Friday, December 1, 2017

Using bedding

The use of straw or other carbon rich material such as corn stover has always been important to the way we farm here at Pastures A Plenty. Hogs, which are our main livestock business, have an ongoing need to seek and find, to play and manipulate their environment Straw or corn stalks is just what is needed to enrich the environment for them. Hog satisfaction makes for good thrifty production.
We also recognized early on that bedding mixed with the manure did much to modify the smell that accompanies livestock production. Carbon ties up and stabilizes the nitrogen compounds. It is an important adjustment we make to enable us to live with our work, which is critical when the work is more about animals than machines. This is an important principle of any practice of animal husbandry. Close association enables the respect between animal and human that fosters humane values in agriculture. Without it, farming fails into being just another industry. We on the farm can plan a picnic or barbecue at any time without fear that smells and commotion will ruin the event. Since we live right here, we can notice anything out of the ordinary that indicates something wrong with the pigs.

Note the pictures. You can see two phases of our manure handling. First, pretty much all of the residue from our corn crop is baled for bedding in big round bales. We use about 350 of these every year. This project can be a bit nerve wracking as a wet fall makes it difficult to get dry bedding. These bales are hauled to the livestock area and stacked for easy access during the coming winter. Generally six to seven of the bales are used every week for all phases of the hog production cycle, from mama sows to older growing animals. We add bedding regularly right on top the manure and soiled bedding, thus keeping the area clean. We clean the areas less frequently, depending on the particular facility and when we do, old trucks and trailers are used to haul the material to the field where it will be used and stockpile it. This helps us match manure application with crop needs and windows of opportunity to apply. And it allows the manure to compost.
Using hog manure as a solid material prevents us from the over application and runoff into creeks and rivers that is a concern with liquid or slurry manure systems. And the bedding helps make the product into something that the soil seems to recognize. The fact that the feces and urine is already mixed with carbon material that came from the field and has been composting and changing in that form essentially starts the process of incorporating the fertility into the field even before it is spread, we think. Now with the concerns about climate change, we need to know more about how these things work. Does this system return more carbon safely to the soil instead of burning it into the atmosphere? What is the effect of this kind of manure handling on the amount of methane production? We already are studying soil life for clues about how a healthy population of everything that belongs in the soil helps stabilize the climate. But we know less than we need to about the usefulness of manure handled as a solid material simply because the Universities and industry have assumed liquid and slurry systems to be the future and have neglected research in this important area. All this is changing fast, making our business and way of life pretty exciting.