Developing Pasture-based Dairy Systems for Family Farms

2000 Annual Report for LNC00-173

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $81,463.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Robert Kallenbach
University of Missouri-Columbia

Developing Pasture-based Dairy Systems for Family Farms


Family-sized dairy farms in the Midwest are rapidly disappearing; over 30% of dairies in this region have ceased operation since 1992. Although competition from large confinement dairies threatens small family dairies, competition alone is not putting them out of business. Rather, family dairies are going out of business because of inadequate financial management, high input costs/unit of product sold, and increasing environmental regulations.

1) To train a core group of 65 family dairy farmers how to practice sound business principles, focusing on profitability.
2) To reduce feed costs by 30% by teaching participants how to use pasture-based dairying to avoid much of the high cost of confinement feeding and making and storing of hay, haylage and/or silage.
3) To improve the aesthetic and environmental condition of family dairy farms by utilizing pasture-based management techniques to spread manure in pastures rather than building expensive lagoons.
4) To increase the social interaction and sharing of ideas between dairy farmers.
5) To improve the quality of life of dairy families and their local communities.

Sixty-five dairy producers willing to become experts in pasture management and financial record keeping will form our “core group.” Regional dairy specialists, along with specialists in agronomy, farm management and community development, have helped to identify these producers. The producers own family-sized dairy operations ranging from 25 to 200 cows. Many of the initial group of producers are excited about pasture-based dairying and improving their record-keeping skills. In addition, they have asked project leaders to include educational experiences to address problem areas they have identified.

With the help of University of Missouri Outreach and Extension Specialists, the core group of producers will begin monthly discussion groups to share ideas. In addition, the core group will hold longer, in-depth learning sessions four times a year to discuss farm and family goal setting, enterprise analysis, record keeping systems and advanced grazing management.

After training, the core group will provide long-term expertise to a larger, secondary audience: other dairy producers not enrolled in the initial program. Producers in the core group will team up with regional extension specialists to host other educational efforts. These efforts will include on-farm demonstrations, tours, pasture walks, one-day grazing schools, financial planning workshops and producer-assisted computer training. Initial contact with producers has enabled project leaders to plan training efforts based on actual producer needs and requests.

This is an education and outreach program. Throughout the project, project leaders, regional specialists and core group members will work together to document the improved financial status, environmental conditions and quality of life of family dairy farms. While its focus is on the 65 initial participating producers, program results will be disseminated through publications and presentations on a local, state and national level.

By the end of this program, 85% of the dairy producers cooperating in this project will operate profitable farms, even if milk prices are low. These cooperating producers will have become “expert producers,” keeping detailed financial records and managing their pastures efficiently. In addition, they will be in compliance with current environmental regulations issued by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Finally, these “expert producers” will share their expertise with neighboring dairy farms, thereby slowing the decline of Missouri dairy farms while creating opportunities for new entrants.

This project fits hand in hand with the NCR SARE 2000 program goals. Pasture-based dairying produces more aesthetically pleasing and better smelling operations as well as helping producers comply with environmental regulations. Pasture-based dairying uses the on-farm biological resources through management-intensive grazing practices. Pasture-based dairying is profitable and enhances the economic viability of individual family dairies as well as the communities they are part of, thus improving the quality of rural life.