From the April 2018 issue

Environmental Moo-tivation

Ensuring dairy cows leave a smaller hoof-print on our natural resources.

Fido got into the trash. Fluffy shredded the couch. The animals we care for can get a little messy sometimes – and cows are no exception.

That’s why dairy farmers like Katelyn Packard, a manager at Horning Farms in Manchester, Michigan, work hard to create harmony between their cows and the environment.

“I’m the sixth generation to work the family farm,” Packard says. “If we didn’t take care of the land, we wouldn’t still be able to farm it.”

Horning Farms started in 1877 and consisted of 80 acres. It has since grown to 700 acres with 350 cows – and the Horning family handles it all with an environmentally conscious mind. “Farming definitely has an impact on the environment, but as farmers, we want to make sure it’s a positive impact.”

This is why the Hornings elected to participate in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program. “They have a set of standards and instructions set by experts to help us best care for the land. They include information from how and when to spread manure onto the fields to properly fertilize the crops to how to house animals and best manage their manure,” Packard says.

Horning Farms uses these techniques to be a mindful environmental steward. Crop rotation allows for diverse farming without depleting the soil of nutrients. “One year we might plant corn, but corn takes a lot of nitrogen out of the soil,” explains Packard. “After a year or two of corn, we switch to alfalfa, because it puts nitrogen back into the soil.” By rotating its crops, the family continuously rejuvenates its land.

“The main fertilizer we use is the manure from our dairy cows. We test both the soil and the manure so the right amount of manure is applied.” This ensures the land receives only the nutrients needed to grow the crops. This “intimate knowledge” is key in creating that balance. “We don’t want to overuse or underuse anything.”

A milking dairy cow drinks about 30 to 50 gallons of water a day, so the farm also aims to recycle as much water as it can, Packard says.

“The milk comes out of the cow at about 100 degrees, but we need to cool it down before it enters the storage tank. We run the cold-water pipe alongside the milk pipe, and that’s able to bring the temperature of the milk down closer to where it needs to be before it goes into the refrigerated storage tank – and then that water is given to the cows to drink.”

Additionally, the milking equipment needs to be washed after every shift. “We milk twice a day, so it uses a fair amount of water,” she says. Rather than let it go to waste, they then use it to wash the floors of the barn. That water is then collected and applied to the fields along with the manure, to help grow the crops.

All animals, including humans, produce methane and carbon dioxide as part of their digestive process. This is something that continuously drives Horning Farms to improve how they care for the environment.

“Cows are like high-performing athletes. Modern cow care, such as improved nutrition and cow comfort, has increased milk production,” says Packard. “In 1950, a single cow produced one or two gallons of milk per day. Now, it produces 10 gallons a day, making more milk and using less resources.”

Caring for the cows and environment is a way of life for Packard.

“We want to make sure we’re leaving the land better than when we started farming it so that we can keep passing it down. And the happier and healthier our cows, the more efficient we are. It all works together.”

For more information, visit MilkMeansMore.org.

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