Rotational Grazing Systems for Wisconsin and Minnesota Dairy Farmers: An Evaluation of Animal and Forage Performance and Whole-Farm Socio-Economic Analyses

Final Report for LNC92-053

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1992: $108,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1995
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $69,000.00
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Denny Caneff
Wisconsin Rural Development Center
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Project Information


Three years of experiment station research comparing the milk production of pastured cows and cows managed in a conventional “confinement” set-up indicate that there is no significant difference in per-cow milk volume produced in the two systems. In fact, pastured cows, despite forage quality setbacks due to bad weather in two of those years, produced more milk per hectare than confined cows fed alfalfa silage.

A fourth year of experiment station research, a fiber kinetics study, showed cows on pasture had the same level of milk production and milk components as cows fed alfalfa silage, but they consumed less grain, forage and total dry matter. That resulted in lower rates of forage and liquid passage, lower total digesta weight and lower rumen volume.

Farmers pasturing their dairy cows found that their feed costs average $2.00 per hundredweight lower during the pasture season (May through October) than during the winter (November through April). This finding motivated many of the project farmers to change their breeding to a seasonal schedule so that cows’ peak productivity coincides with that of the pastures (April through June).

“Going seasonal” poses problems for farmers, however. Not all cows get bred in the 90-day breeding window farmers feel is the ideal for a seasonal milking system. Farmers face the decision to either continue to winter-milk the few cows who don’t get bred in the ideal calving window, or to cull those cows. Some of the project farmers found that the dairy industry’s favorite cow — the Holstein — may be less than ideal for seasonal milking because of its summer heat intolerance relative to other breeds.

Project farmers also found that while grazing changes the kind of work they do (e.g. less machinery work) it doesn’t necessarily change the amount of work they do. Though cows are, in effect, doing some of the work their owners used to do for them, grazing dairy farmers still cannot avoid very long hours and long days. Nevertheless, farmers report that “grass farming” is more enjoyable and more accessible for family members than confinement dairying. Farmers in transition between confinement and a full pasture system were actually managing two systems, and working particularly hard.

Few “one-size-fits-all” prescriptions exist for the variety of questions about pasture management, renovation and establishment which the project farmers addressed. A multiplicity of variables — climate, farmers’ management skills and lifestyle desires, soil types and terrain, debt load, among others — dictate the components of a grazing system farmers eventually adopt. Project farmers’ advice to other farmers was, “Ask a lot of questions, visit a lot of farms, do your homework, and don’t do anything too permanent.”

Finally, the success of the “balanced role reversal” model of farmer-researcher collaboration was mixed. Only in a few instances did project participants feel the collaboration really benefitted them. As the team sociologist reported, stereotypes held between farmers and university researchers about each other were reduced, but were also retrenched.

Project Objectives:

The objectives for the final two years of this project come in part from the proposal submitted to North Central SARE in January of 1992; and in part from a memorandum of agreement between North Central SARE Program Administrative Council chair Ken Taylor and Wisconsin Rural Development Center executive director Denny Caneff, dated July 30, 1992. The objectives of this project were to:

Experiment Station Component:

a) Compare productivity of two IRG systems with a conventional stored forage confinement system.

b) Monitor grazing patterns of cows and identify relationships between forage selection by animal and ruminant environment.

On-farm Component:

c) Conduct a comparative economic analysis of costs and returns for IRG and conventional systems on six of the 12 cooperating farms.

d) Observe and record animal breeding data and whole-farm labor, cash flow, lifestyle and other implications of combining seasonal milking with IRG on three of the 12 cooperating farms.

e) Examine how changes of grain feeding affect milk yield and composition throughout the grazing season on two of the 12 farms.

f) Observe and record pasture management techniques (including establishment strategies, fertilization, seeding rates, plant species, animal movement strategies) on all 12 farms.

Farmer-Researcher Relationship Component:

g) Practice and evaluate “balanced role reversal” model of farmer-researcher interaction and collaboration.


Research results and discussion:

a) Compare productivity of two IRG systems with a conventional stored forage confinement system.

