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Electrical Consumption on Midwestern Dairy Farms in the United States and Agrivoltaics to Shade Cows in a Pasture-Based Dairy System

The objectives of the thesis were to investigate electrical energy use on dairy farms located in west central Minnesota and to evaluate the effects of shade use by cattle from solar photovoltaic systems. As the push for sustainable food production from consumers continues to grow, food industries and processors are looking for ways they can be more marketable to consumers. Not only do food industries investigate sustainable practices within their own systems, they also push their suppliers to explore ways to lower their farms’ carbon footprints. Measurements of baseline fossil fuel consumption within dairy production systems are scarce. Therefore, there is a need to discern where and how fossil fuel-derived energy is being used within dairy production systems. Baseline energy use data collection is the first step in addressing the demand for a reduced carbon footprint within dairy production systems. Energy use on five Midwest dairy farms was evaluated from July 2018 to December 2019. Through in-depth monitoring of electricity-consuming processes, it was found that electricity use can differ quite drastically in different types of milking systems and farms. Electricity on an annual basis per cow ranged from 400 kWh/cow in a low-input and grazing farm to 1,145 kWh/cow in an automated milking farm. To reduce electrical energy consumption as well as reduce the effects of heat stress in pastured dairy cows, producers may investigate using an agrivoltaic system. Biological effects of internal body temperature, milk production, and respiration rates and behavioral effects of activity, rumination, fly avoidance behaviors, and standing and lying time of the solar shade were evaluated. Treatment groups were shade or no shade of cattle on pasture. The results of this agrivoltaic system suggested that grazing cattle that have access to shade had lower respiration rates and lower body temperatures compared to cattle that do not have access to shade. Electricity used in dairy farms was examined to help producers find areas in their farms that have the potential for reduced energy consumption. Furthermore, the use of an agrivoltaic system on a pasture-based dairy was studied for its shading effects on the health and behavior of dairy cows.