University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Research Project

Tools for grass farmers to monitor grazing behavior and forage utilization in real time

Current methods to estimate forage intakes for grazing cattle on pasture-based dairy farms, including organic farms, are labor intensive and inaccurate. They generally do not provide sufficient information to allow producers to make real-time estimates of intakes and respond rapidly to optimize productivity and profitability. Electronic rising plate meters, for example, are expensive and difficult to use, requiring constant recalibration for changing forage composition. As a result, these tools have not received widespread acceptance among pasture-based dairy farmers. Our study is intended to improve on these methods and test the role of forage diversity in pasture productivity, rumen activity, and milk composition.

Reliably estimating optimum forage intakes can help grass-based dairy farmers improve productivity, reduce costs, and increase net farm income. Improved forage utilization and pasture management practices can also affect soil conservation, water quality, and increase ecological services of grass-based livestock production systems. Our project addresses two key themes in sustainable agriculture, as outlined by Northeast SARE outcomes: we will identify and demonstrate methods for grass-based livestock farmers to 1) improve productivity, reduce costs, and increase net farm income; and 2) conserve soil, improve water quality, and protect natural resources. We will also demonstrate how real-time monitoring of grazing behavior and forage intakes allows farmers to optimize forage utilization, rumen activity, and milk composition. By optimizing these production parameters, pasture-based dairy farmers may simultaneously produce healthier milk products for human consumption, advance the health and well-being of their cattle, and reduce operational costs and environmental impacts. .

Co-Principal Investigators:

  • Juan P. Alvez, Pasture Program Technical Coordinator, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture
  • John Barlow, Assistant Professor, Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Jana Kraft, Assistant Professor, Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
  • Joe Roman, Research Assistant Professor, Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources
    Fellow, Gund Institute for Ecological Economics

  • Funder


    For more information:

    Juan Alvez, UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture(802) 656-6116

    Last modified May 06 2014 11:13 AM