Learn what grasslands can do for you

Grasslands have the power to create profitable farms, healthy environments, and diverse communities.

In Wisconsin, 41% of milk produced comes from the largest 5% of farmers with herds averaging 1,172 confined dairy cows. These dairy cows spend their entire life on concrete and average just two productive years in the herd they are culled.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Cattle, sheep and goats are ruminants and are able to digest grass and clover and turn them into high quality milk and meat. They can live entirely on perennial pastures and hay with no grain. And these perennial pastures can deliver a suite of ecosystem services like improved water quality, carbon storage all while providing high quality, tasty grass-fed meat and dairy. Learn more about grasslands and how you can be part of the solution.

Well-managed grasslands reduce feed, machinery, and veterinary costs while providing for people and caring for the land.

The current agricultural system in the Upper Midwest is built on annual cropping systems to support dairy and beef production. Recent history has shown that this system has driven scores of family farms out of business. Growing larger and consolidating seems to be the only way to stay in business. But this does not have to be the case.

Managed grazing of grasslands is working for many producers in the Upper Midwest and beyond. Harvesting high quality forage from perennial grasslands is one of the cheapest ways to feed cows, and can be an effective way of reducing feed costs, one of the largest expenses on a farm. Cows feeding on grass stimulate higher forage productivity and nutrients are returned to the grassland in their excreta avoiding costly and risky manure management. Grass-fed systems also require less equipment and result in improved health outcomes for animals. Moreover, grass-fed products have desirable nutritional qualities and are under high demand by consumers. Well-managed grass-based systems are profitable now!

Learn more about how managed grazing works and the benefits of grass-fed products for nutrition in this factsheet created with Sauk County Conservation Planning and Zoning:

Aerial photo of an open grass field. Photo credit Ryan Finn
Photo By Finn Ryan

Well-managed grasslands improve water quality, reduce flooding, help stabilize the climate, and promote biodiversity.

The deep, fibrous roots of perennial grasslands hold and build soils, help soak up water before it floods our streams, and capture and filter nutrients, keeping them out of our drinking water and the atmosphere. These are features that we lost by converting perennial grasslands to annual cropping systems.

Managed well, perennial grasslands can support wildlife such as birds, pollinators, and other organisms that make a home in our diverse countryside. We must use the best available knowledge, science, and practices that can restore the multiple benefits that perennial grasslands have in the environment, while at the same time providing high quality, abundant forage to feed our animals on pasture.

To learn more about pasture systems and their potential to sequester carbon, scavenge water and nutrients, and build soil health in these factsheets created in tandem with Green Lands Blue Waters and UW-Madison College of Agricultural & Life Sciences:

Photo by Michael Long

Well-managed grasslands can help ensure the farming way of life is both profitable and productive for years to come.

The family farm has been a way of life in the upper Midwest since the late 1800s, but “economies of scale” and “efficient modernization” have driven consolidation of farming resulting in massive losses of family farms and the communities in which they are embedded. As more people leave the countryside and move to cities, we lose our cultural connections to agriculture, the rural landscape, and some of our history. Grazing livestock on grassland offers a relatively low-cost opportunity for new farmers to stay or join rural communities, improving agriculture by diversifying the landscape, re-vitalizing rural communities, and connecting them to eaters from cities and suburbs. Moreover, the profitability of these systems is more stable and resilient to price and weather shocks, making them an attractive, less risky farming option.

Farmers market
Photo by David Hartsell