Category Archives: Manure Management

Busy Spring

I am horrible at keeping up with everything that is going on within my life and on the farm right now. I am horrible at time management when it comes to blogging too. I apologize for this and will work harder at doing better at staying in touch and keeping all informed of what’s happening.

Update on Fencing: Still nothing started. Another meeting scheduled for on the farm this afternoon that will hopefully change that.

Update on calving: Including the calf born in February, we are up to 4 new calves born this year. Three of which are heifers!!!! The newest one came last night at around 11 pm. We have just one more to calf. I’m almost hoping it’s a bull so that we have something around to raise for beef.

Update on grazing: Things have been going good. We have extended the rotational grazing out to total around 13 acres for the time being. It’s still all set up with step in posts and single strand braided wire but it’s working 99.9% of the time. We have had just one issue since Spring turn out in April. That was Monday morning…I will explain more further in the section on new seeding.

Update on crops: I am excited to report that the entire farm is now replanted in GRASS! No more bare ground at all!!! So if anyone is interested in a good old Brillion seeder, give me a shout! The last 26 acres planted on May 18 is growing good. The forage oats and grasses are growing great…well, other than where they were grazed due to loose animals anyway. They only “clipped” a few of the tops and minimal damage was done thankfully. Some of the growth is now to our knees! First cutting will be ready before we know it!
Last years new seeding came in fabulous this year! We’ve had some issues with harvest…so let’s discuss the next topic.

Update on Spring Hay Harvest: This is the one area that we are having a horrible time. Between the rain and inconsistant people who have backed out on us (three to be exact) we still have yet to get first cutting done. Last years new seeding is all headed out and not necessarily a bad thing but it would still be nice to get the grasses cut since they are as tall as I am at 5’8″ now.

All in all, it’s been a busy and productive spring. Even with the issues we face as a small farm with limited capabilities, we are managing. Are we managing to the extent we want to be? That’s a big NO. Unfortunately, without the purchase of equipment we don’t have funds for, we just have to go with what other’s working with us do. At some point, this will be easier due to the fact that we do have our own equipment but until then we will make do. Hopefully we aren’t spending out another $1,000 for hay over the winter again.

We have lots of irons in the fire between the beef, dairy and poultry. Between the eggs, meat and milk we are doing okay. But that’s just it…okay. Not great, not fabulous. I hate feeling that we are in a rut but it drives me to work that much harder to get things done. I’m optimistic that someday, I will be able to kind of sit back and be able to look around saying, LOOK at everything that has been done. LOOK at the struggles we overcame! Nothing that’s rewarding ever comes easy and the struggles make us remember how important hard work and dedication are.

I’m out for now…more work to get done. Big meeting to prepare for and hopefully a little more good news by the end of the day today!


13 Questions

13 questions that were posted on another blog called An Irish Male in America asked recently for people in Agriculture, inspired a couple other people I follow to write their own responses. It got me thinking about the answers. As I read through several other blogs linked below, it got me thinking about what my answers would be and wondering if they would be different. Considering all of us in farming do different things for different reasons, I decided that I would take the time to put my own answers together.

Megan Brown writes her blog The Beef Jar. Even though her operation is in California, I agree with many of her answers. Ahnna writes her own blog Ahnna On About Anything and also answers the questions with much different answers that I would come up with. And Jenny Dewey writes her blog j.l.d. photograph and answers the questions from her perspective of being a butcher’s daughter.  Her blog gives a great insight into what it feels like being behind the scenes at her parent’s butchering business.

I’m sure by now, there are more blogs than these out there but these are the ones that made me think about doing one myself to answer these 13 questions.

13 Thursday Presents…

13 Questions I want farmers/ranchers/AG people to answer (or even blog about!) (Update, I’m now editing this for content…… mainly because there was a real lack of content before… !)

1: What is the worst time of year for you?

I would have to say the worst for me is winter. Not because of the snow we get here on the East Coast in Central NY because I actually like the snow. I just don’t take the cold well. I don’t like getting bundled up in layer upon layer of clothes to go hang out in the barn. It limits my time in the barn too because I can’t take the cold. I manage but it makes me wish for the warm spring days.

2: What is your favorite farm job?