Principal investigators: Dr. David Combs, Dept. of Dairy Science, UW-Madison; Dr. Ken Albrecht, Dept. of Agronomy, UW-Madison; and Kimberly Vaughn Depies (dairy science graduate student)

This objective simply asked, “Can cows on pasture produce roughly the same amount of milk as cows in confinement, all other things being equal?” After a three-year trial, the unequivocal answer is “Yes.” Rotationally grazed cows produced similar or greater yields of milk than confined cows fed alfalfa silage. Milk production was not affected by changes in pasture composition (fewer legumes, more grasses) over the three years of the trial.

One notable finding was the vulnerable nature and questionable value of the pure alfalfa pasture. Compared to the mixed grass-legume pasture, the alfalfa pasture was set back by drought in the first year, and devastated by winterkill in the second and third years. Also, two cows died of bloat in the pure alfalfa stand in the first year of the project (1990). These experiences confirmed what veteran grazing farmers knew about alfalfa.

Full details of these experiments can be found in the enclosed report marked Appendix/Objectives A, B and E, titled: “COMPARISON OF A ROTATIONAL GRAZING SYSTEM WITH A CONFINEMENT-STORED FORAGE SYSTEM FOR DAIRY COWS.”

b) Monitor grazing patterns of cows and identify relationships between forage selection by animal and ruminant environment.

This objective was changed at the end of the growing season of 1993. Instead, a study was undertaken to compare the rumen environments and digesta kinetics of cows receiving all forage from alfalfa silage, versus cows grazing a pure alfalfa or a mixed legume-grass pasture. Disappearance of dry matter, non- and acid-detergent fibers, and crude protein from the rumen were faster and more extensive for the cows on either kind of pasture than for cows on the alfalfa silage diet.

The significance or implications for dairy farmers of these particular findings is unclear. This experiment was not a directive of the farmers or other members of the project team. More details can be found in the aforementioned report marked “Appendix/Objectives A, B & E.’

c) Conduct a comparative economic analysis of costs and returns for IRG and conventional systems on six of the 12 cooperating farms.

d) Observe and record animal breeding data and whole-farm labor, cash flow, lifestyle and other implications of combining seasonal milking with IRG on three of the 12 cooperating farms.

Principal Investigators: Joe Meudt (project coordinator, Wisconsin Rural Development Center). Participating farmers (animal breeding data): Mike Cannell; Harley Troester; Carl Pulvermacher; Mark Gilbert (all of Wisconsin). (Farmers who supplied economic/cash flow information asked to remain anonymous.)

The lion’s share of this work was conducted in 1992 and 1993 and reported in the first annual report for this project (LNC 92-53, submitted November 18, 1993).

In this, the final year of the project, at the request of several of the participating farmers, an analysis was conducted to compare summer and winter feeding costs for grass-based dairies transitioning toward seasonal milking. Farmers had found that their summer feed costs were significantly lower (about $2.00 per hundredweight) than winter feed costs, because pastures were supplanting purchased feeds.

This trend compelled many of the project farmers to consider milking seasonally, a system in which cows would all be bred in a particular time window to have their calving generally coincide with the onset of the following year’s pasture season (e.g., breed in July and August so calving would take place in April).

Raised feed, labor, machinery repairs, utilities, supplies and other expenses were tallied on four farms for two six-month periods for the years 1993 and 1994. The goal of this analysis was to ascertain any differences in operating expenses between year-round calving and seasonal calving. Due in part to a poor crop year in 1993; some major expenses incurred by one cooperating farm (“Farm C” doubled its milking herd and installed a parlor in 1994); and in part because two farms are still freshening cows year-round, none of these transitioning-to-seasonal-milking farms realized any cost savings. They saw no savings neither in 1994 compared to 1993, nor were summer costs lower compared to winter costs in 1994.

One significant finding did emerge, however. “Farm C,” despite higher 1994 expenses due to herd and facility expansion, showed a considerably higher “balance” after expenses in 1994 ($87,454) than did Farm B (with a 1994 balance of $43,713) or Farm D (with a 1994 balance of $7,752). Why? Farm B depends much less on the machinery, inputs and other expenses associated with corn and small grain production. It is much more a “grass farm,” with virtually no acreage or machinery devoted to crop production, than Farm B and Farm D. Our analysis suggests that Farm B, with more feed from its pastures and less money expended on purchased or “home-grown” feed, spent less money (and thus had more money to spend) than Farm B and Farm D.

