Managing waste for an expanding dairy herd

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Farm Forum

Jonathan Gaskin grew up on a beef cattle and grain farm in Adair County, Kentucky. And at 12, Gaskin was milking cows for the farm next door. The neighbor sold their farm when he was 18, and at that time, he always knew he wanted to have a dairy farm – he just didn’t realize he would buy that same farm a few years later.

He bought the farm in 2006 and started working with his soon-to-be wife, Jessica, to build a dairy operation together. They married in 2008 and started growing the 110-acre place.

“We started with 30 heifers and calved them one cow at a time,” Gaskin said.

As the herd grew, the Gaskins expanded their operation. They bought additional equipment, built barns and purchased additional land. With a growing herd, managing manure became more challenging.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), helped the Gaskins develop a management plan for handling the increase in manure as the farm expanded. They were able to develop a nutrient management plan, which outlines ways to manage manure while putting it to good use as a fertilizer without affecting water quality.

Through the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), they constructed a covered manure stack pad that can hold up to 42,700 cubic feet of manure.

“Through financial and technical assistance from NRCS, we now have a stack pad that allows us to apply the stored dry manure directly to our fields at rates calculated in the plan,” Gaskin said of using the manure as organic fertilizer for crops. When manure is applied correctly, the nutrients are used by plants, minimizing the risk of runoff into nearby streams and rivers.

The Gaskins would like to continue to expand the herd to more than 500 cows. Managing the waste and nutrients from a herd that size will always be a challenge, but the Gaskins are ready to do what it takes to grow their dairy operation in a sustainable way.

To get started with NRCS, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.