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Outreach and Education Opportunities at the KBS Pasture-Robotic Milking Dairy

Mat Haan
MSU Kellogg Biological Station

In the summer of 2009 the Michigan State University W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) Dairy began the transition to a pasture-based dairy facility utilizing robotic milking system. The transition to this new state-of-the-art facility was made possible with a $3.5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and additional support from MSU Extension, Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, and the MSU Office of the Provost and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Michigan Dairy Review, July 2009 or online).

A New Center
As part of the project, KBS also founded the Pasture Dairy Research and Education Center with the mission to support research, education, and outreach programs focusing on the needs of Michigan dairies in the areas of animal health and welfare, dairy and pasture management, environmental quality, processing, and marketing of dairy products. In the October 2009 issue of the Michigan Dairy Review (or online at www.msu.edu/user.mdr/vol14no4/comfort.html) Dr. Janice Siegford, Department of Animal Science, reported on the first research at the new dairy facility.

Past, On-going & Future Programs
Several education and outreach programs have either already occurred, are underway, or are being planned at KBS. In August the Southwest Michigan and Central Michigan grazing groups participated in a pasture walk at the dairy to learn about the facilities, pasture management, and research being conducted. Two dairy workshops are scheduled at KBS this winter, the first was Value Added Dairy Marketing (December 15, 2009) and a second will be Nutrient Management for Small and Mid-Sized Dairies (February 2, 2010). In addition to pasture walks and workshops KBS has initiated a Cooperator Farmer Contract, CFC, program to provide financial support to dairy farmers for on-farm, farmer-driven research and demonstration projects.

The CFC program was developed to help meet the education needs of pasture-based dairy producers by supporting farmers that wish to conduct applied research and demonstration projects on their own farm. During the summer 2009 the Pasture Dairy Research and Education Center funded projects on three dairy farms in Michigan. Participating farmers received up to $3,000 to help address questions about improving the productivity of their pastures or the management of their dairy. Participants in the CFP in 2009 were Doug Covert, Seth Rondeau, and Howard Straub.

Doug Covert, Hudson, Michigan, wanted to determine which forage species, varieties, and mixes performed best under the soil, climatic, and management conditions on his farm. Doug planted 21 grazing plots in his pasture and evaluated the plots for animal preference, drought tolerance, forage yield, and milk production on a 10-point scale. Forage plots included single species of cool-season and warm-season grasses, legumes, and, mixes of these species. Cattle preferred plots containing Timothy grass over non-Timothy plots; however, these plots were lower yielding and appeared to be less drought tolerant. Orchardgrass and perennial ryegrass plots performed similarly and received higher scores for drought tolerance and yield than did plots not containing these species. Doug held a pasture walk on his farm in September to share the findings from his grazing plots with other farmers. In 2010 Doug will frost seed legumes into his grass plots and continue monitoring the plots.

Seth Rondeau, Spruce, Michigan, was interested in which forage species would allow for good milk production with little or no grain supplementation. Seth’s pastures included sorghum-sudangrass, triticale/ryegrass, oats/field peas/ turnips, and corn. The oat/field pea/turnip pastures were planted in April and grazed early in the season. A cool and wet spring delayed planting of sorghum-sudangrass and corn, possibly causing a reduction in yield. Both sorghum-sudangrass and corn pastures were subdivided with temporary fence and strip grazed. Late planting and cool wet conditions decreased ear formation in the corn pasture, this pasture was grazed in late September (see photo, page 12). Even with the poor growing conditions Seth was satisfied with the performance of the different pasture mixes and shared his experience during a pasture walk at his farm.

Howard Straub, St. Johns, Michigan, evaluated how feeding cracked corn and soy hulls to grazing dairy cows affected milk production and economics. Howard compared milk production and economic data from 2009 to historic yield and economic returns at his dairy. Providing supplemental energy in the ration should increase milk yield but Howard is more interested in knowing if the increased milk yield pays for the additional purchased feed. Data from this project is being analyzed and will be posted here along with information on the other two projects.

In 2010 the CFP will continue and be expanded to include funding two or three projects in each of two areas 1) dairy and pasture management and 2) dairy processing and marketing. Michigan dairy farmers using pasture as part of their management system are eligible to submit proposals for projects. Projects related to pasture fertility, forage variety selection, grazing management, supplemental feeding of dairy cows on pasture, and similar topics will be considered. Michigan dairy farmers and other entrepreneurs interested in developing or expanding an on-farm dairy processing facility or developing alternative marketing strategies for dairy products may apply for the Dairy Processing and Marketing program.

How To Apply
Project proposals should include name and contact information for project participants, a 1 to 2-page description of the project, and a project budget. The project description should include why the project is important, what will be done, who will benefit, and what the final product (pasture walk, project report, etc.) will be. The deadline for submitting proposals is January 31, 2010.

Additional information on submitting a proposal to the CFC program and other outreach activates at the KBS dairy can be found at the KBS web site or by calling Mat Haan at (269-671-2360, or emailing him, haanm@msu.edu.




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