Data hungry dairy

Data hungry dairy

This dairy monitors water samples, employs Standard Operating Procedures, and uses Best Management Practices to achieve herd efficiency and environmental quality

McMahons E-Z Acres is earning a reputation for environmental stewardship. One reason? This New York dairy farm is easy on their farm ground. Another is that they're very good to their cattle.

What's more, the soils and cattle respond accordingly. Close monitoring of important numbers in both areas has helped Pete and Mike McMahon's Homer, N.Y., business grow to 2,500 acres and a 695-cow milking herd that ships 27,000 pounds of high-quality milk per cow a year.

"We have to know what's going on in every aspect," stresses Mike. "We're data hungry," adds Pete.

Pete and Mike McMahon's New York dairy has grown to 2,500 acres and a 695-cow milking herd that ships 27,000 pounds of milk per cow per year.

Being environmentally sound has always been a top priority for these brothers. E-Z Acres sits in the Skaneateles Lake watershed and on top of two aquifers. That awareness has made growing their farm easier via a wide variety of best management practices.

Pastured animals, for instance, are fenced away from streams. Riparian buffers with willow wattles (shrubs) were established on 75 to 80 acres of old pastures.

BMPs

Working with non-farming neighbors and keeping them aware of their conservation efforts is important. That's why Mike collects and tests water samples quarterly from six private wells and two streams for water quality near manured cropland.

Sampled nitrogen and phosphorus levels remain low due to integrated crop and nutrient management, cover crops, conservation tillage plus immediate manure incorporation. Sampled nitrate levels typically run 9 parts per million; phosphorus runs less than 0.3 ppm.

One reason for those low levels is that their nutrient management plan helped reduce P application rates by 25%. That's backed up with soil nitrogen and pre-sidedress nitrate tests.

To hold soils and nutrients, wheat or rye cover crops are seeded behind all chopped corn silage – 450 to 500 acres.

Slurry manure is surface banded with low-level drop hoses on manure tankers, instead of being broadcasted with a splash plate. It reduces exposure to wind and cuts ammonia and odor emissions by up to 75%. Then the manure is immediately incorporated with a disk or disk-chisel tool.

Some upland fields with heavy soils were converted from a alfalfa-corn silage/snaplage rotation to intensive grass management using straight reed canary grass. It's a better regimen for soil and water conservation. On lighter, gravelly soils, pure alfalfa is rotated with corn grown on lighter, gravelly soils.

"[Canary grass] allows a little more harvest flexibility," explains Pete. "Unlike alfalfa, you can let it grow a little longer and still produce a better quality chop with 23% protein. We want that neutral detergent fiber between 60% to 65% for bred heifers and dry cows."

SOPs

When New York's Cattle Health Assurance Program came out, E-Z Acres was one of the first farms certified. "Pete was determined to go after it," recalls Mike. He developed standard operating procedures, for instance, on young stock and cattle handling, equipment cleaning, surgical procedures and human resource management.

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