Management intensive grazing (MIG) is a feeding system in which farmers rely on pasture as the primary feed source during the grazing months. A recent study in Wisconsin, the Dairy State, found that 23% of the dairy farmers were using MIG. On average, grazers farmed 245 acres (99 ha) compared with 426 acres (172 ha) for conventional farms. Wisconsin grazers had higher net farm incomes than large modern confinement dairy because of lower input costs, for example, less machinery and fertilizer costs.
In management intensive grazing, producers subdivide their pasture area into paddocks using a combination of portable interior and permanent perimeter fencing. Each paddock has a separate water supply. Cattle and pastures are carefully managed to provide for optimal utilization of the growing grass.
Roger Beach is a Minnesota dairy farmer who switched from confinement feeding of dairy cattle to MIG in the early 1990s. Before switching, he had grown about 120 acres (49 ha) of corn harvested for silage, 100 acres (40 ha) of alfalfa hay, and 50 acres (20 ha) of oat. Crops were harvested and fed to milking animals year-round, with manure being hauled to the field. Only nonmilking cattle were grazed on pasture. Beach’s confinement feeding operation was unprofitable because of the high input costs associated with equipment, pesticides, and fertilizer.
In Beach’s system, most of the farm has been converted to permanent pastures using a mixture of white clover, red clover, smooth bromegrass, orchardgrass, and timothy. Grazing is typically initiated in early May and continues until October or November. Milking cows are moved to a fresh paddock every 12 hours. He uses portable electric fencing to control the amount of pasture available to animals. During most of the grazing season, cattle graze the pasture to a 3- to 4-inch (8–10 cm) height and the pasture is rested for 25 to 30 days.
He also uses seasonal milking for most of his herd. Seasonal milking is a dairy feeding system that coordinates the milk production of the herd with the availability of pasture. Most of the herd produces no milk during the winter months. This minimizes the need for stored hay for winter feeding.
Adapted from Chapter 6, “Grazinglands, Forages, and Livestock in Humid Regions” by Craig C. Sheaffer, Lynn E. Sollenberger, Marvin H. Hall, Charles P. West, and David B. Hannaway in the book, Grassland: Quietness and Strength for a New American Agriculture.
The book was edited by Walter F. Wedin, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota and Emeritus Professor in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University; and Steven L. Fales, Professor of Agronomy at Iowa State University.
See also Taylor, J. and J. Foltz. 2006. Grazing in the dairy state. Available at http://www.cias.wisc.edu/crops-and-livestock/grazing-in-the-dairy-state/. Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison.
Also Stefferud, A. (ed.) Grass: The 1948 yearbook of agriculture. U.S. Gov. Print. Office, Washington, DC.
Photo by David Hansen, University of Minnesota.