Upstream Heroes » Success Stories

Integrated Manure Management: Good Neighbors, Good Business


 

There aren’t many 15,000-head hog operations that open their doors to neighbors for an annual open house. But Meadowlane Farm of Frankfort, Ind., has built a national reputation for its manure management and conservation ethic. Now it’s taken its manure management on the road, custom-applying manure for neighbors through a homemade injector attached to a hose nearly two miles long.

Manure management starts with feed and water and ends after the nutrients are added to the soil, says Mike Beard, who owns Meadowlane Farm with his son Dave, son-in-law Chris, and two stepbrothers. Together they raise 15,000 pigs per cycle from weaning (at about 10 to 13 pounds) to finish (at 270 pounds). The family also farms about 1,700 acres of corn and soybeans, with forest, wetland and waterways preserved and buffered around the operation.

Less in, less out

Beard is a big fan of the fertilizer value of manure, but he’s also dedicated to minimizing its nutrient content on a pound-for-pound basis. That effort starts at the feed trough, where careful ration formulation minimizes the amount of excess nutrients the pigs consume.

Obviously, a 200-pound hog requires a different diet than a 13-pound piglet. To keep in close step with his animals’ nutritional needs, Beard and his family feed about a dozen different rations, each designed to give the pigs the sustenance they need – but not more. “Compare that style of feeding to what grandpa did,” says Beard. “He had three rations. The pig had everything he needed – and what he didn’t need.”

Managing the amount of nitrogen-rich protein that pigs consume can reduce the amount of N they excrete. Similarly, adding the amino acid phytase to the ration helps pigs utilize the most common form of phosphorus in their feed. That boosts the value of their ration and reduces the amount of P that has to be managed later in manure.

Well-balanced rations can create well-balanced manure, says Beard. “You can get to the place where nitrogen might not be your limiting factor,” he notes. “You’re much more into balance of a typical corn/soybean rotation when you reduce the nitrogen.”

Synthetic amino acids balance the ration more precisely than metering bulk feed ingredients in or out of the mix, Beard explains, adding that the benefits extend to the neighbors, too. “When you use synthetic amino acids in order to help balance the ration rather than overfeed natural products like soybean meal, when you’re more specific in your dietary tailoring, you reduce the excess nutrients that are odor-causing,” he notes.

Meadowlane also invested in new technology that reduces the biggest component of fertilizer – water – by as much as 50 percent. Pigs quickly learn how to keep water flowing in a steady, wasteful stream with standard nipples that are mounted on walls or swinging from ceilings. New cup waterer technology mounts the nipple over a cup that accommodates the pig’s nose. After a few moments of water flow, the cup fills and the pig has to let go of the nipple to take a breath. No more free-flowing water. It sounds simple, but cutting water waste in half has a far-reaching impact.

“There’s less to pump, less to haul, less to handle, less to smell, and a more concentrated product when you’re putting it on fields, so it’s a better fertilizer,” says Beard.

But just because Beard tries to cut down the volume and nutrient content of his pigs’ manure doesn’t mean he doesn’t value the product. Last year, he figures he utilized 6 million gallons of manure on his cropland, replacing 200 tons – or $80,000 worth – of commercial fertilizer.

Keep It Flowing

Meadowlane Farms can apply manure annually on its continuous corn ground, which accounts for 65 percent of its acreage, notes Beard. Well-balanced manure, applied to match agronomic need, delivers all the needed nutrients on his corn-after-corn ground anywhere soil P is in the Low or Medium range.

“As long as we’re taking big yields off, the corn can take a lot of nutrients out,” he says. Last year’s average corn yields on the farm hit 198 bushels, drawing out plenty of N, P and K. On rotated corn/soybean acres, manure is applied before corn.

In addition to fueling impressive yields, the manure regimen has built up soil organic matter and allowed Beard to fix his fields’ phosphorus levels firmly in the Medium range. He takes soil tests every four years in rotated ground and every other year in continuous corn ground. Combining the soil test data with nutrient profiles of his manure and target crop yields, he can calculate the appropriate application rate.

