Integrated Manure Management: Good Neighbors, Good Business




Mike Beard and his family have built a national reputation as top managers of feed, water and manure on their 15,000-head hog operation in Indiana.

Photo courtesy of Steve Werblow


Integrated Manure Management: Good Neighbors, Good Business

by Steve Werblow

There aren’t many 15,000-head hog operations that open their doors to neighbors for an annual open house. But Meadowlane Farm of Frankfort, Ind., has built a national reputation for its manure management and conservation ethic. Now it’s taken its manure management on the road, custom-applying manure for neighbors through a homemade injector attached to a hose nearly two miles long.

Manure management starts with feed and water and ends after the nutrients are added to the soil, says Mike Beard, who owns Meadowlane Farm with his son Dave, son-in-law Chris, and two stepbrothers. Together they raise 15,000 pigs per cycle from weaning (at about 10 to 13 pounds) to finish (at 270 pounds). The family also farms about 1,300 acres of corn and soybeans, with forest, wetland and waterways preserved and buffered around the operation.

Less in, less out
Beard is a big fan of the fertilizer value of manure, but he’s also dedicated to minimizing its nutrient content on a pound-for-pound basis. That effort starts at the feed trough, where careful ration formulation minimizes the amount of excess nutrients the pigs consume.

Obviously, a 200-pound hog requires a different diet than a 13-pound piglet. To keep in close step with his animals’ nutritional needs, Beard and his family feed about a dozen different rations, each designed to give the pigs the sustenance they need—but not more. “Compare that style of feeding to what grandpa did,” says Beard. “He had three rations. The pig had everything he needed—and what he didn’t need.”

Managing the amount of nitrogen-rich protein that pigs consume can reduce the amount of nitrogen (N) they excrete. Similarly, adding the amino acid phytase to the ration helps pigs utilize the most common form of phosphorus (P) in their feed. That boosts the value of their ration and reduces the amount of (P) that has to be managed later in manure.

Well-balanced rations can create well-balanced manure, says Beard. “You can get to the place where nitrogen might not be your limiting factor,” he notes. “You’re much more into balance of a typical corn/soybean rotation when you reduce the nitrogen.”

Synthetic amino acids balance the ration more precisely than metering bulk feed ingredients in or out of the mix, Beard explains, adding that the benefits extend to the neighbors, too. “When you use synthetic amino acids in order to help balance the ration rather than overfeed natural products like soybean meal, when you’re more specific in your dietary tailoring, you reduce the excess nutrients that are odor-causing,” he notes.

Meadowlane also invested in new technology that reduces the biggest component of fertilizer—water—by as much as 50 percent. Pigs quickly learn how to keep water flowing in a steady, wasteful stream with standard nipples that are mounted on walls or swinging from ceilings. New cup waterer technology mounts the nipple over a cup that accommodates the pig’s nose. After a few moments of water flow, the cup fills and the pig has to let go of the nipple to take a breath. No more free-flowing water. It sounds simple, but cutting water waste in half has a far-reaching impact.

“There’s less to pump, less to haul, less to handle, less to smell, and a more concentrated product when you’re putting it on fields, so it’s a better fertilizer,” says Beard.

But just because Beard tries to cut down the volume and nutrient content of his pigs’ manure doesn’t mean he doesn’t value the product. Last year, he figures he utilized 6 million gallons of manure on his cropland, replacing 200 tons—or $80,000 worth—of commercial fertilizer.
Long line, big opportunity
Beard, his son Dave and his son-in-law Chris have also built a thriving manure custom application business—last year, they applied more than 25 million gallons of manure. They’ve designed and built application equipment to deliver manure to the soil as directly and odor-free as possible, with minimal disturbance of surface crop residues. When Dave and Chris get going, they can cover 6 to 11 acres an hour, delivering as much as 7,500 gallons of manure per acre at up to 3.5 mph.

On a 22-foot toolbar, they mounted heavy Genesis Tillage aeration tines at a 7-degree offset in front of huge nozzles to create what Dave Beard calls a “poke, lift, squirt” surface-application system. On another toolbar, the family mounted 11 straight coulters on 22-inch centers, each followed by a 12-inch Dietrich sweep with an injector. The result: quick, accurate placement of manure 4 to 6 inches below the soil surface.

