Dairies Utilizing Mob Grazing in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2012: $14,856.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Mena Hautau
Penn State Extension

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: general hay and forage crops
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: grazing management, grazing - rotational, stocking rate
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Production Systems: holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life

    Proposal abstract:

    Mob grazing is a practice that is being evaluated and used by experienced and new grazing dairy farmers. We are focusing on dairy for several reasons. Mob grazing is a very new practice in dairy production and this study would capture some of the ground-level practices of the innovative farmers who are adopting it. There is very little research-based information for farmers, extension personnel and conservation professionals to use.

    As grazing can be highly variable on farms due to many factors that are beyond the scope of this grant, we would propose creating a “snapshot” of the farm. We intend to develop a protocol and a communication tool or questionnaire. The questionnaire would be used to capture a variety of responses from 5-8 farmers. This information would include indicators of profitability, sustainability and community. An educational product or “case study” would be created in print and on a Web site, for use with grazing groups, organizations and individuals. A field day is planned for graziers to involve both the farmers as teachers and the case studies as vehicles for shared discussion about the advantages and disadvantAges of mob grazing.
    Outcomes for behavior change will be monitored by evaluating participants at the proposed field day and other items. The grant would also assist partners to work in a collaborative fashion and would benefit in their own understanding of this practice by innovators.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this project is to create 5-8 case studies of farms. The case studies would be used as a tool for farmers and professionals to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of utilizing grazing in a dairy operation. The case studies should include a mix of quantifiable data (feed and soil analysis, budgetary information) and observations that describe farms holistically.

    Case Studies:

    We propose using the early adopters that are utilizing mob grazing. A protocol and questionnaire would be developed with the partners and 1-2 farmer advisors to describe the case studies. This information would be conducted by interviewing farmers, along with taking forage and soil samples (twice during the growing season).

    At the minimum, some of these indicators would include:
    1. Profitability:
    Descriptors of farm resources, such as soils, climate, etc.
    Animal performance: For the “snapshot,” farmers will describe their milk performance and any other observations they have, such as reduction in pinkeye.
    Carrying capacity of the pastures: Along with grass height, “animal pressure” or density of animals per unit of land is increased. We will ask farmers about their practices.
    Economic analysis: We will choose farmers who are willing to share their records with us so that we may look at profits. Every farmer may have a different way of measuring profit so we may have to describe this in various ways. We will utilize an advisor to guide us in capturing farm management information, such as using partial budgets to describe changes made from managed grazing to mob grazing.
    Forage quality: Forage samples to the Dairy One Lab would include OM, DM, CP, NDF, ADF, sugars such as WSC- water soluble carbohydrate and macro minerals (Ca, P, K, Na, Mg). Forage samples would be collected twice in a growing season. A “snapshot analysis” would give us an idea of the variability across farms. The primary goal is to provide this information as a discussion tool for dairy producers.

    2. Environmental:
    Soil analysis, including organic matter: Soils would be sampled on the farms and analyzed at the Penn State Ag Analytical Lab for P, K, pH and organic matter. Nitrogen is a recommended (not tested) nutrient.

    3. Community:
    Descriptors of market resources: This is important in the analysis of the profitability of the farm. It also can show how different farms use markets to make community connections.
    Quality of Life Statements: Farmers may describe improvements made in work and family life and they would be part of the case study discussion.

    Outreach mechanisms:

    Web Site
    A summary of findings would be developed and shared on a Web site, hosted by the Northeast Pasture Consortium (http://grazingguide.net/). A partner member is the Webmaster of the site. A technical staff person is needed to help get this into a Web format. The link for this Web site could be added to various Web sites, hosted by various agencies and non-profits. Analytical data would be collected to measure the usage of the Web site.

    It is important to include a variety of print outlets for the dissemination of the information due to the large percentage of Plain/Anabaptist farmers who raise animals and have limited or no access to the internet. Print includes handouts at events.

    Field Day
    We propose to plan one Field Day in 2013 in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA). As mentioned previously, it is also important to provide an event for face to face learning, as the Plain Sect have a strong tradition of oral information sharing. Several organizations, including PASA and Lancaster Graziers have a strong membership with this audience so we anticipate having a good reach into this audience.

    The Field Day would be held on the farm of a case study participant. The Field Day would include a pasture walk plus a learning circle session with 2-3 farmers who volunteered as case study participants. The case studies would be used as a method to have an intensive discussion with participants. The extension educator and the staff from PASA would collaborate on this program.

    Impacts/Outcomes of the Field Day-An evaluation would be developed for the Field Day to measure the impact of learning by participants.

    Indicators and the various learning groups might include:

    1. “Increased knowledge” and “intentions to make changes” by farmers who are planning to transition to mob grazing.

    2. “Increased profitability/quality of life and ecology of farms” that have adopted mob grazing. This would allow farmers to report their own changes, i.e. dollars saved, feed cost reduction, etc.

    3. “Increased knowledge” and “how they would use this knowledge” by consultants, extension and conservation professionals and ag industry.
    Other outlets (a sampling):
    We would propose contacting the various organizations, as there are many mentioned here, and offering the case studies and printed materials to be used by partner members, groups or even the case study participants, if they so feel inclined. Press releases and articles could be written by the partner members and disseminated to various media outlets.

    Events-Lancaster Graziers conference and pasture walks, PA Professional Crop Producers Conference (PA Forage & Grassland Council meeting and newsletter), Northeast Pasture Consortium Meeting, Fingerlakes Graziers pasture walks, NYS-GLCI pasture walks and conferences, Project Grass field days, Women in Agriculture Network field days and Ag Progress Days.

    Print Media/Publications-Pennsylvania Forage and Grassland Council newsletter, Lancaster Farming "Foraging Around” Special Section, various county conservation websites/ newsletters, Organic Valley Milk Cooperative events, GRAZE magazine.

    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.