I love all of my jobs on the farm but the one I like the most is caring for the babies. It doesn’t matter what kind…cattle or poultry, doesn’t matter. I’m just a mother at heart.

I even share kisses with the cattle! I love them THAT much!
I even share kisses with the cattle! I love them THAT much!

3: What is your least favorite farm job?

Without a doubt, it’s cleaning out the bedding pack in the spring. It stinks to high heaven and takes days for the smell to come out of my hair. It’s a pain to get it all scooped out and you can’t do it by hand (packed too tight). I hate using the tractor for this job. It’s seriously the one job I really wish someone else would do!
4: What type of truck do you drive (on the job) and why did you choose it? (this one is a must know, not only do I find American trucks awesome to look at, but with all the truck companies trying to advertise themselves as the “biggest toughest” truck out there, I think it’s about time we round out the truth from the people that put them to use!)

I drive a 2004 Dodge 1500 Extended cab 4×4. I absolutely love this truck! I probably use it harder than I should but I haven’t had any issues with it to date. It’s a tough truck to beat down. Not only that I LOVE the dual exhaust rumble!! I’ve hauled two big ol’ round bales in the back more times than I can count and more animals inside than I have people. I’ve towed wagons loaded down with 10 round bales during hay season. It gets me through wet fields and slings a little mud. Hands down this is the best truck I have ever been fortunately enough to drive. Even overtop of those Chevy’s I used to swear by.
5: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your line of work?

This might be lengthy! One of the hardest lesson I have learned is that farming is still a man’s world. Women might be nurturers by nature but men still seem to control the destiny of what happens. I can’t tell you how many times I have called for parts or in search of equipment to have a man tell me he will get back to me and never return the call. I can’t tell you how many times I have stood on a tractor dealers lot to have them tell me what I wanted and didn’t want. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have almost been over charged for a good/product/service because I am a female. Being in this man’s world takes BRAINS AND GUTS…enough so that you know what you are doing, what you want, why you want it and know what to expect. It’s tough for an independent woman to learn that not everyone will see anything but the exterior.
The second hardest lesson I have learned is that sometimes you need to check your emotions at the door…this is one that I am still working on because I get emotionally attached to EVERYTHING! Emotions also tend to take over my conversations because most of the time I lead with my heart, not my head. It gets me into some tight spots sometimes too. Of course, if I was male I probably wouldn’t have this issue. Just sayin’
6: What do you think is the most valuable tool you have, the one you probably couldn’t live without?

As Megan Brown put it on her page, THE INTERNET! I honestly don’t know how I would educate myself to have the brains to stay on top of things happening in the world. Without the internet, I wouldn’t have met all these great women out there across the world that are struggling to fit in, education consumers and agvocate. I also wouldn’t have kindred spirits out there that I could talk to about the struggles, trials and tribulations of life either. I wouldn’t have a great network of advisors who have helped me set goals, learn different methods of production and give me some encouragement along the way.
7: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about your business/what you do?

Personally, I think too many people lump all of agriculture into a tiny little box when in reality every farm is different from the next. Neighboring farms operate differently. I also think that people tend to think that micro and small farms are inherently better when in reality, many of them are worse than some of the biggest operations in the country.
8: If you could invest in a new piece of farm equipment tomorrow, what would it be?(and I mean it, just one!  let’s not get greedy!)

This one is simple! A new tractor that I would be comfortable with. I even have it all picked out. Massey is her name! She’s a red-head too…just like me!

9: What was the most serious injury you ever suffered in the line of work?

Hmmm, probably the most painful was the time a steer dislocated three bones in my hand. Hurt like hell when they had to reset the bones back in place.
10: Least favorite animal to deal with?

YEARLING BULL CALVES! They are still playful like calves and don’t realize their size. They are also the only brats they escape the fence…in turn demonstrating to the whole herd how to get out~GRRRR
11: (excluding all of the above) What’s the dumbest question you’ve ever been asked?

Hmmm….I guess it would have to be about the cattle horns. Most visitors think that only bulls have horns. It usually goes something like this….”What are those calves doing under that bull?” Which is actually a cow…but I’m sure you get the point.
12: Favorite beer? (come on, out with it!)(I’ve seen people take their beer pretty seriously, and it’s time to know what a real working persons beer of choice is!)

