Manure Handling Practices
At Kinnard Farms, we go above and beyond what is mandated by law to ensure that our farming practices care for the soil, water, air, our cows and our community. All of our farming practices are science based. We work with a team of soil scientists known as agronomists, as well as university experts, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency to make sure we are doing things right.
We like to think of our farm as a big recycling plant. The cows eat and produce manure, and we apply that manure to the soil in measured amounts. The roots of the crops absorb the nutrients, removing the manure from the soil. We harvest the crops in the fall to feed our cows, our cows produce wholesome, high-quality milk, and the cycle continues.
It All Begins with Healthy Soil
Healthy soil is characterized by its ability to hold and retain nutrients needed for plant growth. Healthy soil is vital to water quality, because healthy soil binds nutrients applied to the soil and holds them for slow release to plants growing in the soil. Plants require these nutrients to grow. It’s the same concept as fertilizing your garden.
Our farming practices are designed to not only preserve organic matter content, but to actually build organic matter content over time. This is accomplished by using specialized tillage equipment and using natural manure instead of chemical fertilizer whenever possible. It’s also realized by rotating crops, such as alfalfa, and using cover crops whenever possible. Preserving and building organic matter in soil is vital to long-term sustainability in agriculture. It is a practice our family is firmly committed to.
Our Healthy Crops are Fed to Our Cows
Our primary crops are alfalfa, corn and triticale. Harvesting the entire plant, versus harvesting only the grain, creates forage. Our cows are ruminants, which means they have a stomach with four compartments that enables them to consume and digest the entire plant. Our cows dine from a buffet line that is comprised of 70% forage.
We grow a lot of alfalfa, an extraordinary crop. Alfalfa persists for 3-4 years through our rough Wisconsin winters, eliminates erosion of our precious topsoil, is a great scavenger of nutrients in the soil, and has the ability to go very deep into the soil to find water. It’s also very good at loosening soil, allowing rainwater to filter through the soil versus running off.
Corn silage is another crop we grow. It is used as a source of energy for our herd and works very well in a rotation with alfalfa.
Triticale is a forage grown on land through the winter and early spring months. It does a great job of protecting our soil from erosion during the winter months.
Our goal is to have about 75% of our acres covered with a growing crop every winter, which helps us protect our soil and water quality. Some of these winter crops are simply cover crops. They will not be harvested, and are grown only to help improve soil health and organic matter.
Ground Water Protection on Karst Topography
Some of the land we farm is located on karst topography. Extra care must be taken to protect groundwater on this land. Identification of shallow soil is vital to the future of our community and our farm. This soil can be very productive. However, to ensure we are doing it right, we take the extra step to run a Veris Machine (a specialty machine that uses electromagnetics to read soil profiles) over all of our land. We’ve mapped our fields in 50’ x 50’ grids and have GPS positioning on each field. These maps show us exact locations and depth to bedrock on all of our land.
We use this information to manage this land differently than the rest of the farm. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says manure could possibly become a pollutant if applied to acres of land with less than 2’ of soil over karst. We exceed that rule and voluntarily do not apply manure to any acres of the farm that have less than 3’ of soil. As a result, approximately 4% of the land that our family currently farms does not receive manure as a fertilizer source. Our family was the first in the state to use this technology to protect our groundwater. It is important to us.