Economic and environmental impact of four levels of concentrate supplementation in grazing dairy herds

K. J. Soder, C. A. Rotz

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48 Scopus citations


Low-cost, pasture-based forage systems are a viable management alternative for small to moderately sized dairy farms in the Northeast United States. A whole farm analysis was conducted to evaluate the potential long-term environmental impact and economic benefit of varying the level of concentrate supplementation on seasonal grazing dairies. A representative dairy farm was simulated with various production strategies over 25 yr of historical Pennsylvania weather using the Dairy Forage System Model. A representative grazing farm (81 ha) was simulated with four levels of daily concentrate supplementation: 1) no supplement, 2) 3 kg of DM/cow in early lactation, 3) 6 kg of DM/cow in early lactation, and 4) 9 kg of DM/cow in early lactation fed daily to the lactating cows to meet annual milk production levels of 5000, 6068, 6968, and 7700 kg/cow, respectively. These farm systems were then compared to an alfalfa-and corn-based confinement system on the same land base where total mixed rations were fed to maintain an annual milk production level of 9000 kg/cow. The five systems were simulated for three scenarios. In the first, total milk sold per farm (625,000 kg) was similar across all systems. In the second, cow numbers were held constant across all systems (100 mature cows), and total milk sold per farm varied. In the third, stocking rate was set so that forage consumed equaled forage production on the farm. Profitability increased as supplementation level increased in the grazing systems, but at a decreasing rate with each successive level of supplementation. At higher levels of supplementation, the grazing dairy farms showed greater profitability than the confinement systems. Economic risk or year-to-year variation also decreased as concentrate supplementation level increased. The grazing systems showed an environmental benefit compared with the confinement systems by decreasing nitrogen leaching losses. Concentrate supplementation of grazing lactating dairy cows provided an increase in profitability and a mixed impact on nutrient balance of the farm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2560-2572
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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