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Report Shows that Managed Grazing Dairies Succeed Statewide

Posted April 2006

When it comes to household income, farming background, age, and technology use, dairy farmers who use managed grazing aren”t all that different from farmers who operate more traditional dairy enterprises.

A new report from the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and Program on Agricultural Technology Studies (PATS) compares production systems, technology, labor, performance, and satisfaction with quality of life on grazing dairy farms and more conventional dairy farms. This report—Grazing in the Dairy State-—shows that managed grazing dairy farms are established across the state and could make an even greater contribution to a steady milk supply for Wisconsin.

“In general, dairy farmers using managed grazing are a lot like other Wisconsin farmers in terms of age, farm background and experience. “However, they earn similar household income with half the number of cows, have less debt and are more satisfied with their overall quality of life,”” said Jennifer Taylor of CIAS, who co-authored the report with Jeremy Foltz of PATS. “”It makes sense for people interested in increasing Wisconsin”s milk supply and dairy farm numbers to take a close look at managed grazing as a viable business model for the future.””

Managed grazing is a system in which dairy farmers rely on pasture as the primary source of forages for their milk cows during the grazing months, and move those cows to fresh pasture at least once a week. Grazing in the Dairy State summarizes ten years of data on Wisconsin dairy farming operations that use managed grazing, stored feed rations, and a combination of pasture and stored feed. Some key findings include:

  • Managed grazing is practiced on 23 percent of Wisconsin’s dairy farms, and pasture is used less intensively on an additional 21 percent of dairy farms.
  • Eleven percent of the state”s milk production comes from farms using managed grazing, and nearly one-fourth of Wisconsin”s milk production comes from farms using both managed grazing and less intensively managed pastures.
  • Graziers—-farmers using managed grazing-—make more money per cow and have less enterprise debt than other dairy farmers.
  • Eighty percent of the household income of graziers comes from farming.
  • Graziers are more likely to be very satisfied with their lifestyle than other dairy farmers.

“”A typical grazing dairy is a family-run business,”” said Taylor. “These operations are profitable with moderate herd and farm sizes, less hired labor, and lower capital investments than more traditional dairy farms.”

Grazing in the Dairy State is available on the CIAS web site: www.cias.wisc.edu. Print copies are available free of charge. Call (608)262-5200 for more information.


Editors: A full copy of the report, as well as several high-resolution figures included in it, are available here.