Full details of this aspect of the project can be found in the enclosed report labeled “Appendix/Objectives C & D,” and titled, “COMPARISON OF SUMMER AND WINTER FEED COSTS ON FOUR FARMS.”

Regarding the insemination technicalities and management implications of breeding for seasonal milking, many project farmers found some frustrations with making the system work. (The seasonal experiences of five participating farms were tracked in 1993 and 1994.) Some farmers have tried to slowly transition their herd to seasonal, but that approach means they are still milking some cows year-round. One farmer sold any cows that didn’t fit his calving/freshening window of February-April. He rebuilt his herd with home-bred heifers, with good results.

First-service artificial insemination conception rates on all five farms ranged from 50% to 58%. To improve conceptions, farmers experimented with a combination of artificial insemination, the use of the hormone lutalyse, and bulls placed in the pasture. None of the five farmers whose experiences were recorded think it is possible to fit an entire herd into a 60-90 day calving window without either having to sell (or even dry up) non-bred (“open”) cows or continue milking some all winter. If the farm needs to replace sold cows, they run the risk of introducing diseases from purchased cows. In short, the 12-month calving interval is seasonal dairy farmers’ greatest challenge. Most other seasonal system challenges, project farmers indicate, are manageable, including wintering dry cows, budgeting for uneven milk income, time management for the “mass freshening” of most of the herd calving within in the same six-week period, calf feeding, etc.

Full details about this aspect of the project can be found in the enclosed report labeled “Appendix/Objective D” and titled, “SEASONAL CALVING.”

d) Observe and record animal breeding data and whole-farm labor, cash flow, lifestyle and other implications of combining seasonal milking with IRG on three of the 12 cooperating farms.

Principal Investigators: John Bobbe (independent farm management consultant); Dr. G.W. Stevenson, sociologist and associate director of Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, UW-Madison. Participating farmers: Gilbert family, Door County, Wisconsin.

A final component of Objective (d) is also reported here, pertaining to labor and lifestyle implications of rotational grazing and seasonal milking. Our project looked at the labor demands of seasonal milking on the Door County, Wisconsin, farm of Mark and Laura Gilbert. We extended a study developed by Mr. Bobbe and Dr. Stevenson as part of SARE-funded “producer grant” made in 1993 to Door County, Wisconsin dairy farmers Kevin Kiehnau and Ed Jeanquart. The intent of that project was to compare how sustainable farming techniques impact time and labor management. The initial study was interesting, because the Kiehnau and Jeanquart farms were comparable in most ways except that Kiehnau was rotationally grazing, and Jeanquart was not. (Perhaps even more interesting, the research project’s effective “side-by-side” comparisons of the two management systems convinced Mr. Jeanquart to convert to rotational grazing in 1993.)

Our project extended that research to the Gilbert farm in 1994 to determine labor and lifestyle implications of a switch to seasonal milking. The labor-tracking methodology included the use of daily logs (in the form of pocket notebooks) kept by Mark and Laura Gilbert of their own and their children’s time. The logs were used to keep track of tasks and length of time required to do those tasks. Task categories included dairy enterprise tasks (barn chores and repairs, cow care, dairy management, manure management, repairs, and feeding); cropping management tasks (corn, grains, hay, and machinery repair); household time (personal time, family time, recreation, kid support [homework, errands]); and general tasks (fencing, record-keeping, farm errands).

On the Gilbert farm, the logs were recorded each day for five months, February 13 to July 16 (1994). That time span was selected to compare labor demands on the Gilbert farm from the late winter “dry period,” through the hectic spring calving season, and up into the mid-summer, when the grazing and haying seasons were in full swing.

The Gilberts’ time logs indicated that early winter, pre-calving time on the Gilbert farm was relatively calm, with about eight hours spent on farm chores in the last two weeks of February. But this calm before the storm ended in March, when total weekly farm hours per week went from about 260 (in February) to 435 in March, and 546 in April. But the worst was yet to come in June, when the Gilbert family averaged 19.4 farm hours per day.

