Skip to main content
ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #415152

Research Project: Advancing Grass-Fed Dairy: A Whole Systems Approach to Enhancing Productivity, Quality, and Farm Viability in the U.S.

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 8070-21000-010-008-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Oct 1, 2018
End Date: Aug 31, 2023

Project goal Increase the success and viability of grass-fed dairy production operations through benchmarking, soil and forage improvements, and focus on market demands. Objective 1: Understand the economic and production metrics for grass-fed dairy systems through implementing benchmarking on farms in Vermont and New York, and creating a program that can be easily expanded nationwide. Objective 2: Understand nutrient cycling dynamics and the subsequent impacts on crop, soil, and animal production and health. Objective 3: Investigate the impacts of soil and forage management on nutrient cycling, forage production, forage quality, and farm economics.

Obj 1.1-Expand the data collected and participants in the current benchmarking program. Surveys used in a current grassfed feeding benchmark program will be expanded to include more detailed management information as well as economic data. Additional farms will be identified and contacted to determine interest in participating and will be visited. This program will be continued in years 2 and 3. Obj 1.2-Expand the reach of the benchmarking program across the country. A user-friendly web-based version of the benchmarking program will be developed to allow farms in other states to gain access to benchmarking tools where resources for grass-fed research and technical support may be more limited. Once the framework for the on-line benchmarking program is created, we will work with our extensive network of colleagues across the country to disseminate the program and help farmers utilize the information to make improvements on their farms. Obj 2.1-Calculate farm-level nutrient balances, production efficiency, and economic impact. Five to 10 farms will be identified and contacted to evaluate interest in assisting with further on-farm data collection. Farms will provide data pertaining to imported and exported sources of nutrients, including feed and supplements, bedding, soil amendments, milk, meat, etc. This data will be entered into Cornell’s Whole Farm Nutrient Mass Balance calculator and the Integrated Farming Systems Model to calculate nutrient balances as well as resource use, production efficiency, environmental impact, production costs, and net return. Obj 2.2- Evaluate milk urea nitrogen (MUN) as an indicator of productive efficiency, microbial protein efficiency, and environmental N excretion. Four participating farms will have monthly supplemental feed samples collected for nutritional analysis. Milk samples will be analyzed for milk components. Correlations and relationships between MUN and other management factors will be made to develop benchmarks for feeding and pasture management strategies to maintain MUN within recommended levels to optimize animal health and productivity. Obj 3.1-Evaluate perennial and annual forage species and varieties for yield and quality potential. A randomized complete block with 4 replications and a factorial arrangement of two treatment factors: 1) grass species/cultivar and 2) growing environment to evaluate perennial grass species. Disease severity and other stresses will be rated using appropriate scouting and monitoring techniques. Measurements taken at each harvest will include height, dry matter yield and forage quality parameters. Obj 3.2-Evaluate yield, quality, and financial implications of soil fertility management strategies. Participating farms will be identified that are interested and able to host an on-farm fertility trial. Three fertility strategies will be implemented on the chosen fields including 1) fertilizing to crop uptake, 2) fertilizing to soil test nutrient recommendations, and 3) follow the farmer’s current fertility regime. Throughout the year as the fertility treatments are implemented crop yield and quality response will be measured and a financial assessment will be completed.