The Shetler Farm consists of 320 acres, 140 rented, 180 owned. Of the 180 owned acres, 140 are into permanent pasture with woodlot making up the remainder.
Intensive rotational grazing is used to feed the 40 cow diary herd, replacement heifers, and dairy beef which are sold to private clientele.
The Shetlers have been practicing low input, biological/organic farming for the past 20 years utilizing crop rotations, manures (green and livestock), natural soil amendments, lime, soft rock phosphate, gypsum, etc. When row crops were grown, cultivation was used to control weeds. The farm is certified organic through Organic Growers of Michigan.
A commercial compost turner was leased form Northern A-1 Services, a waste handling company in Northern Michigan. The Kalkaska SWCD provided sawdust used as a carbon source, the Cooperative Extension Service provided Soil recommendations.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
1) One barrier to the project was the cost and availability of a compost turner. A local contractor was hired to bring in a commercial turner for this project.
The compost pile is comprised of manure that is gathered from the milking barn. This is mostly winter manure that had been windrowed in a field near the barn. This type of manure handling has been done for seven years but did not actually “compost” the manure. Normally, the manure would be in the windrow for (4) to (12) months and would have very high odor when spread.
This year, sawdust an shredded newsprint (used as bedding) were added to the pile. Turing the pile produced compost and eliminated problem odors. Volume of manure that had to be hauled was reduced greatly. Time savings on manure handling has been significant. Total man hours required using the old system was about 273 hours per year. The compost system required only 141 hours per year. This doesn’t take into account the savings on fuel and machinery.
The compost was spread with a #332 Scavenger II side sling spreader. This spreader hauls 10 tons at a time and spreads a pattern 40 to 50 feet wide. The spreader used for daily hauling was a (2) ton unit requiring 30 trips to cover a 10 acre field compared to 4 trips for the larger spreader applying 3-4 tons of the drier compost. The larger spreader also had high flotation tires and tandem axles reducing compaction. The compost pile produced a quantity of earth worms that were spread on the field as well.
Not only is the compost lighter and easier to handle, but it can be spread directly on pastures without damaging the crop or affecting the grazing cattle. Fresh manure results in a pasture that cattle will not graze for several weeks.
Plans are to continue composting in the future. Changes in the system may include the removal of the sawdust as a carbon source and utilizing loader equipment for turning the pile to reduce costs.
Overall, the composting project was impressive.
Several field days were conducted throughout the project year. They include:
– Ausable Institute of Environmental Studies (tow tours summer 1994)
– Local Agriculture Extension Services
– State Conservationist USDA NRCS
– NRCS employees training (August 1994)
– Grazing day (June 1995)