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We Are Thankful For Cow Sh!t

Nov 11, 2020 | Life on the Farm, Planting, Sustainability

This is the time of year when we stop and think about all of the things we are thankful for. 

We of course are thankful for the end of a successful harvest. We are thankful for everyone who buys dairy products, our health, our incredible employees, and our friends and family. All of the usual things to be thankful for. But today I wanted to talk to you about something that is underrated but very deserving of thanks. 

I am thankful for manure. 

We, by being a dairy, have cows that turn the feed we grow into consumable products that we can buy at the grocery store. But then there’s also the byproduct of manure that cows produce. That manure is really where it all starts for us. 

A close up of a hand holding lush green alfalfa

The manure from our farm is spread on the fields where we grow crops. It’s full of important nutrients and is used to enhance our fields. This cycle of using the waste our cows produce to grow the food our cows eat really hits all the buzzwords. Using manure to fertilize our fields is as natural, organic and regenerative as it gets. Yeah, manure smells bad and it looks nasty, but it’s one of the purest forms of fertilizer out there.

Managing manure on our farm is something we take very seriously. Not only do we have some pretty strict regulations on how we handle our manure, we also want to make sure we utilize the nutrients in it in the best way possible for our land and crops. 

Growing up our farm was like most other small farms, we hauled manure from our barns every day and did our best to apply it in a smart way, but we didn’t have a fraction of the technology we have today. How we do things now really shows how far we have come in managing the manure from our cows in an environmentally responsible way. 

We couldn’t do all of this by ourselves. We work with Rite Way Applications, a small business that specializes in manure hauling. Their equipment and knowledge helps us to be as precise as we are with our manure application. 

Some of the things we do to make sure our manure is an asset to our farm and even our community- 

  • We work with neighbors to spread our manure on land in our area. So our crops as well as the crops our neighbors grow get the nutrient benefits from our manure. Having more land available to us than we have manure to spread helps us ensure that we have options for where to spread manure from year to year and in various weather conditions. 
  • We have manure pits that in normal conditions can hold a year’s worth of manure. This means we can hold manure for spreading until the weather and field conditions are right. It also means our equipment is on our roads less often. 
  • We take samples of our soil in 5 acre plots to determine exactly what our soil needs for nutrients. We use the soil sampling results to create very detailed field maps and utilize precision technology to change the amount of manure that is applied to each section of our field based on those maps. This keeps us from over applying or under applying manure in any one section of our fields.  
colorful map showing nutrient application across a farm field
  • Whenever possible we use long hoses that run from our manure pit out to our fields. Some of these hoses are over 2 miles long! By pumping the manure through a hose system, it keeps our roads cleaner and means less traffic on the roads from farm equipment when we are spreading manure. It also means less equipment on our fields and that reduces compaction to the soil. 
  • Our manure is worked into the soil as it is spread on the fields. Not only does this greatly reduce the chance of runoff into our watershed, it also makes it a little less smelly for our neighbors. 
A large John Deere articulated tractor incorporating manure into a field
  • Speaking of our watershed, we are really fortunate in our area to have deep topsoil and clay between our crop ground and the bedrock. We also keep buffer areas near waterways and mark our underground tile lines to stay away from spreading manure in those areas to protect our groundwater even further. 
  • We are trying new technology for water reclamation using reverse osmosis. The technology isn’t perfect yet, but it has lots of potential and could be great for our industry. 
  • We add special microbes to our manure pit that help to reduce odor and helps to improve the soil when the manure is applied to it. 

We know manure isn’t a glamorous topic. It’s stinky and there is nothing glorious about hauling manure, but it is truly essential to everything we do on our farm and we are thankful for it.

-Darin Strauss

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