The study showed that half of Mark Gilbert’s farm labor is spent in “dairy enterprise tasks,” milking cows, tending young stock, fixing the barn cleaner, etc. The Gilberts milk 60 cows in a 30-cow stanchion barn, meaning they must milk cows in two shifts. Despite reducing their overall year-round labor by going to a seasonal system, the Gilberts appear to be unable to avoid the arduously long days that typifies family dairying in the Upper Midwest. Even if cows are harvesting their own forage and spreading their own manure in the summer months, a time and labor bottleneck still exists in the barn for the Gilberts and other grass-based dairies.

This is evident when Mark Gilbert’s, Kevin Kiehnau’s and Ed Jeanquart’s farm hours per week are compared. The former two are rotational graziers; the latter was not at the time of the study. All three men, however, averaged over 100 hours of farm work per week. (The difference for Mark Gilbert is, of course, that he works far less than 100 hours per week during his January-March dry period, when he is milking few [or no] cows.
It is clear from these findings that the concept of “sustainable farming” means more than practices that reduce chemical inputs or conserve soil. It must also include the critical “input” of family labor. There seems little “sustainable” about 100+ hour work weeks. Some of the dairy farmers in this project are addressing this concern in two ways: some are going seasonal to allow a one- or two-month period (usually in the winter months) to reduce or eliminate milking chores. Others are installing New Zealand-style “swingover” parlors which can be retrofitted into existing barns or built anew relatively cheaply. Anecdotal reports from farmers who have built these parlors suggest those farm families are cutting their cow-milking labor in half, giving them a very new lease on life in dairying.

(Only excerpts of this labor and quality of life study are enclosed with this report. The report. Submitted in December of 1994, it is available in its entirety from the North Central SARE Program.)

e) Examine how changes of grain feeding affect milk yield and composition throughout the grazing season on two of the 12 farms.

Principal investigators: Harley Troester (Grant County, Wisconsin dairy farmer); Rick Adamski (Outagamie County, Wisconsin dairy farmer); Dr. David Combs (UW-Madison dairy scientist); David Olson (UW-Madison dairy science graduate student)

Farmers who had switched to feeding their cows through controlled grazing surmised that if cows could get a significant portion of their ration on pasture, the amount of grains, protein and other stored and purchased feeds could be reduced, thus cutting feed costs. The dilemma they faced, however, was just how much to reduce the amount (and cost) of purchased feeds and still maintain desirable milk production levels.

A study was designed to attempt to find that balance. Two of the participating farmers fed different levels of grain to two groups of cows. One group was fed a level of grain expected to induce “higher” milk production (1 lb. grain/3.5 lb. of milk production). A second group was fed a level of grain expected to induce a “lower” level of milk production (1 lb. grain/4.5 lb. of milk production). Data were collected on milk yield and butterfat content, and cow weight and body condition.

Those data indicate that milk production levels did not vary significantly by varying the amounts of grain fed. In other words, there seemed to be no apparent milk production advantage for these farmers to feed the higher level of grain. However, cows fed the higher level of grain, while not producing significantly greater amounts of milk, did retain body condition and weight better than cows fed the lesser amount.

For more complete details of this experiment, please see the enclosed report marked Appendix/Objectives A, B and E, titled: “COMPARISON OF A ROTATIONAL GRAZING SYSTEM WITH A CONFINEMENT-STORED FORAGE SYSTEM FOR DAIRY COWS.”

f) Observe and record pasture management techniques (including establishment strategies, fertilization, seeding rates, plant species, animal movement strategies) on all 12 farms.

Data collection for this objective was completed was in 1993, and reported in this project’s 1993 report to North Central SARE. Participating farmers, most of whom had several years of experience in pasturing dairy animals and diligently tracking these questions through the first three years of the project, found that they had learned most of what they were going to learn about pasture management by the end of 1993, and no longer felt compelled to monitor these aspects of their operations. These results were also published in two monographs produced by the Wisconsin Rural Development Center in 1991 and 1992.

g) Practice and evaluate “balanced role reversal” model of farmer-researcher interaction and collaboration.