I, personally, love LaBatt’s. Honey Brown used to be another favorite. But, that being said….I haven’t had a beer in about four years and I think that was a Corona on a very hot summer day after working out in the sunshine all day.
13: Thing you’d most like the public to know about what you do! (I admit you do this every day on your blogs no doubt, but was looking for something addressing maybe a misconception you hear the most about your business!)

I wish people could understand that I am not just an animal care giver. I’m also an agronomist, soil specialist, mechanic, book-keeper, accountant, marketing specialist, graphic designer, writer, photographer, housekeeper, landscaper, consultant and much more. I wish people could understand that being in farming doesn’t mean that life is simple…it’s actually very complicated and complex. Many of us don’t only work on the farm but do other things outside the farm. It’s hectic. It’s chaotic. But we still love it! But just because we love it doesn’t mean that we are sitting back enjoy a 9 to 5 job. It doesn’t mean we get paid every Friday either. It means we go without to do the things we love the most. THAT said, I wish the public would also realize that all I would like to do is get paid (in a timely manner) what it costs to produce our goods with a little bit left over for me…to buy a pair of boots that I would probably wear to the barn. 90% of the time, 100% goes back to the farm in one way or another. We aren’t rich. We don’t have loads of money but we are building memories to last a lifetime and property to pass down through the generations.

Lots of Activity

I thought life was crazy before! I have changed my mind. Currently, we have added in the woes of fence construction, new seeding, grazing management, frost seeding, and relocating temporary fences.

Let’s start with the temporary fence. A great deal of our fence areas are set in with step in posts and braided wire. I hasn’t been a problem until now. The issues that have come up now are long-haired animals (see photo below) just walking through the fence. Hair seems to NOT conduct the electricity within the energized wire. Needless to say, about two to six times a day…I am putting cattle back inside the fence or getting a phone call while I run errands because the cows are out.

Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.
Two Irish Dexter calves on the wrong side of the fence.

It really doesn’t make much sense. As you can see, the grass is very low to the ground in that area. Inside the area fenced in, some of the grass under the laid over hay is several inches long. In this case, the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence!

This shows the grasses inside the fence
This shows the grasses inside the fence

Now let’s talk about this photo a little more. This is part of our pre-spring grazing management. We have an area fenced in that needed some “work”. The area gets very steep and doesn’t allow for any type of tractor work. So we are using the cattle to do the work for us. As you can see in the photo, the old forage growth within the paddock has provided a sort of blanket for the new grasses underneath to sprout and grow quicker than the worked up field areas that we grazed last fall.

This is just part of the area that we are "working" with the cattle
This is just part of the area that we are “working” with the cattle

The standing stalks of weeds will get eaten, trampled and the ground develops as the cattle hooves dig into the ground. We have already seen improvements…in 2 days! Take a look!

This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.
This is at the end of day one in this paddock. Note how the stalks are broken or eaten. Also note the addition of cow pies for fertilization.

I will be posting follow-up photos with before, during and after shots. We are trying this as part of an experiment for land reclaiming. They are eating the briars and the weeds! Proof in these next two photos.

Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Here is Tommy eating Golden Rod stalks that grew last year (2012)
Cow clipped briars!
Cow clipped briars!
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.
Here is Tommy, sniffing to see if he wants to eat the briar.








The next stage for us will be fencing in the 90 acres we will be using for rotational grazing this year and for many years to come. It’s a big job with over 14,500 linear feet of fencing, posts, wires, etc to have put up! Once it’s all completed we will have enough area to grazing 45 animals. To someone like me with an obsession with cattle…it means I can buy more cattle! (Reminder: I like to buy cattle like most women like to buy shoes!)

We also have 30 acres to get seeded for another grazing area too. Rich has been researching, reading and learning what types of grasses and legumes will be best suited for both the soil and the cattle. He thinks he has finally figured out which blend (a custom mix with lots of plant diversity) he wants to go with. In the meantime, we will be frost seeding clover on last years pastures to start building nitrogen in the ground. Did you know that clovers are nature’s way of providing nitrogen? I didn’t…but it’s very cool! No more synthetic fertilizer for nitrogen!!!

