Low milk prices and the high
cost of storage feeding is
forcing some US producers
to turn cows out and
rotationally graze pasture.
Jessica Buss reports from
the Pennsylvania grazing
and forage conference
REDUCING production and increasing profit a cow by turning them out to graze was the right decision for one US milk producer.
Forrest Stricker from Berks County, Pennsylvania, has increased profit by £16,000 for his 67-cow herd in the past three years, 1993-97, compared with the previous two years between 1990 and 1992, when cows were in total confinement.
This is despite reducing yields from 9150 litres to 7845 litres a cow, and having a similar milk price at about 19.15p/litre. Total output actually reduced little because cow numbers increased by 11.
"There are more savings than just feed costs. We must be profit not production minded," he said.
His total income fell by £1430, but that was more than compensated for by savings in labour at £5047, fertiliser £2882, contractors and machinery at £2948, and feed and forage costs of £2084.
He also saved £659 worth of electricity, £1115 worth of fuel, £283 in vet and med, £427 in sundries and bedding, £589 in breeding expenses, and £4000 in depreciation.
He also estimated that his heifer rearing costs, included in the figures above, halved from £730 a head to £370 a head by managing them on intensive rotational grazing rather than housing them. Heifer numbers total 65.
"Reduced labour costs are possible because cows are not milked for two months." Now that all cows calve in spring and are dried off in late December, he finds that only two part-time staff are needed. "And seasonal production gives more time for the family," he said.
Cows graze for nine months a year. To ensure good dry matter intakes are achieved outside the barn, Mr Stricker uses a rising plate meter to measure grass cover before and after grazing. He then adjusts the maize corn fed, according to grass availability.
In 1995 he stopped growing maize corn and cereals and put the last of his 100ha (250-acre) farm into pasture crops for grazing and forage. Pastures include clover, ryegrass and lucerne.
Turning the farm over to forage crops has also allowed Mr Stricker to stop using herbicides and insecticides, weeds are controlled by cultivations and insects using biological sprays.
Profits have increased by £16,000 through grazing the 67-cow milking herd and heifers, said Pennsylvanian, Forrest Stricker.
Pennsylvania has 11,000 milk producers, with 640,000 milking cows. Rainfall averages 800-875mm (32-35in) with little falling in July and August.
Snowfall is typically 1000-1250mm (40-50in) and in some weeks temperatures do not rise above freezing. Summer temperatures reach 32C (90F) with high humidity, and cows are housed to reduce heat stress.
Spring starts about a month later than the UK, and in early May grass growth explodes, leaving producers will an excess to manage. Those that graze use a 10-14 day rotation during this period. This is often followed by drought.
Because grazing is difficult to manage and research to date has focused on cow nutrition, most producers house cows all year round.
However, low milk prices, poor cow health mean grazing is gaining popularity.
development of rotational grazing techniques are now encouraging more producers to turn their cows out to graze.