Dairies Utilizing Mob Grazing in the Northeast
Five dairy farms in the northeast have participated in the study designed to describe a technique called “mob grazing”. We have since learned that most dairy farmers call mob grazing, “high density grazing”. The cattle are grazing pastures higher and leaving higher grass residuals, while the farmers are still striving for high quality forage. Each farm has resource challenges and opportunities that impact their ability to use this practice. Our goal was to collect data and later interview the producers to understand their management goals and practices. Case studies will be developed this winter and outreach will be conducted in 2013.
The goal of this project was to create “snapshots” or case studies of dairy producers using mob grazing as a production technique. In the growing season of 2012, our goal was to recruit dairy farms for the study, collect data, interview farmers and document the activity.
Our goal for the coming winter months is to create an educational “product” (website, articles, presentations). This includes summarizing the data, organizing photographs and videos and creating the case study narratives of the farms. The outreach part of this grant will be carried out in winter/summer 2013.
The overall goal of this project is to help other dairy producers understand the opportunities and barriers to adopting mob grazing as a practice. Trends may also help researchers understand what they can do to develop more controlled studies in the future.
We were able to work closely with 5 farms (1 in New York and 4 in Pennsylvania). We contacted 8 producers in Pennsylvania and New York. We found the number of dairies using mob grazing is very small. Most dairies do not want to use the term “mob grazing” but “high density grazing” to describe their practices. All farms are certified organic (this was not an original objective).
Five farms was a good number to work with because of the need to gather data right before the cattle grazed the paddock (we tried to keep sampling to the same paddock). It also helped that 3 out of the 5 farms were within a 2 county radius.
We were able to collect various data at each farm visit: pasture forage samples for analysis from Dairy One Labs (which included the ration balancer package and for simple sugars), soil testing, forage height, and Brix ratings. We collected samples anywhere from 2 to 5 rotations on the 5 farms.
The USDA Pasture Systems and Watershed Lab partnership has been beneficial. They have supported the collection of complimentary data. This included soil bulk density, a pre and post grass sampling and botanical composition. The data are being analyzed now and we hope to have a poster at the Society of Dairy Science, courtesy of the researchers from the USDA Pasture Systems and Watershed Lab.
The Case Study “interview questionnaire” was developed, is being used and will be summarized this winter into case studies. My original goal was to interview farmers at the beginning of the summer. I decided to delay the interview until the end of the growing season because I thought there would be greater trust between the team and the farmers. Farmers in general were interested in the data we were collecting and sometimes would accompany us to the field.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The actual impacts of the study have yet to measured and summarized. We are organizing the data and will begin analysis. Most of the interviews will be done by December.
I am discussing the possibility of extending the sampling with the USDA Pasture Systems and Watershed Lab into 2013 for at least 2 rotations (if funding allows it).
Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research Unit
Bldg. 3702, Curtin Road
University Park, PA 16802
Office Phone: 8148653158