Saturday, we will be headed to a grazing seminar that will help us learn how to become more adapt at managing our grazing plan. I am super excited to go and I will make sure I take LOTS of pictures!

For now…it’s back to chasing cattle, taking more photos and reading more books! Thanks for stopping in to read about my adventures and sharing our little piece of Heaven!



Long Weekends

After listening to people question us part of the weekend about us not celebrating Memorial Day with a barbecue or picnic, I figured it was time to get out the full explanation of why we don’t have the extra time or energy to have a party.

First of all, animals don’t know the difference between holidays or any other day…other than maybe Christmas Day when we lavish them with extra “treats”. To them, it’s another morning they need milking, feeding and usually, it’s the day they get really dirty or break loose from a fence. Holidays are just that…days.

Second, since Mr. Farmer also works a full-time job off the farm any extra days we have are spent doing things that need to get done around the farm or house. Like this weekend, Mr. Farmer took Friday off and the morning was spent on chores and moving compost from one location to the garden. Then some time was spent tilling it into the soil. Of course, then we needed to plant. We spent a couple of hours Saturday evening planting tomatoes and peppers after we moved the landscape fabric we use under them into the new location.  Then we spent another couple of hours planting seeds and watering them all down.

Yes, on Saturday, we did spend some time at the annual Horse Pulls at our local fire station but that wasn’t a pure pleasure event. I had to work taking photos, talking with pullers and  the staff for the event so that I could put together an article for next weeks edition of Lancaster Farming Newspaper. It was hot too, with temperatures hovering around the 80+ degree mark and ZERO shade to be found anywhere! All of this after running to the local feed and tack store in the morning to pick up new bedding for the chickens and dog food! By the time evening chores and gardening were done, we were both wiped!

On Sunday, it was much the same. I wrote up my article after I finished up morning chores, went through the 150+ photos of the horse pulls and read through emails all before 10am. Then I started working on a new rug for in front of our front door until about 11. After spending the day bouncing between driving kids and their stuff from the cabin by the pond, having farm visitors with lots of questions about the animals and how/why we raise animals the way we do and evening chores, we finished up the day by picking up stones out of the field of new seeding. It was about 9 pm by the time we rolled in the door and someone still needed to fix dinner if we were going to eat! By 10 pm, I was ready to collapse after spending so much time in the sun!

Then on Monday, it was off and running to pick up more plants and seeds for the gardens. When we got back, we planted the transplants and worked up some rows of seeds for the carrots, radishes, peas and beans. We dug holes, buried some chicken manure compost, hilled and planted watermelon, squash, eggplant and cucumbers. Then we came home, grabbed drinks, filled our 100 gallon water container that is now on the back of my truck and headed back down to water everything. After watering plants with about 50 gallons of water, we sat down with Mr. Farmer’s parents and sisters in the shade for about an hour before heading back up the hill to come home. I will admit, we did sit down and watch TV about an hour or so. It seems like every time we just start to relax, there is something that needed to get done…so off we went to do our nightly chores. Then it was back to the garden to plant potatoes, do a little more watering (it’s really hot and dry here this spring!) in our garden and in Mr. Farmer’s dad’s garden.

After gathering eggs, I heard one of the Dexters and her calf bellering…after walking down to see what was going on, I found the calf was one the wrong side of the fence and was separated from his mother. After walking nearly back to the barn, I got him on the right side of the fence and reunited with his momma. By this time, it was dark and again, I was ready to fall into bed. Too bad it was 88 degrees in the house and our air conditioner is a piece of crap! It was so hot and muggy that all you had to do was lay there on top of the blankets and you were start sweating up a storm! I hate hot humid weather. I think I would really rather deal with the cold. At least then, we can dress accordingly. I have yet to figure out a way to get cool enough in this heat. I don’t think I could ever live in a state like Texas where it’s so hot ALL the time!

I am glad that today things should return to normal. I could actually use that normal pace to relax, since it doesn’t seem like I have for the whole long weekend! I think a LONG pasture visit with my camera is in order for today!!!! Before it gets to the hot, muggy, humid 90+ degrees they are calling for today……

I am off to the barn to milk, feed and probably a good brushing. Today is also fly treatment day for the cattle too, so I will be doing that this morning too. If you are all interested in following more about what happens at our farm…please visit and like our Facebook page which can be found at Barrows Farm. We also have some likes for other farms, farming information and suppliers located there as well. Hope to see you all there soon!