Principal Investigator: Dr. G.W. Stevenson, sociologist and associate director of UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

Perhaps more important than findings about rotational grazing to many of the people who conceived and developed this project over five years ago was to explore and develop new ways for farmers and academic researchers to work together on important agricultural research questions. It was felt that such collaboration could lead more farmer-relevant university research; and that farmers, learning from researchers, would improve their own abilities to make more systematic observations and information gathering to improve their farming operations. To that end, project participants developed what came to be called a “balanced role reversal” model, in which the on-farm components of this research project were directed and managed by the participating farmers and nonprofit organization, with advice and assistance from the academic participants. On the other hand, the experiment station and other formal scientific research was directed by scientists, with advice and assistance from farmers.

The hoped-for collaboration, mutual exchange of ideas and “community-building” between the two communities did not occur for most project participants. Most project members found that entrenched stereotypes and biases, and more substantive and meaningful barriers such as time, money, and simply different professional and social realities, were very difficult to overcome. For example, there are still too few rewards in the academic setting for touring farms, chatting with farmers, and generally learning more about their realities. The farmers, while understanding the scientists’ needs to respect the methodological rigors of scientific research, still found little of value or relevance of some of the experiment station research. As one disappointed farmer put, “All they’ll do at Arlington [UW experiment station] is prove that cows eat grass, and we already know that.”

There was an agronomist (who participated only in the first two years of this project) who seemed to not only meet his needs for good science conducted on commercial farms, but also met the farmers’ needs for a scientist who “walked a mile in their moccasins.” More valuable for those farmers than the results of his experiments conducted in their fields (though that was indeed valuable) was that agronomist’s interest and concern for their farms and families.

These findings were gleaned from interviews conducted by Dr. Stevenson before, during and after the project. His full report is enclosed, labeled “Appendix/Objective G,” and is titled, “ASSESSMENT OF THE RESEARCH TEAM MODEL AND FARMER/SCIENTIST INTERACTION.”

Research conclusions:

This project significantly advanced and informed the rotational grazing “movement” in Wisconsin, both on the farm and on campus. By quantifying the benefits (and drawbacks) of rotational grazing, this project affected Wisconsin and Upper Midwest livestock agriculture in the following ways:

• Reduced chemical use and soil erosion on farms adopting grazing, as converting row-crop land to pasture significantly reduces both phenomena. Row crop erosion in the unglaciated “driftless” areas of southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin range from 10-22 tons per acre. Erosion from pasture, by contrast, is usually measured in pounds per acre (2-500 lbs./acre).

• Reduced summertime feed costs for dairy farmers. Deriving more feed from pastures reduced farmers’ need to either grow or purchase grains, proteins and other feeds. Savings in summertime feed purchases varied from $2 – $3/hundredweight of milk produced compared to winter costs.

• Clarified the technical challenges to pasture-based seasonal dairying systems. Nearly half the project’s farmer participants were either milking seasonally or changing their operations to become seasonal, by the end of the project. The mechanics and management implications of that transition are documented and better understood.

• Quantified more accurately the time and labor implications of grazing systems. Grazing may not be the time- and labor-saver farmers once thought it would be. Most grazing farmers still spend nearly 100 hours per week (during “peak” summer season) managing their farms.

• Explored more thoroughly the benefits and challenges of farmer-researcher interactions. There are clear benefits from farmers and researchers tackling challenging questions in agriculture, and there are inherent difficulties in those social arrangements. Both communities better understand how to design such collaborations in the future.

Farmer Adoption

Changes in Practices

At the outset of this project over four years ago, there was an estimated 4-500 farmers rotationally grazing their dairy herds. By 1993, according to a survey of family farms by the UW-Madison’s Agricultural Technology and Family Farm Institute (ATFFI), about 8% of the over 500 dairy farms surveyed indicated they weres using at least three of five practices the researchers identified as intensive rotational grazing practices.

Anecodotal evidence also suggests that between 1,000 and 1,500 dairy farms (out of a total of about 28,000) use some form of rotational grazing for their milking cows or young stock. Four years ago when the project started, there was one or two farmers’ networks devoted to grazing. There are now about a dozen. There was no working group looking at rotational grazing in the UW system four years ago. There is now. There was no annual statewide grazing conference four years ago, and a third annual event will be held in 1995 (featuring most of the project’s participants, farmers and scientists). And there was virtually no use of the Internet and electronic mail for exchanging grazing information four years ago. This is no longer true.

