Assessments of the benefits of raising calves with their mothers in an intensive grazing system

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $7,864.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Steffen Schneider
Hawthorne Valley Farm


  • Animals: bovine


  • Animal Production: grazing management

    Proposal summary:

    Current issue

    Grass-based dairy farming is a key component of sustainable agriculture in the Northeast. However, there is only a small scientific basis for improving productivity and profitability. Because efficient grazing in a multi-species pasture is learnt and because calves learn from their mothers, the early exposure of calves to their mothers is a potentially important step in establishing a productive herd. The raising of calves with their mothers (vs. in pens) can result in healthier cows that produce more milk and are better mothers; these benefits can directly translate into financial gains. The potential costs associated with raising calves with their mothers include reduced yield at milking from the mothers and increased handling time for separating calves from their mothers at milking.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This study takes advantage of the fact that, in the Spring of 2007, Hawthorne Valley Farm gradually transitioned from raising calves in pens to raising them with their mothers. Pen-raised and mother-raised calves will both be entering the milking herd in early 2010. We propose to compare these two cohorts in terms of their health and grazing efficiency as heifers during 2009, their behavior as first-time mothers, and their productivity as milk-producers during their first lactation. This will allow us to estimate the costs and benefits associated with this important modification in standard dairy herd management. The results will shape our own practices and contribute to those of others. Hawthorne Valley Farm is an established institution in Hudson Valley alternative agriculture. As such it has participated frequent meetings and regional agricultural gatherings, and is an effective location for sharing the results of this study. Dr. Darrell Emmick, our technical advisor, is NRCS’s New York State Grazing Land Management Specialist and so is in frequent contact with graziers throughout the Northeast and is well able to share our results.

    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.