Thanks for stopping in. God bless!

Pasture Management

Grasses are an important part of a cows diet. It is the natural item for them to eat and is easily digested within their ruminants. Many farms do not utilize pasture programs but here on our farm, we see it as an opportunity to provide a low cost portion of the cows diet.

We have been doing a bunch of research lately on pasture management and for us, it is a great opportunity to be able to utilize land that is a little too steep and causes concerns about erosion and run off.

In intensive grazing, you only provide an area that is big enough for the cows place on it to eat the majority of the forage off in about a day, sometimes less. Since we don’t have enough land with growing grass at the moment for that type of operation (or water for that matter), we have decided to use a 7-10 day cycle. By allowing a 7-10 day cycle on each paddock, we can easily keep the lane to the barn and the water open. You need to understand too that currently, there are just five animals out there. One adult jersey milking cow, three dexter cattle that are due to calf at anytime and a young jersey bull that isn’t a year old yet.

To get all of this started, we needed to figure out how we wanted to set it up. Since we are also in the process of looking at perimeter fencing, we really didn’t want to set this section up, only to have it change within a year. So we decided to use temporary fencing. Our temporary fence involves step-in posts that are about four feet long with loops on the sides. We first went around the perimeter of the field and set in posts about every thirty feet.

Mr. Farmer stepping in the new posts

Then we decided to use braided wire, electrified to keep animals in and out, along the posts. We ran just two wires around the perimeter and one wire along the divider posts.

Two of our Dexter Cattle enjoying the new pasture area

As you can see, this fence is really nothing fancy. Even though it is really very basic, it works rather well.

Arthur, the Jersey yearling bull, finds out that the fence tickles

Now we have three fairly large paddock areas divided into a 4-1/2 to 5 acre field! The animals are really enjoying themselves and eating lots of green grass. Next week, sometime between Wednesday and Saturday, we will relocate them into the next paddock area to give this area time to regrow and provide them with lush green grass in about 3-4 weeks.

By the time it is time for them to re-enter this field, the bull will be relocated to another farm for a service bull. I am hoping that around the time he leaves, three young dexters will be out grazing with their mothers by then.

But, for right now, the cows have more area to eat. It will save us feeding so much hay and we can cut down on grain a little too.

As for the calves, after a week or so, we will transition them into the area that is the original pasture. It is time for two of them to be weaned completely and once they are moved into the grassy section, it will leave the barn open again so we can do some extensive cleaning without have to worry about the doors being open and calves escaping.

I think I will go back out and watch the cows for a bit in the new pasture……..


Springtime around the farm is a little more advanced around the farm that around your homes, but really, it isn’t much different if you’re a gardener.

Springtime on the farm means its time to plow and plant. Again, very similar to your home garden. In the garden, you spread out fertilizers (sometimes composted manure) and you roto-till. Farmers just use bigger equipment (unless you are a farmer and then your garden usually gets the same treatment).

We spread manure on our fields to apply plant and soil specific nutrients. Depending on the ground and the crop we have planned, it could be a heavy application for a crop like corn or a light application for grasses.

Typically, after the manure is spread, the ground is tilled to incorporate the manure into the soil and reduce losses due to volitization (evaporation). Once that is accomplished, depending upon the plantings previous and the new seedings, it may need to be plowed again. I will use the example of going from corn ground to grass seedings. During these situations the ground is usually plowed twice, once with a set of drags and another time with a set of disks. After the second plowing, the ground is usually planted.

Air drill for grass seed planting and fertilizer application

This year, the side hill (shown in the photo above) have no manure applied. It had chemical fertilizers applied due to the soil sampling tests that came back that resulted in lower amounts of nitrogen needed on that ground. The air drill uses air pressure to blow the seeds to the ground.

After the fields are planted, it is time to come back with a roller or culi-packer to ensure soil to seed contact. This will assist with proper growth of the seeds as the ground will provide moisture, insulation and heat as the ground absorbs the heat from the sun.

9 pm and still working to get the job done

One of our fields is finally finished. Now all we need to do is to wait for a little rain, some sun…hopefully no more snow and soon we will have a beautiful field of green.

