cows foraging on pasture

Breaking Ground: Female-Identifying Dairy Farmers Focus on Grazing Innovation 

By Katie Spring, Outreach & Content Specialist

In 2023, the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center (NE-DBIC), awarded 24 recipients of the Dairy Farm Innovation & Alternative Management Grant

With a focus on climate and community-forward production strategies, this grant offered funds for farmers to implement projects that enhance the resilience of our Northeast regional food system.   

One of those grantees was the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE), which leveraged grant funds to bring together a group of 7 female-identifying dairy farmers so they may have a greater impact both individually and collectively.  While the grant team supported a group who are currently farming, they hope their results reach more young women who are interested in a future in dairy farming. Led by Silene DeCiucies of CAE in collaboration with Dr. Dayna Locitzer, DVM, the group of farms included North Country Creamery, Chaseholm Farm, and K&O Farm in New York, along with Northwind Farm, Larson Farm, and Rebop Farm in Vermont, and Milkhouse Farm in Maine. 

Through a combination of on-farm visits and virtual meetings, the grass-based farmers focused on innovative grazing strategies, including the installation of Batt-Latches: automatic gate opening mechanisms that reduce the labor time needed to move animals.  As with any new strategy, the farmers experienced both benefits and mixed results. While some farmers found the latches saved time and labor, Dr. Locitzer reported that they also debated the value of Batt-Latches for dairy cows specifically, questioning if they should be forcing dairy cows to eat forages they didn’t want to, how that might impact milk production, and when the Batt-Latches could be a tool for increased dry matter intake versus land management.   

“Part of the innovation aspect of this grant was for the group to brainstorm collectively about how to improve systems on their farms and learn from each other,” Dr. Locitzer said. “This is in an effort to develop a more sustainable farm, one that is economically viable, fulfills the personal needs of the farmer, and is regenerative to the land.” 

Seeding annual and perennial seed mixes into pasture
Seeding annual and perennial seed mixes into pasture

The group also received support on expanding their summer forage production through the planting of diverse annual and perennial seed mixes, as well as funding to purchase soil amendments to improve pasture fertility. A main goal of this grant, improving soil health leads to better establishment of new seedings. In turn, more diverse pastures have greater climate resiliency. 

“This grant provided a great opportunity to leverage DBIC funds to make a real impact on pasture productivity on a great group of farms,” said Silene. “I wish I could bring an opportunity like this to all of my clients because pasture productivity and consumption is such a large driver of farm profitability.” 

This cohort-based setting took a holistic approach to grazing systems, with group discussions including farmer well-being, soil health, pasture season milk production, and cost analysis of project implementation to create a replicable, cost-effective model to support innovation adoption beyond the cohort. The importance of developing resilient systems was highlighted during the 2023 grazing season.  An unusually dry spring, followed by summer flooding and high soil moisture, presented challenges to seeding, grazing, and haying.  Despite these challenges, the majority of farms in the group were able to seed and apply amendments to their fields.   

In February, Dr. Locitzer will host a virtual roundtable with a panel of participating farmers to present findings and observations from the grant.  Information about the roundtable will be added to the Events page when available – stay tuned for details! 

Photo by Ashlee Kleinhammer of North Country Creamery.

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