Environmental and Economic Effects of Management-Intensive Grazing on Dairy Farms - Phase II

2004 Annual Report for LNE04-213

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $16,963.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $19,875.00
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Dr. Ray Weil
University of Maryland

Environmental and Economic Effects of Management-Intensive Grazing on Dairy Farms - Phase II


Profitability and life-style quality can rise dramatically for dairy farmers who successfully switch from the confined-feeding system to the production system based on management-intensive grazing (MIG). Furthermore, because MIG systems improve profitability without increasing milk production either per farm or per cow, they offer an alternative to the higher production-lower price treadmill that dairy farming has been on for decades. The literature also suggests that adoption of MIG allows farmers to better conserve their soil resources. Few practices improve soil quality and protect against soil erosion as well as permanent grass vegetation. However, research in several locations including the Northeast questioned the environmental impact of some MIG systems with regard to potential losses of nitrogen and phosphorus to groundwater. Such questions about environmental impacts could serve as a major roadblock to acceptance of MIG as best management practices (BMPs) by regulatory agencies and thus, a roadblock to the adoption of such systems by more dairy farmers.

This project is continuation of project LNE- 01-152 that made possible the collection of a critical third year of data on the environmental performance of three well-managed farms in central Maryland — one confined feeding-based and two grazing-based farms. The project used piezometer wells and stream sampling to measure nutrient losses in two watersheds on each of the three farms. The project results are being communicated to small to medium-sized dairy farmers through presentations at workshops in Maryland and Pennsylvania and a farmer-authored fact sheet that has been published and is being distributed. The results have been presented to regulators (State Depts. of Agriculture and/or Depts. of Environment or Natural Resources) and extension agents with the aim of providing sufficient information on nutrient issues to allow appropriate state programs to be developed for MIG systems. With the environmental findings and outreach efforts, the project has substantially contributed to improving the diversity, profitability and environmental impacts of dairy farming in the Northeast.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. 1. Maryland and Pennsylvania nutrient management regulators (state policy makers, state and private nutrient management advisors, extension agents, and conservation district personnel) that learned about the environmental and economic impacts of grazing from this project will promote grazing under certain conditions as a sustainable agricultural practice that will contribute to their state’s nutrient management goals.

    2. Forty of the confinement-feeding dairy farmers in Maryland and Pennsylvania who learned about the environmental and economic impacts of grazing from this project will take steps to switch to grazing


Because of the additional support from NESARE via this phase II grant, we were able to continue sampling through July 2004 using piezometers and lysimeters installed in the earlier stages of this project. Increased rainfall in the last months of 2002 and into 2003 and normal rainfall during 2004 ended the drought of 2001-2002. We were able to sample through a second active leaching season, collecting 618 groundwater and 254 stream water samples, giving us two complete leaching seasons for more credible body of data. All 872 samples collected have been analyzed for nitrogen and phosphorus contents. The presence of approximately 23 % organic N and 27 % organic P demonstrates the significance of organic nutrients in agricultural pollution.

In June, we presented the results of the full leaching season at the annual meeting of the American Forage Grassland Conference. The meeting was held in Virginia, and was attended by 75 farmers, researchers and policy makers. In September, we were able to take advantage of an existing conference that brought together most of the major actors in the regulation of water quality in the mid-Atlantic and other regions, as well. At this conference, the 12th National Nonpoint Source Monitoring Workshop, held in Ocean City, Md, we addressed a session with approximately 50 policy makers, government officials, researchers and environmental managers, and discussed our data showing no increase in nitrate leaching from grazing dairies. Finally, project collaborator and extension educator, Stan Fultz conducted 5 pasture walks which spread the story of grazing and its environmental impacts to 111 farmers.

In a project effort not directly related to the environmental impact goals, we also created a 14-page booklet entitled Making the Switch: Two Successful Dairy Graziers Tell Their Stories. Some seven to eight years after they began to use grazing instead of confined feeding for their milk cows, two successful Maryland dairymen sat down for leisurely interviews on how they changed to grazing and how grazing changed their lives. The highly readable, intimate and well illustrated booklet contains their stories in their own words, edited only minimally for readability and brevity. By the time Rachel Gilker conducted these interviews for this booklet, she had developed a close rapport with both farmers during the three years she had been studying the groundwater quality under their pastures. The booklet includes sidebars with some of the factual information from her investigations into the nutrient balance and economics of these farms. As would be the case for any two farmers, their stories are at the same time distinctly different and strikingly similar. We hope that these stories will inspire others to explore the possibilities of grazing, while perhaps helping other to avoid to better deal with some of the struggles these two dairymen experienced along the way. More than 1000 copies of the booklet have been distributed to extension personnel, regulators and farm advisors. Distribution of the unique booklet will continue in 2005 to the end of the project and beyond.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Based on the three leaching seasons sampled, including the exceptionally dry first year which had little normal leaching, and the third year completed with phase II grant funding, the average nitrate-N in groundwater from the four grazed watersheds was 4.8 ppm. Average nitrate-N concentrations were higher from the two confined-feeding farm watersheds at 8.9 ppm.