Next step is to get the new perimeter fence put in. The fence guy will be here over the next couple of days and I am super excited to get started on that part of our expansion. When he comes, he is bringing us the materials to put up a five acre temporary fence so that I can start the rotational grazing with four of our cows. The grass is already 4-5″ tall in that field, so it will provide some excellent grazing for the three Dexter cows (who are due to calf anytime) and our Jersey milk cow.

It is nearly time for our bull to go over to the other farm. It will seem odd without him around but I am thinking about bring him back this coming fall to breed the Dexter since I have yet to find a bull to put in with them. I really don’t want the cross breeds but all of the Dexter bulls I have found within a reasonable distance are, well, a little too pricey ($3000+) for my three girls. Artificial insemination doesn’t seem to be an option either…..which is making me think that this could be another form of diversity for our farm as time goes on.

Well, time for me to get to work…there is still a tree in the lawn that needs to get cleaned up and since the lawn is getting a little too high…it’s time for me to mow the lawn for the first time this year. Can you believe it? Usually we aren’t mowing the lawn until mid-April if not later here in NY.

OH…and I will do my best to get some photos of the apple blossoms that are starting to come out already (again, about two weeks early). I have to say, this is the first year I ever remember the crocus and the daffodils blooming within 24 hours of each other. This sure is some crazy weather. It is so dry already that it is scary. Hopefully, this coming rain and possible snow mixture will get some moisture back into the dry dusty ground.

Have a great day! See you soon!

Overuse of Fertilizers

Contamination of water and soil are the biggest concerns while using fertilizers.

Let’s first talk about manure storage.

Improper storage of manure can result in water pollution. The nutrient content of the manure, as well as the ability to spread it uniformly, are reduced with rainfall. Stockpiling solid manure uncovered and exposed to rainfall results in a reduction in the mineral and nutrient content. Also, the manure becomes sticky and difficult to spread uniformly. Leaching  and run-off  from the stockpiled manure may pollute ground and surface water.

Excessive Algal growth due to phosphorus run-off into a pond. Click here for a larger photo.

A pond with algal growth


Risks to soil quality-
Improper manure and fertilizer management can adversely affect soil quality in the following ways:
Livestock manure can be a rich source of soluble ions like sodium (Na+) and potassium (K+) because animals retain only a small amount of the salt they consume. Repeat applications of manure at rates exceeding agronomic requirements can contribute to saline soil conditions. Long-term buildup of Na can also have a negative impact on soil structure by reducing soil particle aggregation.
Frequent traveling by loaded application equipment on wet soils can lead to soil compaction. Soil particles are squeezed together by compaction, reducing pore spaces available for air and water storage. This can inhibit root growth and increase surface runoff.

Risks to Water Quality-
When manure or fertilizer is improperly handled or applied at rates exceeding crop requirements, contaminants including nutrients and pathogens can enter
surface water and groundwater.
Groundwater is an important source of water for many rural communities. Manure and fertilizer application pose several risks to groundwater including contamination
from N, P, and pathogens. Manure and nitrogen fertilizer applications raise soil nitrate (NO3-) levels. Nitrate can leach into groundwater because it is soluble and mobile
in soils. High-risk groups (e.g., infants and pregnant women) who consume water high in NO3- (i.e., above 10 ppm N or 45 ppm NO3-N) have a reduced ability to transport oxygen in their bloodstreams. This condition is referred to as methemoglobinemia (“blue baby
syndrome”). Most soils across the US have a strong ability to adsorb (bind) P, which limits its entry into groundwater. However, leaching can occur when the soil’s adsorption capacity is saturated with high levels of P. This can happen from over-application of manure, particularly on coarse textured soils in high-rainfall or irrigated areas.
Transmission of manure pathogens to groundwater is rare, but can occur on coarse textured soils with high water tables. It can also happen when contaminated runoff enters groundwater through an improperly installed or poorly maintained well.

