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Efficient cows are environmentally friendly cows

Dairy farms with higher-producing cows create smaller carbon footprints and are more profitable, a win-win situation for everyone, including the cows, according to Victor E. Cabrera, a UW-Madison associate professor of dairy science.

Victor Cabrera

“Implementing dairy farm management strategies that increase milk production, decrease the herd replacement rate or improve reproductive efficiency can increase farm profits while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions,” says Cabrera, who is also a UW-Extension dairy systems management specialist.

Using the Integrated Farm System Model (IFSM), Cabrera and Di Liang, a PhD student, tested different management strategies for a typical Wisconsin farm to see what would be the outcome regarding the economics, the net return and the environment. An IFSM simulation takes into account numerous interacting processes that include crop and pasture production, crop harvest, feed storage, grazing, feeding and manure handling.

“We found that the closer a cow is to maximum milk production potential, the more efficient they are both economically and environmentally,” Cabrera says.

As cows give more milk, they eat more and use more resources. However, since maintenance feed has already been accounted for, any additional feed consumed is used specifically for milk production. From an efficiency standpoint, more milk is produced in relation to environmental effects as milk production increases.

Cabrera says, “If farmers have the opportunity to increase dairy productivity, they should do it because according to our data they will not only have a better net return, but they will also help the environment by having fewer emissions per unit of milk produced.”

Listen to a podCALS featuring Cabrera for additional information on this topic.

This story was originally posted on the UW Extension News site.