Concentrations of dissolved reactive phosphorus in groundwater were much lower in both Baltimore County grazed watersheds, at an average of 0.04 ppm, as compared to 0.19-0.2 ppm in the four Frederick County watersheds. The lower P levels in the Baltimore County watersheds are almost certainly due to the presence of calcareous parent material underlying those watersheds rather than a difference in management.

Stream water in both streams on the Baltimore County grazing dairy farm showed little change in N from where the stream enters to where it leaves the farm during base or storm flow, indicating minimal impact of the grazed pastures on surface water quality. There were higher levels of P during storm events than during base flow, as would be expected. Winter camping areas and cow access to one stream resulted in increased P loads in the samples downstream from these points. As a result of seeing the data on stream P, the farmer adjusted his management of the camping area to reduce its impact.


1. Resources:
Title: Nutrient losses from management intensive grazing dairy farms., In K. Cassida, ed. Proceedings American Forage and Grassland Conference, Vol. 13, June 12-16 2004, Roanoke, VA.
Authors: Ray R. Weil and Rachel E. Gilker Date: June 12-16, 2004
Type: CD-ROM.
Contact for ordering:
American Forage and Grassland Council
P.O. Box 94
Georgetown, Texas 78627
Fax 512/931-1166
Email: dtucker@io.com

PowerPoint presentation on nutrients in ground and surface water.
Title: Nutrient losses from management intensive grazing dairy farms in central Maryland
Authors: Ray R. Weil and Rachel E. Gilker Date: September 26-30, 2004
Type: PowerPoint presentation.
Contact for ordering:
Available online until July 2005 at:

Ray R. Weil
Professor of Soil Science
Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences and Landscape Architecture
1103 H. J. Patterson Hall
University of Maryland
College Park, Md 20742
Tel: 301 405 1314 ; Fax: 301 314 9041
Email: rw17@umail.umd.edu
Online at:

Fact sheet 2: Making the Switch: Two successful dairy graziers tell their stories
Authors: Ron Holter and Bobby Prigel
Editors: Ray R. Weil, Rachel E. Gilker, Bruce Mert. Date: October, 2004
Type: Document
Contact for ordering:
Online at: http://www.agnr.umd.edu/FileExchange/Making_the_Switch_to_Grazing.pdf
Hard copies from:
Bruce Mertz
Executive Director
Future Harvest-CASA
106 Market Court
Stevensville, MD 21666
Phone: (410) 604-2681
Fax: (410) 604-2689
Email: fhcasa@verizon.net

Revised fact Sheet “Management Intensive Grazing: Environmental Impacts and Economic Benefits” is available on line at:

2. Events.
Oral presentation at American Forage and Grasslands Conference. June 12-16, 2004 in Roanoke, Virginia. Attended by 75 regulators and researchers, with a good attendance by dairy specialists.

Oral presentation at 12th National Nonpoint Source Monitoring Workshop, held in Ocean City, Maryland from September 27-30, 2004. Attended by 50 researchers, environmental managers and government officials.

3. Photographs (captions for electronic image files)
see on line BOOKLET at http://www.agnr.umd.edu/FileExchange/Making_the_Switch_to_Grazing.pdf


Ron Holter

Holterholm Farm
5619A Holter rd
Frederick, MD 21755
Office Phone: 3013714255
Paul Coblentz

Deerspring Dairy Farm
4435 Deerspring Road
Middletown, MD 21769
Bobby Prigel

Belleview Dairy Farm
4551 Long Green Rd.
Glen Arm, MD 21057
Stan Fulz

Dairy Extension Educator, Frederick Co.
University of Maryland
330 Montevue Lane
Frederick, MD 21702
Office Phone: 3016941594
Rachel Gilker

Gtaduate Research Assistant
Univeristy of Maryland
NRSL Dept.
College Park, MD 20742