Surface Water
Agricultural runoff contaminated with nutrients and pathogens is the primary risk to surface water quality. Eutrophication is the enrichment of surface water bodies by nutrients, particularly N and P. Phosphorus is often the first limiting nutrient in surface water ecosystems. Excess P entering surface water from runoff or P contaminated
groundwater can result in increased algae production. Large algae blooms can significantly deplete oxygen levels when they die and decompose. Oxygen depletion will negatively affect aquatic animals. Blooms of bluegreen algae (cyanobacteria) can also release toxins that are harmful to aquatic life, livestock and wildlife if they ingest the water. Eutrophication is a natural occurrence that is accelerated by human activities.
Transmission of manure pathogens to surface water is more likely than groundwater contamination. Surface water contamination by manure pathogens can occur on fine textured soils prone to erosion, or in situations where manure is applied or deposited too close to surface water bodies. For example, livestock that have direct access to water bodies can pose a significant risk to surface water quality.

Risks to Air Quality
Manure and fertilizer application can also adversely affect air quality. For example, ammonium (NH4+) in manure or fertilizer converted to ammonia (NH3)
gas can be lost to the atmosphere. This is a particular concern with unincorporated surface applications of manure or urea (46-0-0). Ammonia losses are reduced with subsurface applications and when surface applied products are thoroughly incorporated.
Odor emissions are a risk when surface applied products are not incorporated.

Now that we understand the risks, how do farmers limit or control the risks?
Soil sample testing is one of the first key factors in controlling contamination issues. By knowing what the soil holds for minerals and nutrients, we can adjust the rate of application that is good for the soil for plant health. Soil sampling is just one factor in proper manure management. Planning ahead and knowing what crop(s) are being planted on that soil is also key. Corn takes a different level of nutrient uptake for growth than a grass like Alfalfa does. Knowing what nutrients each field is going to up-take assists in the planning of manure application.

Now that we know what plants are going to be grown and what nutrients are available within the soil, the next factor is how the manure fertilizer will be applied to the fields and what the environmental elements are. Top coating the fields increases the chances for run off, especially on soils that are already heavily water saturated. Injection of manure under the surface will reduce those risks but not completely eliminate them. The environmental elements that come into play are rain fall, snow depth, temperatures, air currents and even the grade (topography) of the land itself. The soil type and composition also have factors within the element.

As you can tell, manure management and application is an area that requires planning, patience and a strict rule of thumb. Many farms within my region utilize organizations like DairyOne, FSA and the NRCS to ensure they are doing the right applications. Most of the farms I know also have a manure management plan into affect. Those manure management plans are the planning tool where all of the manure, soil and water samples are combined with a planting schedule to determine when and where the manure fertilization is used and how much is applied to each differing field.

I hope this helps answer some concerns and questions. If you still have additional, please feel free to leave a comment or contact your local Soil and Water Conservation Office.



After sitting through a webinar yesterday about new things happening in the world of agriculture, I decided that today would be a good day to take a look at manure. Manure is one of those things that can either be used effectively and can be beneficial for the environment OR by abusing it’s use it can create water contamination and have detrimental effects on the environment.

What is manure?

Manure is well…poop from animals.

It contains undigested pieces of corn and other grains , bits and pieces of undigested hay and the waste from digested foods. Manure from animals really isn’t that different from human feces, other than the animals diet is much less complex and doesn’t vary in what foods are eaten. They eat the same basic ingredients for 2 or 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Hays from grasses, silage from corn and grains.

Poultry poop is a little different. It can be dropped in spots between the size of a dime up to the diameter of about a quarter (25 cents). It is high in nitrogen but doesn’t contain bits of what they eat. The color of the manure may change if they are allowed to roam a pasture to a darker green in color but if they are housed inside and feed a grain diet the manure will be a lighter green to almost brown color. And of course, lets not forget that little white spot on top. I am still not sure why they do that!

The principal value of manure is its extended availability of nitrogen within the soil.

Now, that you have manure: What do you do with it? How is it used?

What the farm does with it really depends on the size of the farm and what type of animals are there.

Small farms like us will usually clean the barns daily and pile the manure into a compost pile. That pile is turned with the bucket on the front of the tractor. Our compost piles also contain bedding materials like wheat straw, poultry manure and wood shaving from the barn floor and nest boxes.

Farmers who have more animals than I do, typically have a manure spreader and will spread the manure upon fields that will be planted into crops or used for hay. How often they spread the manure depends on the size of the farm. The other farm I work on has a 76 head barn that the manure gets spread twice per day. I know of another one with about 25 head that spreads every two days. Farms of this size are currently allowed daily spreading of manure, even during the winter months.

