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Montgomey Farmer Practices Conservation Methods

By Staff | Sep 15, 2009

Michael Sherman from Montgomery was the host for an agricultural program recently on animal mortality composting at his farm given by Erin Ackerman from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Ms. Ackerman is a domestic animal health inspector for the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services located on County Farm Road in Montoursville. Several interested local farmers attended the workshop as she explained how livestock and poultry can be recycled in Pennsylvania.

Properly managing and disposing of dead farm animals is important she said . Every livestock and poultry operation should have a strategy for properly disposing of dead stock. The strategy must follow a legal disposal method as defined in the PA Domestic Animal Act she explained . The four legal methods of disposal are mortality composting, rendering, incineration and burial.

When managed properly, composting is convenient, affordable and requires minimal labor. Ackerman related that properly managed composting facilities do not have problems from rodents, predators, flies or odors. For larger animals such as cattle, she advised using a free standing pile of absorbing layers on a well drained surface with a two feet base. The layers can be made from sawdust, pine shavings, waste feed, and grass clippings all arranged in multiple layers. Wood chips and sawdust make a good base layer and can easily be purchased from lumber yards or tree companies said Ackerman. She also advised to check local townships and boroughs for waste or recycled trees and wood chips.

The pile must be at least 200 feet away from any water source. It cannot be near a highway or near a neighbor’s property. “It must be kept from the public’s eye.”

There should be a proper mixture of carbon and nitrogen for a good ratio balance.

She also talked about temperature of the compost. Pathogens are killed in 95 to 110 degrees and a temperature gauge is the best way to measure this she said. It should be checked at least every two weeks. She concluded by stating that disposal options for dead animals have changed in recent years and it has proven to be an economical and environmentally safe option for farmers.

After Ackerman’s presentation, Sherman gave a tour of his 115 acre farm and demonstrated some conservation practices. He mainly raises beef cattle, and he most recently purchased a Hereford bull from Pharo Cattle Company in Colorado. Sherman is currently working with the government on federal programs based on conservation through the Environmental Quality and Incentive Program with the United States Department of Agriculture. “There is federal funding available for area farmers to implement environmental practices and procedures,” explained Sherman who is also director for our local farm service agency located on 542 County Farm Road in Montoursville. Often this funding goes unused because farmers don’t know about it according to Sherman.

He uses 45 acres for a rotational grazing system for the beef cattle. They rotate pastures. Ten acres of his land is used to grow corn to feed the cattle. Other acreage is used to rotate the cattle. They graze for about one and a half days before they are moved to another pasture. They rotate every 45 days. This allows a better re-growth rate for the grasses and clover.

He also had to install a drainage system to water the crops and provide water for the cattle. Two acres are used to run water underground leading to a fifteen gallon septic tank five feet deep. Prior to this the cattle would go down to the stream to drink. “I would always have problems such as foot rot, pink eye, fungus. This is so much easier for the animals and safer,” explains Sherman. This way the cattle can cross to go to one specific spot so as not to erode the stream banks, ” said Sherman. He was able to install the drainage system through a government grant with the Conservation Reserve Enhancement program. “I installed a reparian buffer by planting trees (150 per acre) along the stream banks. This keeps them from being polluted. The trees stop erosion and shade the water so more good aquatic organisms can live there,” he added. The cattle will drink water pulled from the stream and placed in stock tanks in the pasture. The water that is not consumed by the cows is returned to the stream. It is totally gravity fed and uses no power. It operates all year long even in zero degrees. Waste water is controlled and empties out through a pipe that filters waste water and puts it back into the stream thus reducing any environmental impact.

Sherman’s farm is located on Brouse Road in Montgomery just off Route 405. The program was sponsored by the Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. For more information on dead animal composting and routine animal mortalities, visit http://composting.cas.psu.edu or www.agriculture.state.pa.us. Area farmers can get information on grants and funding sources for conservation methods by calling 570-433-3902.