Conservation efforts improve sustainability & efficiency for feeder operation

Conservation efforts improve sustainability & efficiency for feeder operation

The deadline to apply for the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program is fast approaching. Learn how one feeder family benefited from the NRCS grant.

Sustainability is an integral factor in today’s world of agriculture, and evolving farm practices are demonstrating many ways to incorporate conservation methods into agricultural operations.

Dave Linneman, along with his wife Susan and son Alan, have seen the significance of sustainability with the construction of their new monoslope barn, not only from an environmental aspect but also from economic and animal welfare standpoints.

While the Linneman family has had plenty of experience feeding cattle in open lots, Dave and Alan decided it was time to upgrade after struggling with the challenges created by open lots.

Photo Credit: NRCS

“When it’s hot and they’re in deep mud, you know they’re not gaining,” Dave said. “You’re just spinning your wheels.”

With the efficiency and comfort of both livestock and the operators in mind, the Linneman family contacted the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff in 2013 to see what opportunities were available to aid them in meeting their goals to improve their operation.

The NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) awarded the Linnemans financial assistance to develop an agricultural waste system that would minimize runoff and handle manure.

The Linneman family also received assistance from the Central Big Sioux River Watershed Implementation Project. The Linnemans decided to construct a single-wide monoslope barn with an indoor feed alley. Justin Bonnema worked with the Linnemans as an NRCS agricultural engineer to develop a treatment and manure management plan. Along with the manure stacking pad, the Linnemans included a vegetated treatment area (VTA) in their design.

“It’s about runoff, and that’s why we’re avoiding the open feedlot condition at this site,” Bonnema said. “Any water that runs off and hasn’t been treated or controlled is headed straight to the Big Sioux River and eventually could make its way to the Gulf of Mexico.”

A VTA serves as a buffer zone between animal production facilities and water bodies. Perennial grasses are seeded downslope of the production facility to absorb any potential runoff and nutrients while also reducing erosion.

“Every time it rained, manure ran into the creek,” Alan said. “With the stacking pad and VTA, now it’s all managed.”

In conjunction with the VTA, the Linnemans follow a nutrient management plan that assists them in managing manure and assessing the nutrient requirements of their crop ground. With the new monoslope barn in place, they have vacated feeding in their open lots. To further control runoff, they have seeded the lots back to grass.

Finding an ideal site wasn’t a simple process for the Linnemans. Space limitations were an issue that initially directed the Linneman family into examining the possibilities of a monoslope barn instead of expanding their open lots. The Linnemans eventually settled on a location on the east side of the farm after identifying soils that would provide an adequate foundation. Construction was completed in 2014, and the Linneman family was back in business feeding fat cattle that fall.

With a year of operation in the new monoslope barn completed, the Linnemans can already tell they made the right decision for their cattle and the land. The cattle have gained more quickly this year performance-wise than they typically do in open lots. Alan also noted that the cattle are calmer, have continuous access to feed and are given a reprieve from extreme weather conditions.

While the monoslope barn was a step in the right direction, the Linnemans haven’t stopped there. They have seen the advantages in taking conservational steps on their land and are now enrolled in the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to evaluate their current stewardship levels.

The Linnemans plan to enhance the environmental benefits of their farming practices through CSP. They believe a sustainable operation will enable them to transition a more successful farming operation on to the next generation.

Applications for EQIP are batched annually for funding consideration. October 21, 2016, is the date by which an operator or landowner must sign an application at their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 funding consideration. For information about technical assistance and conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov.

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