Student Spotlight: Sabrina Portner

June 13, 2022

Sabrina Portner is no stranger to agriculture, or to working with cows. Hailing from a 280 Brown Swiss dairy farm in Sleepy Eye, MN, Sabrina is pursuing her Masters in Animal Science from the U of MN’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and is mentored by dairy scientist Brad Heins at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC), Morris.

The WCROC is home to both organic and conventional dairy herds which graze several acres while on pasture. In 2018, a 30-kW ground-mounted solar system was installed in a single pasture in order to provide shade for the grazing dairy herd, and in 2021, a 240-kW ground-mounted solar system was added to another pasture. In previous studies, we’ve learned that the shade of the panels provides for additional cow comfort, and thereby increases herd health and animal performance. Grazing cows are rotated between neighboring paddocks to allow growing time for pasture grasses. This leaves an opportunity to use the space underneath the solar systems for growing various forages, as well as gives Sabrina the experience to work with forages for dairy cows.

Sabrina began working on the solar shaded forage project in January 2022. Meadow fescue and orchard grass, along with alfalfa, white clover and red clover were selected as part of the study. Forages will be evaluated for their ability to grow under the solar panels, as well as for their nutritional value for dairy cows. She hopes that the forage study will provide pertinent information for dairy producers who want to utilize solar power on their farm without sacrificing agricultural production.   

Funding for this project was provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).