University of Vermont

Improving the Viability of Dairy Farms Through Advanced Forage Selection and Management UVM Dairy Center of Excellence Program
Improving the Viability of Dairy Farms Through Advanced Forage Selection and Management

Co-Principle Investigators
Sid Bosworth, Associate Extension Professor, Plant and Soil Science Dept.
Heather Darby
, Extension Associate Professor, UVM Extension, St. Albans

Duration: 2011 - 2015

Over the last several years conventional dairy farms have been struggling to stay afloat because of severely depressed milk prices and increasing input costs. Dairy producers are interested in feeding high forage rations to improve herd health and reduce feed costs. The mission of the Dairy Center of Excellence (DCE) is to create research partnerships between UVM and local farms, with the goal of increasing the economic viability of Vermont agriculture. This project proposes to focus on several areas outlined by the DCE, USDA NIFA as well as local farms that will increase farm viability through animal nutrition and health maintenance, and forage research. The long term goal of this project is to improve the economic sustainability of Vermont dairy producers by reducing their reliance on or enhancing their utilization of purchased concentrates accomplished through the selection and production of genetically superior forage germplasm.


Farm grown forages are the backbone of all Vermont dairy farms and  perennial cool season grasses grow exceptionally well in our climate.  Genetic variation among forage species and varietal selection within a specie has been shown to impact fiber content of feed   Fiber digestibility, a relatively new means to measure quality, has not been evaluated on forage material extensively (Hoffman, 2003). This quality trait alone may be limiting our dairy producers in the amount of forage that can be fed (Oba, 1999). Many research projects have documented that improved fiber digestibility can increase milk production and lower the amount of concentrate fed. Species variation in NDF and digestible NDF was documented in a Vermont study conducted in 2002 and 2003 evaluating changes in fiber content of cool season grasses during the first growth (Bosworth et. al., 2005). Across two locations and two years, we generally found orchardgrass to have higher digestible NDF as compared to reed canarygrass or timothy even though total NDF was typically higher for the orchardgrass since it matures more rapidly than the other grasses.   However, there have been no studies under Vermont conditions to evaluate variation in fiber content and digestibility of the Lolium / Festuca group of grasses.


  • Determine genetic differences in fiber content and digestibility of five cool season grass species managed for high quality.
  • Evaluate fiber content and fiber digestibility variation from harvest timing and environment.
  • Evaluate prediction models for better determining optimum harvest strategies.  


A field study at two locations was planted in August 2011  at the Borderview Farm in Alburgh (Partner Farm through the DCE), and UVM Miller Farm in South Burlington. The experimental design was be a nested design with five replications. Main effect (whole plot) treatments include five grass species

       Late-maturing orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata)

       Tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix)

       Festulolium  (Lolium X Schedonorus)

       Meadow fescue (Schedonorus pratensis)

       Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne)

Sub treatments include five cultivars for each grass specie, randomly arranged within each whole plot. Cultivar selection was based on recommendations from grass breeding programs at Cornell and the University Of Wisconsin as well as from commercial grass breeders.   

Plots were harvested  four times in 2012 and three times 2013 under hay management using a Carter small plot harvester.  Measurements include sward height, dry matter yield and forage quality (NDF, NDFd, ADF, CP).   Prior to each hay harvest, two quadrat samples were collected from each plot when the grasses reached approximately 10 inches in height.   These were used to determine the rate of change in quality as each grass developed.  Diseases were rated one to two times per year.  



Click here for research report.


Bosworth, S.C., F.R. Jimenez and D. Undersander. 2005. Forage quality of cool-season grass monocultures and binary grass-alfalfa mixtures. Agronomy Abstracts, American Society of Agronomy (2005 Madison, WI)

Hoffman, P. C. 2003. New developments in analytical evaluation of total mixed rations. In: Proc. Pacific NW Animal Nutrition Conference, Vancouver, B.C., Canada. p 120-133.

Oba, M and M.S. Allen. 1999. Evaluation of the important of the digestibility of neutral detergent fiber from forage: Effects on dry matter intake and milk yield of dairy cows. J Dairy Sci. 82:589.


The Mission of the Dairy Center of Excellence is to create research partnerships between UVM scientists and local private farms with the overriding goal of increasing the economic viability of Vermont agriculture. For more information, go to

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Last modified January 31 2018 06:43 PM

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