University of Vermont

Cultivating Healthy Communities

Publications by Jenn Colby, Pasture Program Coordinator


Qingbin Wang, Robert Parsons, Jennifer Colby, Jeffrey Castle. Value-Added Dairy Products from Grass-Based Dairy Farms: A Case Study in Vermont, Journal of Extension, ISSN: 1077-5315.

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On-farm processing of value-added dairy products can be a way for small dairy farms to diversify production and increase revenue. This article examines characteristics of three groups of Vermont farmers who have grass-based dairy farms - those producing value-added dairy products, those interested in such products, and those not interested in such products - and their needs for information and assistance. The three groups differ significantly relative to herd size, engagement in organic operation, land management, self-rated level of business success, and demographic factors, such as education. Topics for which information and assistance are needed include how to make and market value-added dairy products and how to finance such operations.

Colby, J. A Comprehensive Assessment of Factors Affecting Success on Vermont Grass-Based Livestock Farms, University of Vermont Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, Master's Thesis, 2012

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Vermont livestock farmers have used intensively-rotated grazing management systems for over 20 years but there is very limited information on their performance based on comprehensive evaluations. The purpose of this research is to examine how economic, environmental, social, and demographic factors have affected the self-reported success and satisfaction of Vermont grass-based livestock farms and identifies future opportunities and challenges for this unique group of farms

A mail survey was distributed to 1088 Vermont grass-based livestock producers in April 2011, yielding 229 responses, a 21.6% response rate. Survey respondents had an average age of 54, and 31.8% were female. Responding farmers managed a total of 51,528 acres of combined pasture, forest, and crop land, with 26.6% containing certified organic land and 20.1% with certified organic animals. Average farm size was 177 acres including 34% of acreage in perennial pasture and 38% in hay/pasture. For livestock, 32% ofthe farms grazed dairy, 38% beef, and 30% grazed sheep. Other livestock included goats, swine, horses, and poultry. Grazing management was very diverse with 75% of dairy cows were moved to new pasture every 3 days, while less than 44% of sheep and beef received new pasture every 3 days. The responses suggest that 68% reported grazing plants shorter than recommended. Business plans were in place on 28.8% of farms. The total gross income reported by participating farmers was $20.5 million, total net income was$1.6 million, and 61.1 % reported positive net profit. Woody plant species decreased by 5% or more on 57.6% of the farms described. Part-time farmers represented half of the responders, 38.1% of whom plan to farm full time within ten years. Full-time farmers had strong correlation to net profit, but 40.5% of full time farmers plan to decrease farming activities within the next ten years. Over 45% of responders interacted with non-family school age children in 2010 and the reported rates medical conditions were lower than state averages.

Healthy animals, profitability, engaging the next generation, business longevity, and farming lifestyle were statistically positively correlated with self-reported success. Health insurance, decrease in woody plants, total acres owned, and presence of a business plan were positively correlated with satisfaction. Binary logistical regression identified the presence of a business plan, participation in amateur arts, increasing number of tractor hours, and increasing farmer education statistically impacted the predictability of success. The results indicate that the presence of health insurance, full-time farming, presence of a business plan, and soil testing statistically impact the predictability of satisfaction.

The results from this research will be used to guide Vermont agricultural policy by providing essential baseline information about the growing grass-based livestock sector, identify where education efforts need to be focused, and identify the challenges to adoption of more conservation based grazing management practices. Results will be shared with groups including NRCS, FSA, UVM Extension, and NOFA to improve educational programming, develop further investigation into questions revealed through the research process, and serve as a baseline for future comparison of grazing program return on investment.

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Last modified August 26 2016 12:59 PM