Beard and Pearson pull their injector with a 240-hp Agco AT240. Pearson says the applicators run smoothly, even with less horsepower, but the extra muscle is required to pull the 1.75-mile-long hose that feeds manure from the lagoon directly to the applicator.

In addition to the run of 5-inch soft hose that connects the source to the destination, the team can string out as much as a mile of hose in a field. That allows them to cover a 320-acre parcel without changing the position of the 1,500-gpm pump. Recognizing the stewardship benefits of pumping manure rather than hauling it over the roads, the county allowed Meadowlane to run culverts under some of the roads around their farm so they could snake the hose to outlying fields.

It takes about two hours to set up the pump and hose for an application. But even with the lengthy set-up, pumping is far more efficient than loading and running 4,800-gallon honey wagons, which would run out in less than two minutes at the rates Meadowlane applies. The tractor-mounted GPS and flow meter also allow the Meadowlane team to deliver GPS-referenced as-applied records, an increasingly vital component of a good stewardship program.

With their pumping system, the Beards and Pearson have also helped clean several manure spills. The first trial of the system saw them pumping 750,000 gallons of manure from a spill site that threatened a local waterway, diverting it to safe land application. “Since then, I’ve been involved in three or four more spills where manure had the potential to get into waters of the state,” says Mike Beard.
The value of conservation
The Meadowlane Farm conservation ethic extends well beyond the manure pit. Energy-efficient hog barns maintain healthy ventilation with less power consumption. Conservation farming has cut tillage by 75 percent. And a stand of old forest in the middle of the farm, as well as a little wetland in the corner of another field, stand as examples of the family’s land conservation ethic.

Conservation is a significant investment, but it pays a decent return, Beard adds. For one thing, landlords appreciate his farming style, so he has access to more productive ground. And the benefits of manure management are felt throughout the operation, and throughout the area.

“If you add some of the intangibles—odor reduction, manure quality, nutrient ratio—those things start to give you some value,” he says.

Protecting Nitrogen—and Investment

Last fall, Meadowlane Farms added N-Serve nitrogen stabilizer to its fall application program. With a 130-gallon tank mounted on the tractor and an injection hose in front of the manifold of the family’s applicators, Dave Beard of Meadowlane says investing in N-Serve pays dividends to the farm and the environment.

According to Dow AgroSciences, which manufactures N-Serve, converting nitrogen to its stabilized form at application reduces leaching by 16 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by 51 percent—two major avenues for nitrogen loss.

“It’s a cost-effective way to protect the environment and reduce the amount of leaching of nitrogen into tile waters,” Beard says. Even at $8 per acre, N-Serve pays, he says. “Instead of putting an extra 10 percent manure on to account for denitrification, we can use that 10 percent for more acres.”

Watering cups cut water waste by 50 percent, reducing the volume of manure and increasing its nutrient concentration.

Photo courtesy of Steve Werblow

Award-Winning Conservation

In addition to garnering attention from state and national officials, Meadowlane Farm earned the 2006 River Friendly Farmer Award from the Indiana Association of Conservation Districts and the 2007 Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award from the National Pork Board.

Chris Pearson, Mike Beard and Dave Beard have developed hose-fed manure injectors for high-efficiency, environmentally sustainable manure application within about 1.5 miles of their Indiana hog operation.

Photo courtesy of Steve Werblow
Meadowlane Farms' home-built manure injector delivers liquid manure to the root zone, which minimizes nutrient losses to the atmosphere and local waterways and dramatically reduces odor—all at 6 to 11 acres per hour.

Photo courtesy of Steve Werblow

Woodlands and Wetlands

In addition to 1,300 acres of crops and 15,000 hogs, Meadowlane Farms is home to a protected woodland and a preserved wetland. The previous owner of one parcel had bequeathed about 10 acres of woodland to the state of Indiana. Meadowlane owner Mike Beard upped the ante by putting a 30-to-45-foot buffer around the wooded ground and securing a conservation easement for the buffer.

Mike Beard's commitment to conservation is on display to neighbors who drive by a restored wetland in the corner of a grain field.

Photo courtesy of Steve Werblow

About the Writer: Steve Werblow is a freelance agriculture writer based in Ashland, Ore.