Evaluating Overall Health and Physical Movement of Dairy Heifers in Confinement vs. Management Intensive Grazing

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2011: $11,650.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
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: decision support system, demonstration, extension, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: energy use
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    The main goal of this project is to encourage more large dairies in the Northeast to utilize
    Management Intensive Grazing to raise their heifers for a portion of the year. It will do this by
    adding to the existing knowledge about the practice. Existing knowledge includes: economics,
    environmental impact and health benefits. This project will add three new ares of knowledge to the
    practice. Specifically, this project will review records of 3 groups of 60 heifers which spent a
    summer (150 days) on pasture during the ages of 8-12 months. We will assign an age appropriate
    herd mate which spent all their time in confined housing. The total study group will number
    approximately 360 animals. Through the use of Dairy-Comp 305 Software we will look for any
    significant differences in Overall health indicators such as: breedings per conception, longevity in
    the herd, milk production, health problems. The other component of this project is to use 10 new
    tools- The IceTag 300, which is are wireless pedometers, which can measure differences in physical
    movement between a group of heifers in confinement vs. a group grazing on pastures. The
    pedometers will also be used to measure if there is differences in movement related to the length of
    residency in a paddock.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1).To address the Over-all Health comparison we will use the following design:
    • There will be 3 “Grazed” groups. Group 09 are 60 heifers that spent the summer of 2009 on pasture at Benterra Farm (owned by the author), Group 10, are 60 heifers that spent the summer of 2010 on pasture at Benterra Farm, and Group11 which will spend the summer of 2011 on the same pastures. These groups were all assigned a separate group code in the herd software by the manager, Steve Paladino. This will make tracking them easy.
    • We will review the records at Hardie farm to assign an age appropriate herd mate to each of the grazed animals, and set them as 3 “Confined” groups. These will form the 360 animals in the comparison.
    • The two groups (Grazed and Confined) will be compared to see if there are differences between them in: breedings per conception, longevity in the herd, milk production, and health problems.
    2).To compare the physical movement differences between grazed heifers and confined heifers. We will place the Ice Tag Pedometers on 10 animals in early April 2011 while still in confinement at the Hardie Farm. Approximately 2 weeks later 6 of these animals will be moved along with 57 other heifers to the pastures at Benterra Farm. The other 4 units and the heifers they are on will remain with the confined animals at Hardie farm for the summer. We will allow readings to take place till the end of June 2011 and pedometers will be removed and data downloaded. The pedometers will be reattached so that at the end of the grazing season all 10 pedometers will be on the heifers back at Hardie Farm. This will allow us to note the differences between the two groups. We have been advised that since we have only 10 animals with pedometers attached, in two treatments and they represent a subset of the 120 animals in the
    Grazed and Confined groups, we should repeat this treatment again in 2012, in order to achieve the readings necessary for a comparable subset and a statistical comparison. The Author had used these
    IceTag pedometers in his SARE study during 2010. In order to use them he applied for and received approval from the Cornell IACUC committee. The approval was for three years starting in May of 2010.
    3).To test a theory that grazing animals will increase their movement the longer they are in a paddock as the animals cover more ground to find the same amount of feed; the following experiment will be used.
    • The 6 animals wearing pedometers will be in a larger group of 60 grazing animals on the pastures of Benterra. The pedometers will be synchronized to Eastern Standard Time at the time of attachment to the heifers. When the group is moved to a new paddock, the time will be noted so that it can be compared to the times of the pedometer’s data. The IceTag units take a reading of total steps in each minute they are attached to the animal. The group of heifers will graze different sized paddocks doing their time at Benterra. When the data from the pedometers is compared to the movement times it will be easy to see if there is an increase in steps taken during the heifers stay in each paddock
    • To be sure that any change in steps isn’t due to lack of dry matter availability, the dry matter consumed during each stay in a paddock will be determined in the following manner: Pasture forage will be measured using a rising plate meter before the animals enter a new paddock. When the animals leave the paddock, measurements will be taken again with the rising plate meter. The difference in the two
    readings will give the forage consumed during the residency of the group of heifers. During the 2010 SARE study each paddock’s area was measured. From the known area of each paddock and the amount
    of dry matter consumed we will be able to know the amount of forage consumed per animal.

    1).Compiling the data on the groups of grazed heifers and confined heifers will be done by: Conway, Palodino, and Benson. The work will start one week after the project starts or in the middle of April 2011. The first work that needs to be done is assigning “confined” herd mates to the groups of grazed heifers already identified. This work will be complete at the end of the project to give each group of heifers the maximum amount of time for comparison. Soberone will assist with the data evaluation.
    2).Attaching the pedometers will take place the second week of April and will be done by Paladino and Benson. They will have to be removed 80 – 90 days after since this is the maximum amount of data
    storage capable by the IceTag units. After the units are read they will be re attached to the same animals so that readings can be taken until the end of November or so that the units all go back to Hardie farm and animals are in confinement for 30 days after return from pastures. Soberone and Benson will compile the data and prepare the results.
    3). The paddock changes will be completed by Benson. The pasture measurements with the plate meter will be done by Benson. They will continue from the time the heifers arrive on the pastures in early May
    (depending on the weather). Timing of the paddock movements will continue for the entire grazing season, but the dry matter measurements will end when the pedometers are removed from the animals at the end of June. Benson will compile the data for the final report.

    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.