A new report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that dairies that use managed grazing are economically competitive with confinement dairy operations.

“Farms using managed grazing produce less milk per cow on average than confinement farms,” said Tom Kriegl of the UW-MadisonCenter for Dairy Profitability, who co-authored the report. “But these farms more than offset this production disadvantage through their control of operating expenses, investment and debt.”

Kriegl has been analyzing the financial performance of grazing dairy farms since 1995.   In the report “Pastures of Plenty,” he and Ruth McNair of the UW Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems compared grazing and confinement farms in Wisconsin and the Great Lakes. Some of their key findings include:

  • In Wisconsin and New York, grazing dairies are more profitable per cow and per hundredweight equivalent of milk sold than confinement dairies in these states.
  • Farms using managed grazing consistently show higher profits and lower cost per hundredweight equivalent than traditional and large modern confinement farms in Wisconsin.
  • Producers who switch from confinement dairy farming to managed grazing need not suffer financial hardship during the transition.

Managed grazing is different than continuous grazing in that producers move animals to fresh pasture on a regular basis and manage their pastures to maximize the quality and quantity of feed. Continuously grazed pastures do not provide much quality feed.

“Managed grazing is economically competitive, probably at all sizes,” said Kriegl. “A grazing dairy can provide a family with a good living from a farm they can operate and manage themselves.”

In addition to comparing confinement and managed grazing farms, the report compares grazing farms and identifies qualities that make for successful operations. It also discusses making the transition from traditional dairy farming to managed grazing.

“Pastures of Plenty” is available online from the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems Web site: http://www.cias.wisc.edu/pdf/grzgfin.pdf

Print copies also are available free-of-charge by calling (608) 262-5200, or send e-mail to: phaza@wisc.edu

Agricultural and Consumer Press Service, Universityof Wisconsin-Madison