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MS State University Dairy’s Center Pivot Research

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April 25, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today, we're talking about Mississippi State University dairy farms' center-pivot research. Hello, I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today, we're speaking with Amanda Stone, Mississippi State University Extension dairy specialist.

Amanda, what is this center-pivot irrigation system, and what is Mississippi State's association with this tool?

Amanda Stone: You know, those big metal stands that have a long arm attached to them, and then they irrigate the crops underneath. We purchased the center-pivot for our dairy about a year and a half ago for the pasture operation. We graze about forty cows on this pasture dairy, but we're growing that herd to a hundred over the next two years. With the center-pivot we're able to irrigate a forty acre pasture, and cool our cows. Most center-pivots are used for crop irrigation, but one of the interesting things from a dairy perspective is that there is a mister attachment available, which means that the cows can be sprinkled with water while they are grazing underneath.

Amy Myers: So, why is this topic important to cover in Mississippi?

Amanda Stone: If you've ever walked outside in Mississippi in the summer you'll know that it's hot. Dairy cattle actually get heat stressed at a temperature-humidity index of 68, which is even lower than ours, so they feel hot before we do. In Mississippi, our dairy cattle experience heat stress for more of the year than in other areas of the U.S., making it very important for us to find ways to help alleviate the cows.

Amy Myers: And what are the potential benefits of a center-pivot system?

Amanda Stone: The system can improve forage production and quality, allow grass to be grazed longer, and reduces supplemental feed cost. They also can decrease the risk of a drought, and allow for a backup or a retirement plan for dairy producers because they can be used for crops, and beef cattle can graze underneath of them also. One of the largest perks for Mississippi, though, is that they can reduce heat stress.

Amy Myers: So why is heat stress important for dairy producers to prevent?

Amanda Stone: Dairy producers in any housing system, pasture or not, should be focused on preventing heat stress for their cattle. Heat stress reduces milk production by up to 25%, so if a cow is producing a hundred pounds of milk per day, when the summer hits, she could go down to seventy-five pounds of milk per day, just because of the heat. This obviously affects a dairy producer from an economic standpoint, but heat stress also affects the animal in negative ways, beyond production. Heat- stressed dairy cattle tend to be more focused on cooling themselves than they are on eating, walking, or socializing, and this creates a situation where they might have more of a chance of getting sick, and losing some body fat, causing heat stress to be an animal welfare concern.

Amy Myers: So what research have you been working on?

Amanda Stone: Doctor Josh Maples, assistant professor in ag-economics, myself, and Rebecca Keefer, an undergraduate student in ag-economics, have been working on applied research. We wanted to make sure that this is a positive return on a producer's investment before we start suggesting that they actually implement it on their own farms, so this was the goal of the project, to see if there was a payback for investing in a center-pivot system.

Amy Myers: In this research, what did this involve?

Amanda Stone: We found that a center-pivot will cost approximately $74,000. This number will vary based on each producer's farm, though. The annual fix cost per acre is just under $130. Assuming two cows per acre stocking rate, the annual center-pivot costs, per cow, are only $106. Since we don't yet have adequate data to measure the true economic benefits of center-pivots from a controlled study, we considered what impact leads to profitability. So basically, how much would milk production have to increase or costs have to decrease in order for a center-pivot to be cost-effective.

Amy Myers: What was the take-home message that you concluded?

Amanda Stone: In the example herd that we used, cows were producing 16,500 pounds of milk at $17 per hundred weight. A 4% lower milk loss from heat stress allowed this example producer to make $112 annually from installing a center-pivot. The annual cost per cow was $106, making the total economic benefit per cow $6. This might not seem like a lot, but if you think about multiple cows over multiple years, this would add up very quickly. Also, a 4% reduction might not even be the maximum that a producer could get from this system. We also found that a $106 reduction in feed cost per cow due to an increased forage production would enable this investment to be positive. Keep in mind, though, that these benefits are operation-specific, and that the increased profitability depends on current practices.

Amy Myers: Do you recommend this tool to dairy producers?

Amanda Stone: I recommend that dairy producers look into this option, however it isn't for everyone, and there are other ways that producers can cool cows successfully.

Amy Myers: Could people come out and see the center-pivot in action?

Amanda Stone: We always welcome visitors at that Mississippi State University Bearden Dairy Research Center. Please contact me at, or 662-769-9941.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Amanda Stone, dairy specialist. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.


Department: Animal & Dairy Science

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