It’s March. In Nebraska, this is the month known for wind, basketball, preparation for crop planting, and more wind. My favorite farmer is following the basketball tournaments with enthusiasm, while also developing a certain personal sense of March Madness as he begins to do field work and prepare for planting.
As the calendar warns of spring, Matt’s internal clock starts to crank up a notch as low key winter chores turn into higher energy preparations for the growing season. One of the winter chores that we are wrapping up is hauling manure out of the feed yard pens to be used as fertilizer for our farm ground.
Good soil health is critical to the sustainability of our farm.
It is what ensures that our land will be productive year after year. According to my favorite farmer, the four key components for soil health are: balanced nutrients and moisture levels, active soil biology, and tilth (the composition of the soil relative to solids, liquids, and air).NRCSsoildocument
The by-product of my cattle (manure) plays an important role in both creating a healthy balance of soil nutrients and an active soil biology. While some people may view manure as “icky”, to Matt it is a valuable resource.
We harvest the manure by using a tractor and box scraper to lift the manure off of the surface of our feed yard pens. We pile this manure temporarily in the pens before Matt’s crew hauls it to farm land that has been identified through soil testing as needing fertilizer.
Being diligent in cleaning the manure out of the pens serves a dual purpose. It not only provides Matt with a valuable resource for our crop ground, but it also ensures good living conditions for our cattle.
Cattle comfort is a priority to me because it is important for good animal welfare, but it also plays a role in reducing the environmental footprint of my feed yard. When my cattle are comfortable, they are more efficient in converting their feed into pounds of beef thereby making it more environmentally friendly.
Harvesting manure “on farm” also allows Matt and I to have a more balanced and sustainable farm. We grow crops that are fed to animals, our cattle provide primary products (like beef) and secondary products (like manure). The manure is taken back to the farm ground to replace the needed nutrients that were taken out with the initial crop growth.
While this is a very simplified flow chart of resources on our farm, it gives you an idea of how all of the different facets work together to form a Sustainable Spring (when mixed with just a little bit of March Madness!)