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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #353158

Title: Dairy farming strategy and herd size effects on productivity, feed utilization, and manure management in Pennsylvania

item Holly, Michael
item Gunn, Kpoti
item Rotz, Clarence - Al
item Kleinman, Peter

Submitted to: Journal of Dairy Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/7/2019
Publication Date: 5/21/2019
Citation: Holly, M.A., Gunn, K.M., Rotz, C.A., Kleinman, P.J. 2019. Dairy farming strategy and herd size effects on productivity, feed utilization, and manure management in Pennsylvania. Journal of Dairy Science. 35(3):325-338.

Interpretive Summary: Small and moderate sized dairy farms are predisposed to have divergent farm strategies, productivity, and environmental impact. To understand the challenges to improve nutrient management across farm size and strategy, PA dairy farming was characterized using data from the Agricultural Research Management Survey. Large confinement farms had higher productivity but lower net income per unit of milk, while pasture based system received higher premiums with lower productivity. Amish dairy farms required additional purchases of feed due to a lower crop area resulting in a surplus of N and P at the farm gate. Farming strategy affected imports of feed while herd size determined manure management. Farm characteristics are important to prioritizing conservation practices to improve the sustainability of dairy farming.

Technical Abstract: The emergence of alternative dairy farm production strategies may have implications on the environmental impacts as well as profitability of dairy farms. This study characterized Pennsylvania dairy farm production of homegrown forages, herd management, purchased feeds, manure management and economics by farming strategy (confinement, semi-confinement, organic, Amish, and management intensive rotational grazing) and herd size using Agricultural Research Management Survey data. Confinement dairy farms had the greatest milk production per cow and the highest net farm return, 45% greater than the average Pennsylvania dairy farm. However, this strategy received the lowest net return per unit of milk, likely contributing to the reduction in the number of small confinement dairy farms from 2000 to 2010. Organic dairy producers received the greatest return per unit of milk (2 fold greater than the average PA dairy farm) along with a 56% increase in variable costs, due the elevated cost of organic concentrates, and 42% more labor than the average dairy farm. Amish dairy farms had 48% less cropland and pasture than average and as a result required 1.78 and 1.2 fold more purchased forage and concentrate feed mix. Farming strategy influenced cattle breed, homegrown feed type and quantity, and the amount of feed purchased. Selected housing and manure management were dependent on herd size with 41% of Pennsylvania dairy farms applying solid manure. Dairy farm size, and likely farming strategy, were influenced by geospatial location within the state. Farming strategy and size affect nutrient management through the quantity and type of feed purchased (N and P imports) and manure handling, which likely affects the pathway and magnitude of environmental losses. Therefore, farm characteristics are important in prioritizing conservation and mitigation practices used to improve the sustainability of dairy.