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Improving fertigation uniformity and clean cows are a byproduct of water-use efficiencies for family dairy near Royal.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

July 21, 2016

3 Min Read

For O and W Dairy near Royal, it’s all about water use and nutrient efficiency, herd health and TLC for the cows. Warren Snodgrass started milking cows with his father when the family was milking by hand and using kerosene lanterns for light. Today, Snodgrass is still dairying with wife Merry, son Roy, grandsons Heath and Seth, and other family members and employees, but they have come a long way since those days of milking by hand.

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“In 2000, we made a major investment to upgrade our facilities, increase our herd and completely change the way we do things,” Warren says. “We visited other dairies across the country, including several in New York state, to learn about the types of systems out there and how they were working.”

The system they eventually built included new freestall loafing barns with sand stalls and a unique flushing system that uses lagoon water to flush the floors at regular intervals each day.

“Through most of the year, we use lagoon water to flush the system,” Heath explains. “We use fresh water in the summer, partly because the cooler water tends to cool the barns and the cows,” he says. “But most of the year, we recycle lagoon water. When the system flushes, it washes the cows’ feet and helps keep the floors clean. This way, we reduce feet problems and improve the overall health of the cows,” he says.

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When the new barns and milking parlor were built, the original lagoon seemed quite large, at about 9 feet deep. But fertigating from that anaerobic lagoon over time became a maintenance issue for sprinkler equipment, Heath says. Corrosion from the lagoon water ruined sprinkler packages. This past year, under consultation with Dan Lyons, Petersen Ag Systems, the family added Circul-O2-Rater units to the lagoon to change the system from anaerobic to aerobic, reducing odor, improving nutrient availability in the lagoon water for fertigation and changing the composition of the lagoon water for flushing into clean, less corrosive water.

The family recently built a larger, second lagoon that is much deeper, to handle more of the fluids. Heath says that in the coming months, Circul-O2-Rater units will be installed on that lagoon as well. The units, produced and marketed by eXpertCompany, allow water from the aerobic lagoons to be pumped through regular center-pivot sprinkler packages without the corrosion and clogging concerns. “It improves the uniformity of our irrigation,” Heath says.

He also notes that dairies produce a great volume of solid manure. To break solids down, about 10 years ago they added a manure press that separates the largest amount of solids from the manure through a system of screens, and presses the liquids from the manure to produce a fine-textured, fluffy product that can be distributed on fields as fertilizer.

As the family looks to slowly expand their cow numbers over time from 700 up to 850, Heath says that these systems are providing important efficiencies and are helping the dairy recycle water and nutrients, not only in the barns, but also on their crops.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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