Larger farms with more than 200 head of cows need to have a manure management plan in effect. You can think of this as a map with written direction on field locations and when the fields will be spread. The plan also includes, on larger farms, manure storage and transportation. Most of the larger farms also have a manure storage of some sort. Some of the older farms have in-ground pits that look much like a small ponds while others have recently incorporate the use of concrete “pools”. The manure is then pumped out of the unit and spread, as needed on fields as a fertilizer.

A few of the larger farms, which I am going to estimate the head count at 1,000 plus, have added ponds or pits with a covering. That covering allows for the materials to compost down, much like I do on my farm but it has an enclosure over the top of the area. That enclosure will usually have a capture unit on the top that will transport the gases released form the composting process (methane) to a storage unit or a unit that generates electricity. After the material has decomposed it will become a liquid, without the smell of traditional manure, that is then applied as a fertilizer to the field.

How is manure a fertilizer?

Manure is an excellent fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients that are needed for plant growth. Nutrient content and the rate nitrogen becomes available for plant use depends upon the source, moisture content, storage and handling. Manure also adds organic matter to the soil which may improve soil structure, aeration, soil moisture-holding capacity and water infiltration.

To determine how much manure is needed the nutrient content and the nitrogen rate needs to be estimated. Moisture content is a major consideration. For example: Moisture content of fresh manure is around 75-80%; air-dried is around 9-15%. As manure dries, the nutrients concentrate on a weight basis but also on a volume basis. Urine nitrogen can evaporate into the air at a rate up 50% or more.

Knowing the basic information on manure is important so you know what to spread on which locations based off the nutriental requirements of the crops and what nutrients are held within the soil. The soil values are determined by doing soil sample tests at different locations within a field.

Available nitrogen from complete organic compounds, such as bedding materials, is released gradually. You can think of this like a slow release pain medication you would take. The slow release of nitrogen is the manure’s most important asset as it extends the nitrogen available within the soil and reduces leaching problems.

The basic guidelines are to apply enough manure to meet the first year need for available nitrogen. After that, you decrease the amounts applied the following years due to carry-over nitrogen released from previous applications. If applying manure from poultry, the nitrogen release at a rate of approximately 90% the first year. Fresh manure that contains both urine and solids with a high amount of urea releases approximately 75% of the total nitrogen in year one. Solid manures release much slower with a rate of approximately 35% of the total nitrogen released during the first year.

Improper Use and Disadvantages to Using Manure as Fertilizer:

If the same rates of manure are applied every year, a field that may have originally been low in nitrogen can become unnecessarily high over the following years. This can cause contamination of water supplies (I will discuss this more on Monday’s blog) and create additional issues throughout the whole farm. Excess nutrients, whether in the form of manure or synthetic fertilizer, can run off or leach into the environment and contaminate streams, lakes, and wells.

Weed seeds are also common in manures. Fewer are found in Poultry manure due to the effective digestion of the animals. Seeds in manures can come through feed, litter or just blown into an area (think dandelion seeds). The seeds can pass through the digestive tract still viable. High rates of weed seeds within manure could result in the potential use of Round-up to kill the weed growth. Composted or stockpiled manure will reduce the number of viable seeds within the manure.

Manure also contains 4-5% soluble salts on a dry weight basis but can run as high as 10%. An application of manure containing 5% salt of 5 tons adds approximately 500 lbs of salt to the soil. Irrigation and rain water will assist with the leach process in well-drained soils, preventing salt accumulations. Salts in poorly drained soils, soils with salinity issues and/or high application rates need to pay close attention around new growth plants.

Too much manure application can cause P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) to accumulate in soils with a history of manure applications, and may eventually reach excessive levels. Excess levels of soil P can increase the amount of P in runoff, increasing the risk of surface water degradation. Many crops can handle high levels of K, but livestock can be harmed by nutrient imbalances if they consume a diet of forages with high K level.

I don’t claim to be an expert by any means on the actual values within manures. This is why soil sampling is very important. Soil sampling and advice from a soil adviser ensure that you are applying the proper balance of nutrients to the soil.