Strategies of Pasture Supplementation on Organic and Conventional Grazing Dairies: Assessment of Economic, Production and Environmental Outcomes

Title Strategies of Pasture Supplementation on Organic & Conventional Grazing Dairies: Assessment of Economic, Production & Environmental Outcomes
Team Cabrera, V.E., Gildersleeve, R., Wattiaux, M.,Combs, D.
Term 48 months January 2010 - January 2014
Amount $575,000
Sponsor Integrated Solutions for Animal Agriculture
Agriculture Food and Research Initiative
National Institute of Food and Agriculture


Pending USDA National Organic Program (NOP) standards for dairy and livestock production require that 30% or more of dry matter intake are provided by pastures on organic farms during the grazing season. Managed pastures provide abundant, high quality forage, but also present challenges when balancing dairy rations. Organic farms may have additional economic, production and environmental challenges when growing or purchasing supplemental feeds for grazing dairy herds. Organic and conventional grazing dairy producers have expressed the need for more information on use of pastures in combination with feed supplement ingredients with respect to impacts on production, economics and environment. This project is designed to investigate the impacts of pasture supplementation decisions made by Wisconsin organic and conventional grazing dairies on selected economic, production and environmental variables. It is anticipated that organic dairy producers, transitioning producers and even conventional producers will benefit from this project as it identifies the farm level factors that influence pasture supplementation decisions and feed resource management on dairy farms. Project results will be utilized to develop outreach materials and decision aids that will be useful to farmers, extension agents and other agricultural professionals as they assist organic, transition, beginner or grazing dairy producers with farm planning and risk management decisions. Project results will benefit individual operations by optimizing farm profitability, production and environmental management and the Wisconsin dairy industry. Our results will also be of interest to organic and conventional dairy grazing producers across the Upper Midwest and Northeastern United States who operate under similar constraints.


1. Identify farm level factors contributing to pasture supplementation decisions on organic and comparable conventional dairy grazing farms.

2. Evaluate the economic, production, and environmental outcomes of pasture supplementation strategies.

3. Develop sustainability indexes to compare within and between organic and conventional grazing dairies.

4. Create decision support aids and consult one-to-one with participating farms on research results to assess long-term production, economic, and environmental sustainability.

5. Disseminate extension information and evaluate effectiveness of dissemination methods and impacts of changes of supplementation feeding strategies to organic, transition or grazing dairy producers with whole farm planning and risk management to optimize human, land, and capital resources for long-term farm sustainability


Approximately 50 commercial organic (ORG) dairies and 50 comparable non-organic grazing dairies (GRAZ) in Wisconsin will be recruited for this project. Dairy herds that have been utilizing management intensive grazing and shipping milk for at least 3 years will be eligible and invited to participate and further categorized as ORG (shipping certified organic milk) or GRAZ (not ORG). Once identified, all farms will be asked to define their preferred pasture supplementation strategy by peer category (no grain, grain—on farm sources, or grain—off farm sources). A stakeholder research advisory panel will be established for guidance on relevant data to be collected, expected outcomes, and delivery of results to interested individuals and groups. Relevant data on selected economic, production, and environmental variables will be collected during 6 scheduled visits over two grazing seasons, using a combination of questionnaires and physical samples, depending on the variable of interest.









Receive stakeholder input; identify participant farms; recruit study staff; organize training; finalize content and methods for data collection and analysis; order supplies; set up farm visit schedules

1, 2



Farm visits and data collection year 1; sample submission and analysis; begin preliminary data analysis

1, 2, 3



Continue data analysis for year 1;preparations for year 2 farm visits and data collection; provide updates to funding agency, farmer participants and other partners

1, 2, 3



Farm visits and data collection year 2, sample submission and analysis, continue data organization and analysis

1, 2, 3



Provide updates to funding agency, farmer participants, other partners; complete data analysis, begin development of Extension program materials, decision aids and conduct in-service training with Extension and agricultural professional groups as needed

1, 2, 3, 4, 5



Conduct individual farm consultations, continue extension programming, initiate evaluation of project outcomes. Graduate student 1 will finalize and defend dissertation

4, 5



Provide updates to funding agency, farmer participants, other partners; complete individual farm consultations, evaluation and reports on project outcomes; identify additional research and Extension needs of producer clientele groups as appropriate to current project

4, 5



Wrap up project with final reports, updates, etc. Graduate student 2 will finalize and defend dissertation

4, 5


Survey: This is the questionnaire that was used to collect data from +130 organic, grazing, and conventional Wisconsin dairy farms for year 2010.