Using the power of poo to save your farm, no bull

Guest post today By Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra

It’s not cheap, but you won’t be ‘wasting’ your time – a Jamberoo farming conference has been told using the nutrients from livestock dung could help lower your fertiliser bill and help the environment.

 

IMG_9661

Justin Huntsdale ABC Illawarra gets the lowdown on Dung from Steve Weidemann

Where we see livestock dung, agricultural scientist Stephen Wiedemann sees a great source of nutrients for your crop or a way to power your home.

Animal dung is rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium – all fertilisers a farm spends significant money on – and much of the time it ends up biodegrading in the paddock or in a sewerage system.

“We like to see waste as a liquid fertiliser,” Stephen said.

“In a dairy or any livestock farm the animals only use a small proportion of the energy they consume, so you can improve sustainability if you can then cycle those nutrients around the farm.”

The Toowoomba-based scientist was speaking yesterday at a conference on ‘Clearing the Carbon Confusion’ held at the Lemon Grove farm near Jamberoo on the NSW South Coast.

The day also involved talks from Dr Neil Moss and Associate Professor Richard Eckard who were trying to help local farmers manage their environmental responsibility while still making money.

And while he’s a bit sheepish about being known as the resident livestock ‘poo expert’, Stephen Wiedemann is serious about making a farm more efficient, starting from the backside.

Putting manure on your domestic garden is something we’ve been doing for decades, but applying that principle to a broad acre crop is a different (and significantly more expensive) story.

“It’s a little bit difficult and expensive but it’s easier if you’ve got a larger farm,” he said.

“Infrastructure is a concern because you’re looking at dams, ponds and other treatment facilities and also irrigators so there is a high capital set-up, but once it’s established, it’s not too hard to manage.”

Balancing a farmer’s books and social conscience is not a new problem, but it’s something that is easier with the advice of experts like Stephen.

He describes his specialty as making the point of connection between the environment and farming.

And as farms become bigger as the demand for primary produce increases, the environmental strain grows too.

“Across the industry there’s a trend to expanding farm sizes, which means more cows on less area and one downside to that is you’ve got an issue with how to manage their waste.”

Stephen says, just like we’d use cow manure to fertilise our garden, livestock effluent can be used to replenish paddocks that are depleted from grazing or foraging.

In Germany, effluent management systems that recycle waste are commonplace, and sometimes used to trap methane which then powers households.

He says these additional benefits are some of the carrots that will sell the message to sceptical farmers.

“It’s a challenge for the industry because it’s capital intensive and you’re looking at longer payoffs, especially when farming’s recently been full of tight margins.

“I know a lot of farmers would like to push it off to the corner, but you have to look at other benefits beyond the cash benefits.

“There’s a positive kickback in terms of lower fertiliser usage, but the overall payback may be more in the realm of six years, and that doesn’t look attractive to a farmer.”

Stephen Weidemann talks to Justin Huntsdale from ABC Illawarra

Oh no not another whingeing farmer story

People say farmers are always complaining about the weather. When it’s supposed to be sunny farmers say it should be raining and when it’s supposed to be raining it’s supposed to be sunny.

So when I got a call from the local radio station wanting to do a story on the weather with the opening line “ Surely all you dairy farmers must be happy this rain will be making the grass grow” you can imagine little Ms #Agvocacy thinks to herself the last thing I want to do is a “whingeing farmer story”

But I thought no this is a good story to tell – there are many very good reasons for farmers’ preoccupation with the weather.

Farmers after all are no different to anyone else in business. Everyone likes to feel they are in control and the weather is one of the key things farmers want on their side but it is the very thing they have no control over. But whilst you can’t control the weather you can certainly control how you are prepared for it.

Rain is topical this year right across the country. In our region we had our so called 1 in 50 year flood in March when 500 mm or 20 inches of rain fell in 48 hours. So what does that look like?

Well here is a typical sunny day at Lemon Grove Research Farm for the cows

Photos0001

This is what it looked like in the same place at 10am on March 21st during our 1 in 50 year flood

Photos0002

The same spot one hour later. The water rose in front of our very eyes. So fast we almost didn’t get cows onto higher ground quick enough and five cows washed away and sadly one drowned.

Photos0003

And what was happening at the home farm?

Photos0004

  This is our neighbour Viv determined to get “that shot”. 

This was almost repeated two weeks ago when we had 8 inches (200mm) in 8 hours

This year we have had at total of 110 inches (2500mm) of rain. This is 65% more rain than our average good year but it is a “drought” compared to 1950 and 1974 when the farm had a whopping 140 inches (3500mm)

So what about all that green grass you ask?

Grass for cows (or should I say pasture) is all about quality not quantity. Cows are discerning diners as my good friend Milk Maid Marian says. They like grass that is short and sweet.

2214

It doesn’t get much better than this

Short. sweet grass is full of sugar. For plants to produce sugar they need plenty of sunshine.

Looking back from Easts to Cows in Yard Paddock 0011

Chocolate for cows 

In fact growing grass is a fine art that all good dairy farmers have perfected to a tee and there is a saying in the industry that the difference between a good farm and the rest in just two weeks.

In fact we are doing pasture trials at the Lemon Grove Farm just to prove the anecdotal evidence.

Michael in Lucerne @ Lemon Grove

Michael is a bit of a pasture guru as you can see

There is a great little story on how we grow grass at Clover Hill Dairies as part of the Jet and Emma Farm Management Series here if you would like to know the nitty gritty.

This is also time of the year when farmers often take advantage of the excess of grass to store some fodder for winter by cutting high quality pasture to make hay and silage.

It isn’t a myth. You do need to make hay while the sun shines but for that you need a 48 hour window of dry weather

tilly in haystacks

Making Hay on Jamberoo Swamp (Photograph courtesy of Linda Faiers copyright)

As I said earlier dairy farmers can’t control the weather but we can prepare for it and often that is just simple things.

For example cows are no difffrent to people when it comes to wet feet. Just like standing in water makes your feet soft and wrinkley so does standing in wet soggy paddocks for cows. So we do things like add extra zinc to the cows feed to help harden their hooves which helps reduce the incidence of sore feet.

Feed inj the dairy 0005

Each cow gets fed a specially formulated ration in the dairy at every milking. This is a perfect way to fine tune the diet when weather conditions and pasture growth aren’t ideal for cows.

We also make sure our laneways are super smooth highways and the team are very mindful of the cows and move them at very gentle pace during the wet especially on the home farm where the hills become very slippery.

Strongs veiw to the sea

The mountainside that looks so pretty can be turn into a cow slippery slide nightmare in a couple of hours

The perfect place to dairy

Jamberoo is the birth place of the Australian dairy industry and its still a great place to dairy for all the right reasons. We have great volcanic soil, which means despite all the rain the drainage is still excellent and the water moves away very quickly. Our cows aren’t whingeing as you can see.

IMG_2262

There is always plenty to eat Rain Hail or Shine

What about the radio interivew you ask?  Well except for managing to move the flood back a whole month ( cant believe I said that) it went off okay. You can decide here