A short 13 years ago I was fresh out of college with huge desires and ambitions to start farming. I did what any Alberta boy does when he wants to farm. I got a job in the oil field. I was working six days a week, 15 hours a day driving a truck to support my habit of farming. I leased a section of land and purchased some cattle — purebreds to boot! On this farm that I leased, of the 640 acres there was about 150 acres of pasture right in the middle. The balance was cropland that completely surrounded the pasture. On my one day off a week, I farmed. I borrowed, hired and purchased the equipment that I used and began to work the land. I cultivated it. I seeded it. I harrowed it. I hired a custom operator to spray some of it. I put up some hay. I made greenfeed, and I combined some barley. I then had to haul all that feed in to the yard. I hauled in the hay, the greenfeed, the straw and ran the barley through a grinder to make chop for the chop bin.
Fall arrived and the cattle moved into the corrals and I began to feed them. Along came winter and now I found myself working 20 hours a day and sometimes seven days a week. Did you know that if you want to feed grain to your animals twice a day, but you work a 20-hour day, they get fed four hours apart? That confused me at the time but I continued on, the way you are suppose to tend cattle — feeding hay every morning and grain twice a day. Of course I put out lots of bedding to help them get through our cold winters.
Springtime rolled around and the cows were quite happy to head back out to pasture. I began the whole process over again; tilling and seeding on Sundays, hauling oil all week. July arrived and I realized that I had a fair buildup of manure to deal with in the corrals.
Being a man of very few assets, I borrowed a bobcat and a small one-ton dump truck from my brothers. When Sunday came along I needed some help for this job. Who do you think I found to help me out? Yes, the girlfriend. Sorry, did I not mention her. How I had time to have a girlfriend is beyond me now but I do recall her riding around with me a lot at work.
It is July and I learn all that straw and manure manages to insulate the four-foot deep manure pack. Even though it was 35C that day there was still ice under the straw.
When you borrow equipment, you get what you pay for. The truck that I borrowed was quite old and there was no air conditioning. To make it worse, both windows were broken and would not roll down. I felt a little sorry for my girlfriend, but the work has to get done, right? This truck also burnt a huge amount of fuel. I could not believe how much it cost to fill that thing. So there we were with ice, wet manure, a Bobcat and a two-wheel-drive-dualie one-ton.
You guessed it. The Bobcat gets stuck in the slop and ice and I was unable to wiggle and dig myself out. It just went deeper. I ran for a chain and I dug my way through the slim to hook up to the truck. Now the truck is stuck. ARGGG! Now I am mad. I throw a little temper tantrum, cuss and swear a
few times and of course, the next thing I know, I’m watching my girlfriend stomp off to the house in a huff. Talk about digging yourself in deeper! But I am still fuming… so frustrated because I have to go to work tomorrow, and I only have the equipment for one day. How am I suppose to get this all done today by myself? Does life get any better than this?
For some reason, I stopped… I turned around… and realized… that every one of my cows was lined up along the fence line, watching me. They were watching me work. It was at that moment that I realized that they had been watching me all year. All year, I seeded and hayed and harvested and hauled bales. I did all this for them and what have they done? Nothing. It seemed like a good deal to them! I was working harder than ever, I had no money, my stress level was obviously very high, and my girlfriend wouldn’t talk to me.
I made a promise to myself right there on that pile of manure. I am no longer working for these cows. They can work for me. And to this day, I have not hauled manure. Manure hauling is a very expensive, unnecessary chore that can easily be eliminated from your operation.
How have I managed to avoid hauling it for 12 years? I let the cows do the work. I dormant-season graze to keep them on pasture longer, in an attempt to avoid the feeding season. I swath graze, which recycles nutrients from the crop back on to the land and keep the herd out of the corrals. I bale graze, which brings in added nutrients to fertilize my pastures, while avoiding the corrals. If I have to feed, I unroll hay on the pasture.
What about those nutrients? Most of the nitrogen that comes out the back end of a cow is in the urine. So when manure is stored, hauled and spread, most of this nitrogen is lost.
What’s left is of no value because the cost to haul it out is more than the fertilizer benefit it provides to you. So why are you hauling manure? If the cow urinates on the frozen ground, the warm urine melts into the soil and freezes. Some will crystallize off but most will be available in the spring.
I still need to process the animals. I use a portable handling facility made from heavy-duty self-standing panels. Every year, when I pregnancy check or process, the corrals move to wherever the cattle might be. This way, every year, the manure is left in a different spot and the corrals just get picked up and moved.
I have found this not only helps my profitability, it saves me time and reduces labour and equipment requirements all year long. I have heard many times that if you stop doing things on your ranch, you will find you have more time and more money. It’s funny how appealing that is to most of us, but how hard it is to do.
The next time you call for a manure truck, ask yourself, “why?”
Steve Kenyon runs Greener Pastures Grazing Management in Busby, Alta.,www.greenerpasturesgrazing.com,(780) 307-
2275, email[email protected]