Dairy Excel: Return to grazing for dairies of future?

I had the privilege to attend a presentation given by Tom Kriegl of the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability at the American Forage and Grassland Council Annual Meeting last month.

The accompanying table summarizes his findings on the return to grazing dairy cattle.

Returns compared. The first table compares the return to grazing vs. confinement herds in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin and New York for 2002 only.

The first line labeled “# of Farms” gives the number of farms from which records were summarized in 2002.

The second line labeled “Ave. Herd #” gives the average number of cows for herds in each column.

The third line labeled “Lb. milk /Cow” gives the average production per cow for each line.

Data for Minnesota was not available, thus the “NA” in those columns.

The last three lines give dollar figures for return to family labor, management and invested capital, with the line labeled “CWT” giving return per hundredweight of milk marketed.

Grazing returns better. The next to last line gives return per milking cow in the herd and the last line gives the return for the entire milking herd. One point that can be made from the first table is that even with much lower aggregate farm sales of milk, lower production per cow and smaller herds, grazing herds fared better than confinement herds in return per hundredweight of milk sold and return per cow.

Family returns impressive. But what about family return? In Minnesota families with confinement herds had higher average total return, but with an average herd size more than twice the size of the average grazing herd.

In New York average family total return was essentially the same, but the average confinement herd was nearly six times the size of the average New York grazing herd.

In Wisconsin the average return from confinement herds was less than for grazing herds, even with a herd size nearly twice that of the average grazing herd.

The network data also compared smaller grazing herds with fewer than 100 cows to larger herds grazing more than 100 cows.

The average herd size in the large grazing herds turned out to be nearly three times that of the smaller herds. The families with larger herds made more money, returning $40,000 in round figures as compared with the nearly $30,000 for the families grazing smaller herds.

Comparative production. However, the smaller herds made more money per cow and per hundredweight of milk produced. It is refreshing to see that smaller grazing herds return more per cow and more per hundredweight produced.

More expense = lower return. It appears that more borrowed capital and more hired labor per cow reduced the return per unit for larger grazing herds. It is also refreshing to see income from milking a “one family” sized herd of cows between $30,000 and $40,000, without the family having to hire outside labor, borrow lots of money for expansion or work off the farm. Maybe grazing dairies are the dairies of the future.

(The author, an OSU Extension ag agent in Lorain County, is a member of OSU’s Dairy Excel team. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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