While this project cannot take sole credit for this dramatic increase in adoption of grazing or the increase in information generation and exchanges about grazing, the project during its four-year life span involved most of the significant grazing “innovators” in Wisconsin, from both the farming and academic communities.

The participating farmers’ rotational grazing learning curve was very steep. They therefore constantly pushed the margins of this project, dramatically redefined their information needs and, therefore, their practices over the span of the project. That “rapid adoption” was a positive force for constant innovation and changing plans by all the project participants.

For example, most farmers going in to the project expected that once their pastures reached optimal productivity levels, they could drastically reduce or even eliminate in-barn grain feeding. Most now know that this is impractical. Many felt that rotational grazing was less work. But once they were completely transitioned out of their confinement systems and almost total “grass farmers,” and found that they still were working long hours, the farmers looked for ways to alleviate the labor crunch on their farms through seasonal milking systems and New Zealand-style milking parlors.

Once making the choice to become seasonal, farmers expected a relatively easy transition to that system. After two or three seasons of breeding for a seasonal system, most farmers have found that being totally seasonal (milking no cows in winter) may be very difficult to attain. However, none of the farmers attempting a seasonal system have reversed that choice. Indeed, their experiences are facilitating other farmers’ entry into the seasonal realm.

Operational Recommendations and
Farmer Evaluations/Testimonials

The project farmers’ own words, gleaned from the project’s publication The Grass IS Greener, serve as both operational recommendations and the farmers’ evaluations of this project:

“When you plan for a new system like seasonal, do your homework. Do your research.”

“Calves are nicer to handle using a group barrel-feeding method. They seem friendlier toward people.”

“Use a mixture of grasses (like brome, orchard) and legumes (like red clover) in establishing pastures. Alfalfa will always be a good crop to harvest, but it’s not good for grazing, because of bloat, palatability and the way it grows back.”

“Everyone who starts must go through the learning curve of pasture management. You will make mistakes in the beginning. People shouldn’t go to other farms and expect to learn pasture management. You learn by doing.”

“I got involved with this project because of the connection between farmers and University of Wisconsin researchers. When the researchers came out here I told them, `I am involved in this project because I want the university to learn about small scale dairy farming in Wisconsin.’. . . I’m not at all interested in university researchers coming out and saying if you spend $2 on this or that, you’ll get $3 back. I’m interested in having them understand our reality.”

“This project did more good for the relationship between farmers than it did for the relationship between farmers and researchers.”

“We have a grazing network here now. I get more grazing information out of our Friday pasture walks than from any other source. Join a local group if you can.”

“We have been body scoring for all four years of this grazing project and learned that it is a real important tool. The key to our program is to feed corn/mineral mixture so that a cow cannot drop more than one point in body condition from the beginning of the lactation through peak production. Cows that drop more than a point won’t bred back as well.”

“We are very happy with our decision to purchase [and eliminate production of] all our corn. It fits our environmental goals for our farm and the lifestyle goals of our families.”

“We’ve limited our children’s exposure to chemicals. This is a safety issue that many people don’t consider when they start grazing and/or sustainable farming.”

“I have to keep training myself not to buy machinery. Whenever I want a piece of equipment, I figure out how many cows that money would buy. Cows make me more money than machinery. I won’t buy machinery unless I’ve got the cash.”

“It’s nice that children can help with moving fence, cow switching and heifer feeding and watering. Going seasonal, the first few months are labor intensive. Spring and early summer are very busy. But, this winter when we get fully seasonal, we’ll have a couple of months off, which will be nice.”

“We’ve been breeding our Holsteins to white bulls to get better tolerance to hot weather and we are increasing the numbers of our Brown Swiss cows for the same reason.”

“With our grazing system, Vince and I can do all the work. With less machinery, no more green chopping, and no corn to raise for grain, we can get the work done in less time. The girls can help by getting the cows and sometimes unloading hay.”

“We fed 18 pounds of corn [per cow per day] this year, a little higher than last year. We didn’t get a lot more milk, but we did get better body condition.”

