New tool helps dairy farmers explore the economics of grazing dairy heifers

Two black and white cows looking directly at the camera with long green grass in the foreground

To graze or not to graze? The newly debuted Heifer Grazing Compass is a spreadsheet tool designed to help farmers predict and understand the cash flow and long-term financial outcomes associated with raising heifers on pasture. Developed by the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS) and Grassland 2.0, the Heifer Grazing Compass compares the total economic implications of a farmer’s existing system with a potential pasture-based heifer raising system.

“This compass is a ‘what if?’ decision support tool for service providers assisting heifer-focused pasture conversions, dairy farmers, or any farmers interested in starting a dairy heifer enterprise,” says Connor Mulholland of UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Mulholland is one of the tool’s creators along with John Hendrickson of UW-Madison CIAS, beef farmer Jim Munsch, and Bradford Barham with the UW-Madison Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics.

The cost of herd replacements in a dairy operation is significant,” says Munsch. “As operators seek ways to lower this cost, one effective option is using managed grazing as a feed source during the grazing season. The Heifer Grazing Compass is used to quantify these savings in dollars and labor hours for a producer’s own land and animals. Using the tool you can easily see that the cost of managed grazing is nearly 3-fold less expensive than confinement during the grazing season. It might challenge how some folks think of dairy heifer economics.”

The Heifer Grazing Compass developers are further collaborating on a Beef Grazing Compass and a Pasture Management Compass to be released this summer. The Pasture Management Compass will be useful for any beef or dairy enterprises, as well as sheep and goat operations.