An ARS study could help small dairy farms like the
one pictured here in western Maryland. Click the image for more information
Strategy for Small Dairy Farms
By Don Comis
September 30, 2004
Agricultural Research Service scientists in
Ohio are beginning a dairy grazing research and demonstration program to help
family dairy farms both in Ohio and nationwide.
The research at the North
Appalachian Experimental Watershed in Coshocton is part of an ARS dairy
grazing project being done in cooperation with two other ARS facilities, the
U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center
in Madison, Wis., and the Pasture
Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit at University Park, Pa., as
well as The Ohio State University (OSU) and
OSU's Ohio Agricultural Research and
Ohio ranks fourth in the nation for number of dairy herds, but, as with the
rest of farming nationwide, dairy farms in Ohio are going up in size and down
This fall, ARS soil scientist Lloyd B. Owens and colleagues at Coshocton are
using simple electric fences to create small paddocks to rotate cattle from one
part of a pasture to another every day or two. They are testing a system called
management-intensive, or rotational, dairy grazing.
ARS scientists will monitor manure runoff and water quality. OSU scientists
will check on how different forage grasses and plants hold up under intensive
grazing, as well as how the animals fare and the quality of milk from grass-fed
The idea is to spread out the grazing so that cattle are always eating only
the freshest growing tips of forage grasses, which are the most nutritious and
tastiest parts of the plants. This could help make small dairy farms more
profitable by raising the per-cow profit margin. Grazing eliminates the need to
provide livestock feed to confined animals, and grazing newly grown forage
might also allow more cows per acre, further lowering costs.
This could help alleviate economic pressures on farmers to convert to
mega-dairies with 1,000 to 2,000 cows confined to feeding barns. Such large
dairies face higher costs, including those associated with manure storage.
Rotational grazing may spread manure more evenly in fields, lessening the
chances of pollution.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.