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

2011 Annual Report for ONE11-134

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

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


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. I am doing 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 is reviewing records of 3 groups of 60 heifers which spent a
summer (150 days) on pasture during the ages of 8-12 months. We have assigned 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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Success and Trials of 2011

Performance Target #1

To address the Over-all Health comparison we will use the following design:

• We have identified 300 animals, 150 spent one summer on pasture and 150 animals that spent the entire time in confinement. The animals were yearlings in: 2009, 2010, and 2011. They will be reviewed in February 2012 to look for significant differences.

Performance Target #2

Have collected Data form pedometers from the 2011 season. This was the most challenging part of the study due to lost pedometers. The manufacturer changed our units from the model we used in 2010. The models are improved from the water leak problems experienced in 2010. They also changed the straps of the units. The new straps did not fit the small legs of the heifers. We lost a total of 5 of our 10 units in the confinement operation. This caused not only a monetary loss but we also lost valuable data.

There was data collected at the beginning g of the grazing season and at the end after the animals went back to confinement. This will be compiled with the extensive data collected in 2010 to better understand heifer movement between the two systems.
I have included in the report a comparison of some of the data.


Preview of Data from 2011

In the attached graph there are readings from three pedometers. Each dot on the graph is the number of steps taken in a 24 hour period. The X axis shows the date of the readings, and the Y axis shows the range of steps.

P285 (RED) is the pedometer placed on a heifer while still on pasture. The readings show 2 weeks of normal pasture steps before the animal was trucked back to the host freestall operation on November 2nd. The readings then show 2 weeks of steps after the same animal was placed in the freestall.

P355 (BLUE) and P283 (GREEN) were the results of the pedometers being placed on animals which stayed in the freestall for the entire summer. There is a 60% drop in the number of steps taken when the animal returned from pasture. The other interesting points are the 2 significant spikes, one on October 27 with P285 and the other November 15th with P283. It is more than likely that these spikes were caused by the animal having a heat or estrus cycle.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

On March 23rd, I spoke at the Madison County Grazing Conference on the SARE supported Heifer work. I attached an article that ran in the Cornell Spring 2011 College of Agriculture Newspaper. I will be making a poster presentation at the 2012 NE Pasture Consortium in Latham NY on January 26th.


Steve Palidino

Hardie Farm Inc
31 Holden Rd
Lansing, NY 14882