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Rotational Grazing Tripled On Wisconsin Dairy Farms In 1990’s

About 23 percent of the state”s dairy farmers used management-intensive rotational grazing last year — more than triple the 7 percent that used rotational grazing in 1993, a University of Wisconsin-Madison survey has shown.

The southwest, north-central, and west-central regions of Wisconsin had the highest rates of rotational grazing adoption, and the central, south-central, and southeast regions had the lowest, according to researchers at the UW-Madison”s Program on Agricultural Technology Studies. Higher adoption rates tended to correlate with lower priced farmland and more rolling topographies, PATS researchers reported.

Beginning farmers were much more likely to use rotational grazing practices than dairy farmers as a whole. In 1996, nearly 30 percent of beginning farmers used rotational grazing systems — nearly twice the adoption rate of other dairy farms at that time. Nearly 46 percent of new dairy farmers said they planned to use improved pastures for their herds in the future.

Farmers using rotational grazing tended to operate smaller dairy farms (averaging 246 acres and 50 cows), compared with 390 acres and 91 cows for confinement operations in 1999. While most rotational grazing farms were smaller than average, the researchers also noted a handful of very large grazing operations. Intensive graziers were less likely to use output-maximizing technologies, such as herd production testing programs, total mixed ration machinery, regular ration balancing, and rBST.

Cows on nearly half of the dairy farms in Wisconsin grazed pastures to meet some of their forage needs in 1999, the survey showed. (The PATS researchers defined “rotational grazing” as using pastures supply at least part of the forage for milking cows, and moving cows to fresh pastures at least once a week.) Another 21 percent of farmers reported using pastures non-intensively, and the rest used full-confinement systems, where all feed is delivered to the cows.

Compared with confinement operators, graziers were more likely to say that their family”s quality of life had improved over the past five years. Graziers were also more likely to report feeling “very satisfied” with their family”s quality of life.

PATS researchers surveyed Wisconsin dairy farmers four times between 1993 and 1999. They summarized their grazing research in the February 2000 edition of Wisconsin Family Farm Facts. For a copy, contact Nancy Carlisle at (608) 265-2908, carlisle@ssc.wisc.edu