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October 2007

New Opportunities at the Kellogg Biological Station

Karen Plaut
Dept. of Animal Science

With the aid of a 3-year $3.5 million development grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Michigan State University will establish a pasture-based dairy facility at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Hickory Corners and develop supply chains and markets for pasture-based dairy products. The dairy facility will be a focal point for research, education and outreach programs that provide farmers with information on dairy management options for moderate to smaller-sized operations that focus on sustainability from production through consumption.

The program will support productive food and farming systems by engaging diverse food system participants – from those who produce, process and market foods to those who consume them. The initiative will help determine best practices for raising animals on pasture and also work to develop an improved supply chain – processing, distribution and marketing programs – for pasture-raised animals. The grant will provide partial funding to hire two new faculty members in the areas of animal grazing ecology and human ecology in rural development and will provide seed funding for research, outreach and education programs focused on ecological and environmental aspects of animal production, rural community development, and the processing, distribution and marketing of pasture-based dairy products.

“This program will provide a unique opportunity to evaluate how an animal production system operates in the context of other aspects of the landscape – agricultural, managed and natural,” said Kay Gross, director of the Kellogg Biological Station. “KBS is well suited for this type of work because of the strong program in ecology and sustainable row-crop agriculture that we have here.”

The following is an outline of the research focus areas that are proposed for the KBS dairy system.

Proposed Research

Proposed Research Focus Areas and Potential Research Questions for the Pasture-based Dairy at the Kellogg Biological Station include the following.
Pasture production: What combinations of forage species and grazing practices influence the quality and composition of pastures? How does water/irrigation/precipitation influence sustainability of pasture production? Nutrient losses? Animal production? How do other species (weeds, birds, mammals, insects, microbes, etc.) respond to variation in grazing practices and pasture composition?
Nutrient management/cycling in grazed pastures: How are nutrients used throughout the whole system by animals fed pasture and grain and how does it impact the living field lab and long term ecological research site at KBS? How are other non-nutrient components such as carbon dioxide and ammonia released in the system?
Animal health and welfare: How does a grazing system affect the longevity, health and behavior of animals? Do grazing systems influence the transmission of diseases (epizootic and other)? What traits (genetic) influence the production, health and welfare of animals in grazed systems?
Economic and social: How does food quality (milk, cheese, and other) change when animals are raised under different systems? What ecosystem services (indirect and direct) are provided by a pasture-based dairy system? What supply chains are affected (or will affect) the marketing of pasture-based dairy products?

Future Changes

The conventional dairy operation currently operated at KBS will be converted to a pasture-based program over the next 2 years. A 120-cow milking herd will be maintained in an intensively managed rotational grazing system. The program will also utilize a robotic milking system. This will allow us to provide research about this technology and how it fits into the rural landscape. In addition, as the first robotic milking system in Michigan, it will also allow MSU to demonstrate this technology for farmers in Michigan as an alternative milking strategy for the future.

The development of a pasture-based dairy at KBS allows us to expand our portfolio of production alternatives for farmers and to develop new research and outreach programs that fit with interests and needs of diverse farm stakeholders. In addition to the development of a pasturing program at KBS, the initiative will support connections to farm-based and high school-based satellite sites across Michigan focusing on animal production. Education and outreach programs will extend to MSU undergraduate and veterinary medicine curricula, as well as to primary and secondary school programs, farmers, consumers and public officials.





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