Knee deep in grass: Executive summary
The optimism shown by an increasing number of Minnesota dairy farmers who are grazing their herds indicates that, for some, the outlook for the state's dairy industry is good. Management intensive grazing (MIG) techniques are rapidly being adopted in some regions of Minnesota. This report summarizes in-person interviews conducted in 1994 on 29 Minnesota dairy farms using mig practices. The term MIG in this paper refers to several types of grazing systems including: Rotational grazing, intensive rotational grazing, intensive grazing, strip grazing, voisin grazing, controlled grazing, top grazing and mob grazing. The 29 cooperating farms were located throughout Minnesota with the highest concentration being located in the southeastern region of the state. The 29 farms can be considered typical midwestern dairy farms; almost all were single family operations averaging 58 cows and approximately 300 acres of land. Graziers were questioned about the effects of MIG on their quality of life, production strategies, equipment used and business management decisions. The following results were reported:
Quality of life
Graziers reported that their quality of life improved after adopting MIG because it changed their use of time. Some graziers indicated that it resulted in time savings. Graziers frequently indicated that changes in chore routine were more significant than the reduced time spent doing chores. The most frequently cited change was the shift from repetitious tasks such as baling hay and repairing equipment to duties such as pasture and business management.
Time-related labor savings reportedly resulted from decreases in planting, harvesting, processing, feeding and manure handling. Graziers with seasonally freshened herds generally reported even more time savings, especially during the dry period.
The size of the grazing area was typically controlled by dividing pastures into square paddocks or rectangular strips. Graziers determined paddock size based on pasture productivity and herd size. Cattle in the milking groups were frequently moved to fresh grass; most graziers reported moving their cattle every 12 hours. Graziers typically used visual observation to determine the new pasture allowance. Most graziers indicated that beginning grazing heights ranged from 8-12 inches and that ending heights ranged from 2-5 inches. Several farmers allowed their milking groups to selectively graze the top few inches and would then use follow-up groups of nonlactating animals to complete grazing. Pastures were developed by: 1. improving existing pastures (previously continuously grazed), 2. pasturing old hayland and 3. directly establishing pasture from cropland. Graziers reported planting or selecting for specific forage species by frost seeding, managed grazing and use of no-till and conventional drills.
Several graziers were changing the breed composition of their herds. Graziers indicated that colored breeds were better suited for grazing than pure Holsteins. Most graziers fed concentrate-type rations to provide supplemental energy and protein for their milking groups. Supplemental feeding levels among farms in the study varied greatly. According to study participants, MIG appeared to improve overall herd health. Most graziers practiced conventional parasite prevention and control methods. Some graziers didn't feel a need to use any parasite control. Others used unconventional methods of parasite control which enabled them to sell milk labeled as organic.
High tensile and smooth steel wire along with steel and wood posts were commonly used for perimeter and paddock layout fencing. Polywire and plastic or fiberglass posts were used for most temporary and crosswire fencing. Almost all graziers reported using low-impedance fencer chargers. Surface-laid water lines were used to supply water tanks on most farms providing water in the pastures. Quick coupling devices enabled graziers to connect water lines to water tanks quickly and easily.
Many farmers indicated that changes in their business management resulted in the switch to grazing, rather than MIG changing their business management practices. Many farmers also said they market (buy or sell) at least a portion of their commodities through marketing channels for reasons other than price. Graziers used organizations such as grazing clubs and trade journals to gather information for their farms. Respondents addressed operational and goal changes since adopting MIG.