Characterisation of smallholding dairy farms in southern Brazil

Lucas F. Balcão, Cibele Longo, João H.C. Costa, Cintia Uller-Gómez, Luiz C.P.Mac Hado Filho, Maria J. Hötzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Smallholder dairy farmers that are responsible for 90% of the milk produced in Santa Catarina State, in southern Brazil, transitioned in recent decades from milk production for self-consumption to commercial dairying. The objective of this study was to identify groups sharing common characteristics, potentials and limitations and compare their main management practices, milk production and milk quality. We collected data from 124 farms distributed in 24 municipalities, using semi-structured interviews, inspection of the housing and milking environment, and live observations during one complete milking. Multivariate analyses revealed three groups of farmers: 'Semi-Intensive' (n = 51), 'Pasture-Based' (n = 50), and 'Extensive' (n = 23). Group differences included land and herd size (both larger in Semi-Intensive, P < 0.002); feeding management of dairy cows (e.g. greater use of pasture improvement techniques in Extensive and Pasture-Based, and more efficient rotational grazing management in Pasture-Based, P < 0.04); use of external inputs (e.g. lower use of concentrate and silage in Pasture-Based, P < 0.001); milking infrastructure and hygiene practices (better in Semi-Intensive, P < 0.04), and milk productivity (greater in Semi-Intensive, P < 0.001). The Extensive group conserves several features of the subsistence, traditional mode of milk production, and makes inefficient use of costly feeding practices, which threatens its sustainability. The two other groups of farms took different, almost opposite directions to deal with the limitations in farm area: the Semi-Intensive group have adopted an entrepreneurial farming style and the Pasture-Based, a more agroecological path. These results highlight the need to develop specific strategies and policies to help these different types of producers to coexist in the dairy production chain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)735-745
Number of pages11
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© CSIRO 2017.


  • dairy cow
  • family farming
  • milk
  • pasture
  • sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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