“We’ve made all the pasture management mistakes, but that’s how you learn. We undergrazed early in the year, only to have paddocks at the end of June that were over-ripe and the cows wouldn’t eat it. We lost tonnage and milk production. On the other hand, over-grazing last fall resulted in our getting started two weeks later this spring and damaged some of the more valuable species, like red clovers.”

“Everyone’s herd is different, so I’d suggest experiment[ing] on your own farm. When they do research at the university, it’s not farmer-specific. Any information you get from those studies is going to be a rule of thumb at best. The best thing to do is experiment on your farm and take a chance on losing a little milk.”

“My cow-breeding philosophy no longer ranks production as the top priority. Now I’d like to focus on longevity, udders, feet and protein test.”

Producer Involvement

Workshops — 75-100 farmers
Field days — 100+ farmers
Other events/activities — Ten farmers continue to actively participate (beyond the life of this project) in the electronic mail information exchange about rotational grazing.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Three major rotational grazing dissemination efforts in Wisconsin (and in one case, internationally) can be directly attributed to the work of this project.

1. Grazier’s electronic mail network.

Inspired and organized by UW-Madison Center for Integrated Ag Systems outreach/communications coordinator Michele Gale-Sinex and managed by Wisconsin Rural Development Center project coordinator Joe Meudt, about 10 project farms were given e-mail addresses and connected to each other and to the University of Wisconsin through the Internet. A lively and active information exchange, both about project activities and grazing information, ensued in 1994 among these project participants. The more adventurous farmers accessed other mail-lists and databases through these Internet connections.

Out of this electronic network emerged a truly international list called “Graze-L,” established by Ms. Gale-Sinex and a New Zealand dairy scientist late last year. This creation immediately resulted in communications and questions exchanged between New Zealand and Wisconsin dairy farmers. (See example of a recent message delivered to “Graze-L” from a project farmer in the attachments.)

2. Grazing-based Dairy Systems (GDS) Working Group.

The participating scientists from UW-Madison’s CIAS created a broad-based education and information-sharing network of academics, farmers and others interested in advancing intensive rotational grazing as a viable dairy production system for Wisconsin. The working group exchanges information and ideas over electronic mail and holds occasional meetings and seminars on grazing-related topics.

3. “The Grass IS Greener” publication.

The primary outreach product of this project is a 46-page booklet entitled The Grass IS Greener: Dairy Graziers Tell Their Stories. It was published by the Wisconsin Rural Development Center and is being distributed by WRDC and the CIAS to farmers, academics, libraries and other interested parties. The booklet (enclosed) is a set of 16 first-person accounts by the farmers who participated in this project. Though the document does contain some data generated by the project (over the years, this project produced five different reports of various kinds of rotational grazing data), it mostly consists of the farmers’ personal stories about what motivated them to consider rotational grazing; how grazing has affected their farms, cows and outlooks on agriculture; what they would do differently if they were to start over; and advice for other farmers considering grazing.

Other dissemination and outreach activities included:

• A “lenders’ field day” held in July at the Harley and Nancy Troester farm, to educate and expose bankers and lenders to the concepts and practices of rotational grazing.

• Grazing farm tours were held for visitors form Indiana and Iowa, and for international delegations from Argentina, Cambodia and Albania.

• Several project participants (university, nonprofit and farmers) attending various seminars, conferences and meetings about rotational grazing. Both farmers and scientists from this project were featured prominently at Wisconsin’s major rotational grazing event, the annual Wisconsin Grazing Conference (see attachments).

• Project coordinator Joe Meudt made two panel presentations at a statewide conference on sustainable agriculture in Pennsylvania (see attachments).

• Project farmers were featured in various farm media (see attachments).

• Scientific journal articles and a Master’s thesis (though articles were apparently published, copies of those articles were not supplied for this report).

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

• More research on the technical and management aspects of seasonal breeding and milking.

• Continued research on the economics of rotational grazing.

• Exploration and development of more cost-effective, low capital, labor-saving milking systems, especially those that can be retrofitted into typical Upper Midwestern dairy facilities.

• Research on the low-capital “cow wintering” systems in seasonal production.

• Research and business planning for the production, marketing and sale of milk that can be differentiated as “sustainably produced milk by cows on pasture.”

• Developing different rewards within the academy for scientists who choose to engage in meaningful collaboration with farmers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.