Long line, big opportunity

Beard, his son Dave and his son-in-law Chris have also built a thriving manure custom application business – last year, they applied more than 25 million gallons of manure. They’ve designed and built application equipment to deliver manure to the soil as directly and odor-free as possible, with minimal disturbance of surface crop residues. When Dave and Chris get going, they can cover 6 to 11 acres an hour, delivering as much as 7,500 gallons of manure per acre at up to 3.5 mph.

On a 22-foot toolbar, they mounted heavy Genesis Tillage aeration tines at a 7-degree offset in front of huge nozzles to create what Dave Beard calls a “poke, lift, squirt” surface-application system. On another toolbar, the family mounted 11 straight coulters on 22-inch centers, each followed by a 12-inch Dietrich sweep with an injector. The result: quick, accurate placement of manure 4 to 6 inches below the soil surface. The applicator also chops up rugged corn residue and exposes it to manure, speeding degradation.

Beard and Pearson pull their injector with a 240-hp Agco AT240. Pearson says the applicators run smoothly, even with less horsepower, but the extra muscle is required to pull the 1.75-mile-long hose that feeds manure from the lagoon directly to the applicator.

In addition to the run of 5-inch soft hose that connects the source to the destination, the team can string out as much as a mile of hose in a field. That allows them to cover a 320-acre parcel without changing the position of the 1,500-gpm pump. Recognizing the stewardship benefits of pumping manure rather than hauling it over the roads, the county allowed Meadowlane to run culverts under some of the roads around their farm so they could snake the hose to outlying fields.

It takes about two hours to set up the pump and hose for an application. But even with the lengthy set-up, pumping is far more efficient than loading and running 4,800-gallon honey wagons, which would run out in less than two minutes at the rates Meadowlane applies. The tractor-mounted GPS and flow meter also allow the Meadowlane team to deliver GPS-referenced as-applied records, an increasingly vital component of a good stewardship program.

With their pumping system, the Beards and Pearson have also helped clean several manure spills. The first trial of the system saw them pumping 750,000 gallons of manure from a spill site that threatened a local waterway, diverting it to safe land application. “Since then, I’ve been involved in three or four more spills where manure had the potential to get into waters of the state,” says Mike Beard.

“I don’t like to apply manure to a field that’s close to a water body, or close to neighbors – where there’s a significant amount of development,” he says, preferring commercial fertilizer for those sensitive areas. “It’s all about being aware of the environment and where you should and shouldn’t apply. It’s not worth killing any fish or polluting any water just to save a buck. It’s all about common sense and trying to do the right thing.”

The Meadowlane Farm conservation ethic extends well beyond the manure pit or the river’s edge. Energy-efficient hog barns maintain healthy ventilation with less power consumption. Conservation farming has cut tillage by 75 percent. And a stand of old forest in the middle of the farm, as well as a little wetland in the corner of another field, stand as examples of the family’s land conservation ethic.

The Meadowlane Farm conservation ethic makes the Beards and Pearson Upstream Heroes, says Karen Scanlon, executive director of the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) in West Lafayette, Ind.

“The care that Mike and his family take to manage their manure, build their soil, and protect the land and water around them have repercussions not just locally, but all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico,” Scanlon points out. “Upstream Heroes like Mike, Dave and Chris demonstrate every day that stewardship is both ecologically and economically sustainable. They also show that outstanding stewardship on a farm in Indiana can benefit not just the neighbors, but also residents hundreds of miles downstream.”

Conservation is a significant investment, but it pays a decent return, Beard adds. For one thing, landlords appreciate his farming style, so he has access to more productive ground. And the benefits of manure management are felt throughout the operation, and throughout the area.

“If you add some of the intangibles – odor reduction, manure quality, nutrient ratio – those things start to give you some value,” he says.


Download a PowerPoint presentation about Meadowlane Farms (Note: File is 3.91 MB).

About the Writer: Steve Werblow is a freelance agricultural writer based in Ashland, Ore.