resource, Agriculture, andter Dairy — Is Seasonal For You? in Southwest Engineering Service.Center Ruminations, April - June, Vol. 7, No. 2.The Missouri Agricultural Experiment Station. All NRAES publications can be ordered from: NRAES Cooperative Extensionv7n2/swrc5.stm PO Box 4557 Ithaca, NY 14852-4557USDA. 2007. Profitable Grazing-Based Dairy Sys- (607) 255-7654tems. Edited by Stefanie Aschmann and James B. ATTRA Page 23
  • 24. Sullivan, Karen, Robert DeClue, and Darrell Dahl, Geoffrey. 2001. Photoperiod ManagementEmmick. 2000. Prescribed Grazing and Feeding of Dairy Cattle. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture,Management for Lactating Dairy Cows. New York Food and Rural Affairs. Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative. english/livestock/dairy/facts/info_photoperiod.htm Free. Order from: Dahl, Geoffrey. Photoperiodic Manipulation of Darrell Emmick (607) 756-0581, ext. 117 Lactation in Dairy Cattle. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. photoperiodUniversity of Maine Cooperative Extension. This site contains background on the long-dayPasture Management Online Home Study Course photoperiod method to increase milk It also has studies that summarize and confirmUniversity of Maine Cooperative Extension. the stimulatory effect of long days on milk pro-Northeast Grazing Guide. duction in cattle in North America and Europe.grazingguide Example barns, recommendations and calcu- lation to determine the number of light fixturesUndersander, Dan, Beth Albert, Dennis Cosgrove, required for your barn style are available.Dennis Johnson, and Paul Peterson. 2002.Pastures for profit: A guide to rotational grazing. Dettloff, Paul. 2004. Alternative Treatments forUniversity of Wisconsin Extension. http:// Ruminant Animals. Austin, TX: Acres Safe, natural veterinary care for cattle, sheep, and goats.USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Acres USAFinancial Assistance Programs Division PO Box 9129914th and Independence Ave., SW Austin, TX 78709Room 5239-S (512) 892-4400Washington, DC 20250(202) 720-1845 www.acresusa.comLocal NRCS service centers Dettloff, P. 2005. The fundamentals of dry cow man- agement. The New Farm, Nov. 10. org/columns/dettloff/1105/index.shtml. NRCS grazing specialists and conservationists Karreman, H. 2007. Treating Dairy Cows can assist producers with technical assistance and Naturally. Austin, TX: Acres USA. in accessing cost-share programs to offset costs to Penn Dutch Cow Care transition to grass-based dairying. Some of the 1272 Mt Pleasant Rd, practices that are cost-shared might include plan- Quarryville, PA 17566 ning a grazing system, installing fence, developing (717) 529-0155 water systems and installing laneways. This book addresses many aspects of maintain-Health and reproduction resources ing healthy animals and treating them natu-Cassell, Bennet. 2001. Using Heritability for rally. The book includes organic treatments andGenetic Improvement. Virginia Cooperative covers aspects of biologics, botanical medicines,Extension. homeopathic remedies, acupuncture and404-084/404-084.html conventional medicine.Crystal Creek Mellenberger, Roger. 2001. California MastitisN9466 Lakeside Road Test (CMT): An Invaluable Tool for ManagingTrego, WI 54888 Mastitis. Department of Animal Sciences, Michi-1-888-376-6777 gan State University. pdf/046acaliforniamastitistest.pdfPage 24 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 25. Merck. 2006. The Merck Veterinary Manual. Rah- Whittier, Jack C. 1993. Reproductive Anatomyway, NJ: Merck & Co. and Physiology of the Cow. University of Missourimvm/index.jsp. Extension., Tom and Michael Keilty. Alternative and agguides/ansci/g02015.htmHerbal Livestock Health Sourcebook. NortheastRegional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Organic resourcesEducation program, Burlington, VT and theCollege of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Flack, S. 2005. Organic Dairy Production. North-University of Connecticut. east Organic Farming Association. http://nofany.plsc/plsc/ahlh%20sb-web.pdf org/publications.htmlNational Dairy Herd Information Association MOSES. 2006. Organic Dairy Farming: A ResourcePO Box 930399 for Farmers. Jody Padgham, editor. Gay Mills, WI:Verona, WI 53593-0399 Orang-utan Press.(608) USDA. National Organic Program, 7 CFR Part 205. Agricultural Marketing Service. www.ams.NRC. 2001. Nutrient Requirements of Dairy, 7th edition. Washington DC: NationalResearch Council. Process verified programs and resourcesMOFGA. 2006. Raising Organic Livestock in AgInfoLinkMaine: MOFGA Accepted Health Practices, 1860 Lefthand CircleProducts and Ingredients Suite Gprograms/organicdairy/pdfs/tech_livestocklist.pdf Longmont, CO 80501 A list consistent with information provided by the National Organic Program, the National Organic Standards Board’s recommendations, Dutton. Jennifer. 2007. Q & A: Grass-fed Claim Organic Materials Review Institute and commu- and Process Verification for Meat Products. nication with Northeast Interstate Organic Center for Profitable Agriculture, University of Certifiers Committee. Tennessee Extension.’Conner, M.L. 1993. Heat Detection and Tim- cpa145.pdfing of Insemination for Cattle. State College, PA: IMI GlobalPenn State University Cooperative Extension. 221 Wilcox St. Ste. Castle Rock, CO 80104Rhodes, R.C. The Use of Milk Progesterone (303) 895-3002Assays for Reproductive Management. University www.imiglobal.comof Rhode Island. USDA Process Verified Programpubs/livepoul/dirm9.pdf USDA, AMS, LS, ARC BranchThe Virtual Dairy Cattle Encyclopedia of Repro- 100 Riverside Parkway, Suite 135duction. 2008. G.W. Smith, Y. Kobayashi, N.M. Fredericksburg, VA 22406Bello, editors. Michigan State University. (202) 690-1038 A Web-based teaching tool designed to provide The USDA Process Verified Program provides information on the fundamentals of dairy cattle suppliers of agricultural products or services the reproduction, new technologies and the impor- opportunity to assure customers of their ability to tance of reproduction to dairy farm profitability. provide consistent quality products or ATTRA Page 25
  • 26. NotesPage 26 ATTRA Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying
  • 27. ATTRA Page 27
  • 28. Dairy Production on Pasture: An Introduction to Grass-Based and Seasonal Dairying By Lee Rinehart NCAT Agriculture Specialist © 2009 NCAT Holly Michels, Editor Amy Smith, Production This publication is available on the Web at: or IP340 Slot 338 Version 063009Page 28 ATTRA