Integrating grazing research with surveys to assess and advance the current knowledge about kelp meal supplementation for organic dairy farms in the northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,963.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: University of New Hampshire
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Andre Brito
University of New Hampshire

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, feed additives, grazing management, grazing - rotational, mineral supplements

    Proposal abstract:

    The purpose of this project is to integrate state-of-art grazing research methods (Objective 1) and survey instruments (Objective 2) to provide much needed scientific-based information about the effects of feeding kelp meal on enhancing animal performance while mitigating heat stress and methane emissions in organic dairy cows. Kelp meal is a very popular supplement among northeastern organic dairy farmers because kelp’s high minerals concentration, particularly iodine, and nutrient density have been associated with improvements in performance, feed efficiency, and health of dairy cows. However, scientific information regarding the impact of kelp meal supplementation on animal, environmental, and economic responses during the grazing season is lacking. Also lacking are scientific insights about feeding practices, potential animal health benefits, and regional distribution of kelp meal supplementation. Our team will fill these gaps in knowledge by conducting a long-term grazing study using state-of art-equipment (e.g., grazing and animal behavior recorders, heart rate monitors, temperature data loggers, and methane recording equipment), and by developing and deploying survey instruments which will inform and complement the grazing research. A total of 20 organic Jerseys cows supplemented (4 oz) or not (control) with kelp meal will be used for our grazing research. This project will also inform farmers about the cost effectiveness of feeding kelp meal and how it impacts the concentration of milk iodine during the grazing season. Project products (e.g., publications, thesis, workshops, webinars, field days, etc.) will be delivered during and beyond the Northeast SARE funding period through complementary federally funded projects.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Although organic milk production has been one of the fastest growing segments of organic agriculture in the US (McBride and Greene, 2009), growth has slowed in response to the recent economic downturn. In addition to declining demand for organic dairy products, skyrocketing feed costs have been shrinking farmers’ paycheck, consequently eroding their farms profitability. Approximately 44% of all certified organic dairy farms are located in the Northeast (McBride and Greene, 2009). Research and outreach efforts are needed to assist northeastern organic dairy farmers with profitable solutions to support the long-term sustainability of their enterprises during challenging economic times.

    Northeastern farmers cited production costs as the chief challenging aspect of sustaining organic dairying in the region (McBride and Greene, 2009). In a survey mailed by our team to organic dairy farmers across the Northeast as part of a USDA-NIFA-Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) planning grant (NH-2010-01932), we learned that over 55% of the respondents (n = 91) found steady milk price and farm profitability as important challenges that must be addressed to keep their family farms viable. The current grazing project builds on our previous research, conducted during this past winter (Appendix I), and together will provide a comprehensive understanding regarding the year-round use of kelp meal on organic dairy farms. To do so we will use state-of-art grazing and animal behavior recorders, heart rate monitors, temperature data loggers,and methane recording equipment (Appendix II) to generate scientifically-based information about the impact of kelp meal on enhancing milk production and animal health while reducing heat stress and ruminal methanogenesis during the grazing season. We hypothesize that phlorotannins present in kelp will modulate ruminal methanogenesis (Wang et al.,2008) resulting in reduced methane emissions. We also hypothesize that antioxidant properties of kelp (Allen et al., 2001) will boost the immunological response of organic dairy cows resulting in healthier, less heat-stressed animals.

    Specific objectives of this project include:

    Objective 1: Evaluate the impact of kelp meal supplementation on animal (e.g., performance, milk quality, behavior, health, and heat stress), environmental (e.g. methane emissions), and economic responses (e.g.,income over feed costs) during the grazing season.

    Objective 2: Survey organic dairy farmers across the Northeast to collect detailed information about the feeding
    practices, potential animal health benefits, and regional distribution of kelp meal supplementation.

    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.