cows in field

Managing Soil Fertility and Other Lessons Learned on Grass-fed Dairies

By Sara Ziegler, Heather Darby, and Sarah Flack

Grass-fed dairy continues to experience sustained market growth. While this presents opportunities for producers, it can also bring some significant challenges and require shifts in management to be successful. Through a project funded through the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative Grant (Project no. 2018-02802), Dr. Heather Darby and her team investigated a diversity of grass-fed approaches and strategies that ultimately led to a wide range of productivity and financial viability While each farm is unique in its own ways, several trends have begun to emerge.

Amongst numerous grass-fed farms there were significant challenges in maintaining adequate soil fertility especially when the land base had to expand. Since no grain can be fed, nearly 100% of the diet must come from forages. For an all-forage diet to provide sufficient nutrition to the herd, the soil must be able to provide adequate nutrition to feed the forages. Likewise, the number of acres of land needed to produce sufficient forage quantity will also increase substantially. The average grass-fed dairy manages 5.66 acres per mature cow but ranges from 1.71 to 10.3. In general, farms with larger land bases tend to have higher costs of production, especially regarding expenses related to stored forage production ( Maintaining yields and quality on an expanded land base needs to be recognized as an investment and cost to transitioning to grass-fed dairy. To minimize the number of acres required, farmers should prioritize maximizing yields and digestible fiber per acre. Due to formatting issues, the full article can't be added here, but you can click on the link below to read it.

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