Management Intensive Grazing to Enhance Heifer Rearing on Large Dairies in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2010: $14,251.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
A.Fay Benson
Cornell Co-op Extension

Annual Reports


  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed rations, grazing management, grazing - rotational
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    According to the New York State Agricultural Statistics there are 500,000 heifers raised in New York each year to be replacements for the state’s 630,000 dairy herd. Approximately half of the heifers are on farms with 500 or more milking animals. The vast majority of these heifers are raised in confinement housing, fed stored feeds, and their manure is included into the farm’s CAFO plan. Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) has been shown to reduce soil erosion by utilizing permanent pastures to replace the row crop production of stored feeds. Due to the use of MIG: manure handling is eliminated reducing labor and energy usage, animals harvesting their own forage also reduces labor and energy use and provides a feed which is higher protein and lower NDF, both necessary to good heifer nutrition. In addition, previous research has shown that MIG produces heifers which reach physical maturity in the same time as confinement for a lower cost. Additional research completed by the Principal Investigator for this project showed the first lactation health and performance of MIG raised heifers was enhanced by reducing the metabolic problems during postpartum. The problem is that very few large dairies perceive grazing as an acceptable method of raising their replacement heifers. The PI for the project was interviewing a prospective client for his grazing operation. The client owned two farms both with over 1000 milking animals; the farmer expressed interest in custom raising, but wanted to know how the animals would get back to the barn to be fed. It was explained that the heifers would stay in the pasture to eat grass. At this point, the client said “My heifers need more than just grass” This conversation was echoed at a pasture walk attended by custom graziers. They felt there was great opportunity to work with large dairies and provide them with well grown heifers that were healthier and cheaper. The barrier was that the large dairy’s perception of grazing was the old version of grazing, which was putting a group of heifers in a single pasture in June and going back to get them in September. This project will change that view through the following goals: • Develop economic, technical and management resources to help larger dairy farms who wish to build a heifer grazing systems on their farms. • Educate custom grazers on the opportunity and method to safely graze dairy heifers on their farms. • House these resources on a website for easy access; these resources will be applicable to the northeast as well as any area that produces cool season grasses.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Benchmarking MIG systems for heifers

    Cost analysis of New York heifer grazing systems will be developed to help farms make accurate determination of the financial impact of building these systems on their farms. Other states have done comparisons (Minnesota) but their data is dated, the recent rise in grain costs will increase the benefit of utilizing MIG.

    Maintenance Needs of the grazing heifer

    Grazing animals require higher maintenance needs for their diets. To help measure this difference, a study will take place using pedometers to determine how much energy is exerted through walking by the grazing heifers on the Benson farm. This will be compared to previous data for confinement heifers.

    Pasture monitoring will take place on the Benson system throughout the grazing season of this project. Monitoring will include monthly weighing of a group of animals at the same time the pedometers will be recorded. Using a rising plate meter dry matter will be measured before heifers enter a new paddock and will be measured after the animals leave. Pasture samples will be evaluated to track seasonal nutritional changes of the grazing sward. From these results recommendations will be developed to help the grazier or nutritionist to know when to add grain or additional forage. The rations will be based on the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCP), a trusted resource for large dairy owners.

    Bio Security for MIG Systems

    Bio Security fact sheets will be authored by Dr. Sam Leadly of the Attica Vet Clinic and author of Calf and Heifer monthly news letter for Dairy Calf and Heifer Association

    They will include such topics as vaccination requirements for heifers on pasture, internal and external parasite control, feeding transition from stored feed to pasture and back. Fact sheets will be developed using NRCS fencing recommendations.

    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.