This project represents a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary integrated research effort on dairy production systems. Livestock farms in the Northeast are arriving at a fork in the road of their future. One path is toward larger, capital-intensive, confinement feeding systems. Another path is toward a lower-input, lower-cost production system that is often based on the use of rotational grazing . However, upon reaching this juncture, an increasing number of small and medium-sized farms are exiting the industry.

This is partly due to:

   1. The perception that rotational grazing cannot provide a viable livelihood
   2. Many farmers do not have the initial capital required to transition to a large confinement production system. The steady decline of small and medium-sized farms and the shift in the livestock industry toward larger confinement production systems is having a profound impact on rural communities, the economy and the environment throughout the Northeast.

Potential Solution

The use of well-managed pasture (i.e. rotational grazing) has the potential to increase the financial viability of small- and medium-sized farms by reducing fixed and operating costs of production. Additionally, rotational grazing has the potential to improve environmental quality, animal and food system health, and rural communities. However, rotational grazing continues to be used by a relatively small percentage of Northeastern dairy farms.

What is Rotational Grazing?

Rotational Grazing is an alternative forage production strategy that can be used to reduce livestock production costs. It is a system in which the animals graze one section (paddock) of a larger pasture for a short period of time, often 12 or 24 hours. The primary goal of rotational grazing is to maximize the amount of nutrients available to livestock from pasture forage. By creating a system of paddocks, the animals have access to a sufficient amount of high-quality forage during their stay in any given paddock.

The animals are not allowed back in the grazed paddock until it has regrown to the optimal stage for nutrient yield. Rotational grazing can reduce the costs for feed, fuel, fertilizer, and other operating costs. Farms using rotational grazing can also have lower fixed costs (i.e. investment costs).

This project was implemented by Winrock International in conjunction with the University of Vermont and was supported by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, grant number 2006-55618-17016. Numerous agencies and organizations throughout the Northeast have participated as part of the project’s stakeholder network.