Sarah Flack, Sarah Flack Consulting
Adapted with permission from: Mendenhall, K. (ed.) 2009. The organic dairy handbook: a comprehensive guide for the transition and beyond. Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc., Cobleskill, NY. (Available online at: http://www.nofany.org/organic-farming/technical-assistance/organic-dairy, verified 18 July 2012).
An organic dairy farm with a well-designed and properly managed grazing system has many advantages. These include higher feed quality, lower feed costs, improved animal health, excellent animal welfare, and the ability to meet consumer expectations. High quality pasture is particularly important during the twelve month dairy herd transition period, a time when the herd must be fed 100% organic and/or farm-raised third year transitional feed while marketing milk at conventional price.
A well-managed grazing system provides low cost, good quality, high protein feed. This is particularly helpful for organic and transitioning dairy farmers, for whom grain costs are high and increasing. In addition, cows that graze lush pasture harvest their own feed while spreading manure in the process, two additional cost saving measures that add profitability to the grazing system.
Good grazing management can accomplish the following:
Over time, a well-managed pasture will improve in both quality and yield. Good management can convert weedy or brushy pastures, where animals have to search to find good quality forage, into highly productive pastures that can feed more animals high quality forage, produced and harvested at lower cost. This will also reduce the need to renovate and reseed pastures by encouraging the growth of more productive and palatable perennial pasture plants.
Livestock whose diet is mostly or all pasture produce meat and milk (or more specifically the fats in the meat and milk) that may contain different amounts and types of nutrients than grain-fed livestock. These nutrients can include beta-carotene, vitamins A, E and D, omega-3 fatty acids, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). In addition to potential nutritional differences, many consumers are also attracted to some of the other benefits of grass farming including improved animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
The following can be used as guidelines for good grazing management.
The same grazing principals apply to grazing youngstock but there are some special considerations to keep in mind, as follows.
This article is part of a series discussing pasture management on organic dairy farms. For more information, see the following articles.
This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.