Linking dollars to dairy grazing decisionsby Troy Bishopp

TULLY, NY – Spring ushers in warmer weather, blooming flowers and dairy animals getting their first taste of pasture. This bite of grass is for many a way to produce milk for less cost, but only if you get your head around financial and grazing planning.

In its kick-off event, the Cornell Cooperative Extension South Central New York Dairy and Field Crops Team hosted a recent workshop titled “Connecting the Dots: Linking Dollars to Dairy Grazing Decisions.” The inaugural regional Dairy Grazing Discussion Group program, hosted by Venture Farms in Tully, NY, was attended by 23 graziers representing 18 grazing dairies and five other (non-dairy) grazing farms, County Soil and Water Conservation District staff, CCE educators and other agency professionals. The organic and conventional dairy operation manages over 1,685 dairy cows and 5,366 crop acres.

CCE’s Farm Business Management number-crunching professional, Mary Kate Wheeler, introduced the strategies and economics of dairy grazing with help from a YouTube video from Dr. Larry Tranel, Iowa State University Extension dairy specialist ( She introduced the idea of the “Millionaire Model Dairy Farm,” where they use hybrid grazing systems that focus on grazing management, labor efficient milking facilities, cross breeding, financial analysis and cow comfort to achieve a high profit margin. Wheeler created some financial and management scenarios and demonstrated how to determine grazing costs of production using the organization’s Pasture Cost Calculator tool.

An interactive discussion about grazing planning using a huge grazing chart was rolled out by Madison County SWCD and Upper Susquehanna Coalition’s “grass whisperer,” this article’s author, covering how to use a grazing chart to plan proactively, adapt the plan to changing conditions and personal goals and track management decisions by measuring forage production weekly and monitoring recovery periods.

The discussion group responded that they are likely to use the Pasture Cost Calculator and grazing chart in 2020. The goal of the program by Extension personnel is to follow up with individual producers to assist them in implementing these tools on their farms that will continue throughout 2020.

The meeting was supported by a $7,500 Dairy Advancement Program (DAP) grant, which will continue to fund additional Dairy Grazing Discussion Group activities throughout the year. If you’re interested in being a part of the group, contact Mary Kate Wheeler at or Betsy Hicks, area dairy specialist, at 607.391.2660 ext. 415.