Improving the Welfare of Southeastern Dairy Families Through the Adoption of Sustainable Production Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2011: $294,409.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Georgia
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Dennis Hancock
Univ. of Georgia

Annual Reports


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


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: decision support system, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, study circle, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, new enterprise development, risk management
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, indicators
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, sustainability measures


    This multi-disciplinary project assisted Southeastern dairy producers in achieving their goal of becoming more sustainable by developing representative economic models for a pasture-based dairy system, a confinement dairy system, and a pasture-based and confined feeding hybrid system. Using information from individuals and groups of pasture-based and conventional dairy producers, we identified production and financial management practices that serve as benchmarks for comparison and allowed us to assess the sustainability of these three economic models. We also worked to identify barriers to converting from a conventional dairy to a pasture-based production system.

    Project objectives:

    After assembling an advisory panel of grazing dairy families and others, we began to:

    1. Collect, analyze, and report to dairy families financial and production benchmark information annually from 60 grazing and conventional dairy farms in Georgia and Florida. Results of this benchmark information were (and will be) used to help dairies compare their specific operation to the group, especially in certain key performance indicators (KPI) including production, profitability and labor utilization.
    2. Facilitate periodic meetings between groups of grazing dairy producers two-four times per year where participants share knowledge and questions as well as receiving information from university and other professional consultants.
    3. Document current dairy grazing and environmental stewardship practices in Georgia and Florida via a comprehensive and detailed survey instrument collecting production, management, and financial data of approximately 40 grazing dairy farms and 20 comparable conventional dairy farms.
    4. Use the annual benchmark data in conjunction with the comprehensive survey to identify practices or systems that are predictors of profitability, financial robustness, personal sustainability and environmental sustainability.
    5. Survey current conventional and pasture-based dairies in Florida and Georgia to determine impediments or barriers to current conventional producers adopting pasture-based dairying.
    6. Utilize information obtained in Objectives 1-5 to create and distribute printed and electronic educational materials for grazing dairy farms or for conventional farms that are considering switching to a pasture-based system. Examples of these materials include:

      1. Pasture-based dairy budgets.
      2. Computerized planning tools/decision-aids that help to evaluate what-if scenarios, and
      3. Extension fact sheets that discuss numerous economic and production facets of grazing dairy production. Some of the fact sheets will also cover items to address when considering converting from a conventional to a pasture-based dairy.

    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.