Smallholder dairy farms that intensify production risk resource degradation and increased dependence on external feeds and fertilizers due to lack of knowledge and appropriate technology, which undermines farm productivity and profitability. Here we analyze underlying causes at farm level of such process through an integrated analysis at the farm scale by assessing current resource use efficiency for grazing-based dairy farming systems representative of NW Michoacán, Mexico. Whole-farm yield gaps were quantified by comparing current farms to virtual reference farms that have the same farm surface area but improved farm management. Productivity of reference farms was calculated by assuming best crop production practices (as observed within the set of case study farms) and improved herd management. Three family-based (FB) and three semi-specialized (SS) dairy systems spanning three levels of intensification in terms of density of livestock units (LU): extensive (E, 1.2 LU ha-1) were monitored during one year (rainy and dry seasons) to assess productivity and resource use efficiencies. Milk production was generally low and variable (2.2–4.3 Mg milk cow-1 lactation-1, and 0.6–5.8 Mg ha-1) due to high incidence of mastitis, a large fraction of non-productive animals in the herd and inefficient reproduction management. During the dry season, grazing areas provided insufficient metabolizable energy, and milk production was sustained through increased use of concentrates (from 310 g kg-1 DMI in rainy season to 454 g kg-1 DMI-1 in dry season of the herd) and conserved forage. All farms had positive nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium balances, averaging 75 ± 16, 15 ± 6, and 19 ± 6 kg ha-1, respectively. Nutrients in animal excreta were mostly not recycled on the farms but lost to the environment, and nutrient surpluses increased with livestock density. The reference farms exhibited an attainable milk yield of 2.7 Mg ha-1 on the basis of full feed self-supply, and 4.2 Mg ha-1 when the crude protein limitation in the ration was lifted. Compared to the reference farm actual milk yields were on average 78.4% lower on FB farms and 57.9% lower on SS farms. The underlying causes of the farm yield gap differed between farms and were due to sub-optimal areas of forage maize, low forage and forage maize productivity and deficient herd management. We conclude that the farm yield gap analysis was effective in identifying the major shortcomings in management of the dairy farming systems and enabled formulation of change avenues for farm reconfiguration focusing on combined improvements in crop, feed and herd management and recycling of nutrients through manure management.
- recent trends