When Caleb and Jonathan Richer, Loogootee, Ind., took over the home farm, there weren’t many useful buildings for managing cattle. One of their goals was to feed out more cattle. To do so, they knew they would need to invest in better facilities and figure out how to handle manure better. Leaving it outside exposed to the elements when they couldn’t haul it wasn’t a good option.
Both Caleb and Jonathan work full time off the farm, but both live on the farm, near the cattle operation. They took over the farm from their father, Dale, and uncle Jake.
“We visited with the folks at the Natural Resources Conservation Service and found out there was cost-share available to help us get a cover over where cattle congregated,” Caleb explains. “We also discovered that we could cost-share on a structure to store manure.”
The Richers entered into an agreement with NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. Trevor Shepard, an NRCS area engineer, helped design part of their structures. Today, they have a 50-cow beef herd, but buy additional feeders to finish. The area where cattle congregate can hold 125 head. A sizable number of their animals are marketed as freezer beef, with the rest going to a local packing facility.
The first project they completed with the help of the NRCS agreement was the “roof and cover” project for covering the area where finishing cattle are housed. The sides are open, but a new roof keeps rain out and makes the area manageable. They typically bed it with organic material, sometimes turkey litter from a turkey hatchery, containing mostly litter. The bedding can build up over time and still provide a suitable area for cattle.
“These projects are common,” says Chris Lee, technical team leader for NRCS in southwest Indiana, based in Princeton. “The goal is to get cattle out of the mud. When we have cattle in mud, we often get soil erosion on areas where cattle congregate. We want to avoid that type of situation.”
NRCS cost-shares on several manure storage areas in southwest Indiana because livestock numbers, especially turkeys and chickens, are relatively high in that part of Indiana. In this case, the Richers needed somewhere to go with manure when conditions are too wet to haul it to the field. They also needed to keep cattle out of the manure storage area.
The manure storage building consists of a concrete floor and partial sides, with a roof over open area. The structure also includes a waste handling area where they can bring in manure from the roofed cattle area, and also haul out manure. Wherever cattle may cross through the area at some point, the concrete floor is etched to help prevent cattle from slipping.
“We try to protect the value of our manure, and use it to replace some commercial fertilizer,” Caleb says. “Since it’s protected in storage, we can sample it for analysis and know what we’re applying. It’s a much better way to handle manure.”