Alternative Systems for Livestock in Nebraska
Livestock represent a convergence of environmental, economic and political issues in the Midwest. Concern over air and water quality, shrinking profits for livestock farmers and legal challenges to siting of large livestock facilities are all pushing farmers and ranchers to question how and whether they can continue to raise livestock.
Alternative production systems address many of these concerns for both farmers and their neighbors. Yet farmers, researchers, rural citizens and community leaders are often unaware both of the alternatives to large-scale, technology-intensive livestock systems and of those alternatives’ benefits to local economies, environmental quality and farm profits.
Economically sound and environmentally responsible alternative livestock systems do exist on scattered farms and ranches in the Midwest. Having evolved on the farm, these systems use “farmer-level” technology, relying on farm family labor and skills to operate and manage, and so have failed to receive the public notoriety and promotion enjoyed by more conventional systems. Affordable alternative systems can match or exceed profit margins of conventional systems without pollution and odor problems.
This project recruits farmers/ranchers to document and demonstrate their alternative production systems for livestock. Seven farms/ranches were interviewed in year one of this project in four Extension districts. These systems included feeding cattle on standing crops, raising poultry on pasture, grass-based dairy farming, feeding sows on pasture and crop residue and using management-intensive grazing for beef cattle.
Nine presentation events were held, including five farm tours. Audiences included farmers/ranchers, researchers and Extension, and local decisionmakers. Several partners assisted with these events, resulting in audiences from beyond Nebraska.
Results of the first year of the project include identifying a number of farmers/ranchers willing to participate, development of a data collection protocol, collection of economic data from seven farms, and introduction of over 400 people to production alternatives. This second year included three additional farms and participation of another 300 people at educational activities.
The coming year of the project will include final data collection from farms/ranches, publication of the economic data, and additional workshops/demonstrations.