Tracking Costs and Returns in a Transition to Grass-Based Dairying

Project Overview

FW00-008
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2000: $1,139.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:

Commodities

  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy

Practices

  • Animal Production: grazing - continuous, manure management, pasture fertility, grazing - rotational, feed/forage
  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, participatory research

    Summary:

    METHODS
    1. Convert from year-round to seasonal operation
    2. Change from feeding a silage-hay mixed ration with supplemental grazing to intensive grazing management, with supplemental grain only and hay in winter
    3. Divide 45 irrigated acres, used previously in two blocks, into 11 paddocks averaging 4 acres each, subdividing with temporary fencing and adding permanent fencing, lanes and water troughs
    4. Compare the production, nutritional value and costs and returns of the grazing system with the mixed-ration and hay system with the goal of minimizing off-farm feed purchases
    5. Track the two to three years of transition production, returns, feed purchases and feed quality and compare them with the previous two years
    6. Record the information and share it with interested parties

    ABSTRACT
    The Martin Dairy, operated by Dean and Anjanette Martin, moved to seasonal breeding and culled the cows that did not fit into the cycle for February calving. The dairy quit buying silage and hay and moved the cows onto pasture as the feed source.

    The two pastures were subdivided into four, and temporary fencing was built while a practical pattern was designed. Permanent paddocks of 4 acres have been erected while the project team continues to install permanent water and lanes.

    Project coordinator Dean Martin says lower feeding costs for the milk cows and heifers have improved the cash flow, and the feed changes improved milk production. He is still compiling data on the transition, but notes that the project has reached the point that it can share information with others.

    MEASURED RESULTS
    Martin is a second-generation dairy producer of a 100-head leased dairy facility. He has an option to buy the family farm, which has operated for 40 years. He raises 20 replacement calves and 20 heifers combined with dry stock on a seasonal basis. Martin says his transition into intensively managed grazing has:
    1. Reduced the cost of purchased hay by $15,000 a year
    2. Saved $3,600 a year by discontinuing pasture rental for yearling heifers
    3. Increased cow body condition score to 3 from an average of less than 2.5
    4. Increased average production per cow by 1 gallon
    5. Increased the overall milk production

    “If I hadn’t made the changes I did when I did,” says Martin, “I would not still be in the dairy business today.”

    OUTREACH
    This SARE report was scheduled to be included in “Superior California Grazing Notes,” produced by technical advisor Barbara Reed, about the time forage growth and calving began in February 2003. A field day is also scheduled to be held at the ranch.

    POTENTIAL BENEFITS OR IMPACTS ON AGRICULTURE
    Martin said that improved utilization of his pasture has allowed him to make better use of his land base. He is also buying less feed as hay, which means less effort feeding the cows and an improved quality of life.

    “I think it is really fun when the cows follow me out to new pasture,” he said.

    FARMER ADOPTION AND DIRECT IMPACT
    Martin plans to keep the changes he has made in place and to adopt the other steps he discusses in the section below on what he would do differently.

    REACTIONS FROM FARMERS AND RANCHERS
    A field day was planned for June 2, 2003, after which Martin planned to report on any responses from other producers.

    WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY
    For the most part, Martin is pleased with the outcome of the changes he has made through this SARE-funded project.

    Some of the pastures of the pastures were in poor condition when the project began, and although they have improved with better grazing management, the overall farm productivity could have been better had several fields been targeted with renovation through new plantings or over-seeding from the start.

    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.