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Free Content Pasture-Based and Confinement Dairy Farming in the United States: An Assessment

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Dairy farm numbers in the United States have declined 39 percent over the last decade, particularly smaller farms. The predominant production system is Holstein cows housed year round and fed a total mixed ration based on stored forages. However, there is great variation in herd size within and between regions. There is evidence of higher profit margins per cow and per unit of milk sold for pasture-based farms. Most comparative data are from north central and northeastern states but limited data for other humid regions also suggests higher profits for pasture based systems. The data are from smaller farms and in the short run this financial advantage may enhance survival prospects relative to similarly sized confinement farms. However, the total income potential for any small dairy farm seems limited. The data also show wide variation in financial performance among farms of a similar type, both confinement and pasture based. Data on regional competitiveness and economies of size for pasture-based dairies is sparse.

Four types of data are presented and evaluated, but, from the perspective of a farm manager or investor, the data are incomplete. Recommendations for improvements in data collection and reporting include standardisation of methodology, expanding the data collected to include more information on farm resources and management practices, and, where sample size permits, routine statistical analysis.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-02-01

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