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PATS Research ReportNo. 8

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Growing numbers of Wisconsin dairy farmers have reported success using management intensive rotational grazing (MIRG) techniques that rely on pastures as the primary source of forage for their milking herds. The Program on Agricultural Technology Studies (PATS) has been tracking the use and performance of MIRG systems in Wisconsin since the early 1990s through periodic, large-scale, random sample surveys and on-farm interviews with Wisconsin farmers. Utilizing recent results from the PATS 1997 and 1999 Wisconsin Dairy Farm Polls, this report provides an important update to previous PATS reports. In our surveys, the dairy farmers who report utilizing pastures for forage are a diverse group. Grazing practices ranged from moving livestock several times a day through an extensive network of improved pasture paddocks to grazing the same large field all summer long. For purposes of maintaining consistency, in analyzing our data we defined MIRG as a system in which dairy farmers rely on pastures for at least part of the forage ration of their milking cows and move these cows to fresh pastures at least once a week. Farms that utilized pastures to obtain forage for their milking cows, but did not rotate their cows to a fresh pasture at least once a week, were classified as non-intensive grazing operations. Farm operations that did not rely on pasture for any part of their forage ration were categorized as confinement systems. On our 1999 survey, 22 percent of farmers reported using MIRG systems, 22 percent used pastures non-intensively, and 56 percent used full confinement systems.