Beyond the barn: Keeping dairy cows outside is good for the outdoors

May 24, 2011

Computer simulation studies by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that a dairy cow living year-round in the great outdoors may leave a markedly smaller ecological hoofprint than its more sheltered sisters.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agricultural engineer Al Rotz led a team that evaluated how different management systems on a typical 250-acre Pennsylvania dairy farm would affect the environment. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this work supports the USDA commitment to promoting . Rotz works at the ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit in University Park, Pa.

For this study, Rotz and his team used the Integrated Farm System Model, a computer program that simulates the major biological and physical processes and interactions of a crop, beef or dairy farm. The scientists collected a range of field data on grazing systems, manure management and their effects on to the environment. Then they used their farm model, supported by the field data, to evaluate the environmental dynamics of four different dairy farms in all types of weather over 25 years.

The model generated estimates for from manure, soil denitrification rates, nitrate leaching losses, and phosphorus losses from field runoff. Estimates for emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide from both primary production and the secondary production of pesticides, fuels, electricity and other resources were also considered.

Compared to high confinement systems, keeping outdoors all year lowered levels of ammonia emission by about 30 percent. The model results also indicated that the total emissions for the greenhouse gases methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide were eight percent lower in a year-round outdoor production system than in a high-production confinement system.

Another plus: When fields formerly used for feed crops were converted to perennial grasslands for grazing, carbon sequestration levels climbed from zero to as high as 3,400 pounds per acre every year. The results also suggested that a well-managed dairy herd kept outdoors year-round left a carbon footprint 6 percent smaller than that of a high-production herd kept in barns.

Explore further: Video: Researchers instruct scientists in giant role tiny fungi play

More information: These findings were published in Forage and Grazinglands in 2009.

Provided by United States Department of Agriculture

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Put more nitrogen into milk, not manure

May 28, 2010

The more efficient dairy farmers are in managing nitrogen, the more milk their cows will produce and the less nitrogen will be wasted in manure and urine, according a study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists ...

Digging deep for ways to curb ammonia emissions

Sep 28, 2010

Dairy farmers can greatly reduce ammonia emissions from their production facilities by injecting liquid manure into crop fields below the soil surface, according to research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cost effective manure management

Apr 05, 2011

Recycling manure is an important practice, especially for large livestock producers. Manure can be used as fertilizer to aid in crop production, aiding livestock producers that grow their own feed crops. While manure does ...

Recommended for you

Canola flowers faster with heat genes

43 minutes ago

(Phys.org) —A problem that has puzzled canola breeders for years has been solved by researchers from The University of Western Australia - and the results could provide a vital breakthrough in understanding ...

Some anti-inflammatory drugs affect more than their targets

44 minutes ago

Researchers have discovered that three commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, alter the activity of enzymes within cell membranes. Their finding suggests that, if taken at higher-than-approved ...

User comments : 0