Spreading manure

Cindy in SD

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When you have cows, you have lots of poo. I knew this when I decided I had to have them of course, but the magnitude of the thing somehow eluded me...

So, what do I do about it? Harrow it in? Will spreading it around make the grass inedible to the cows? I just got them this fall (yes, I know... stupid time to buy cows, but I HAD to have them. They’re diabolically cute. It’s not my fault.)

1A519020-8AA1-4CCC-B8B4-9DC47CF66E2D.jpeg

I have chickens too, but possibly not quite enough of them... 17, half grown and still confined to their run. I was hoping the wild turkeys that were hanging around might help me out, but no. It’s probably too chilly/cold for yummy fly larvae to tempt them, and then soon it was hunting season so they all melted away into the deep woods. Maybe they’ll come back. They seemed fascinated with my chickens.

Should I leave the cow poo until they stop grazing and then harrow it? Should I wait until spring? Or do I spread it at all? Maybe by the time the girls get around the whole place in their progressive grazing foodie tour it will have lost the ick factor for them? I’m reading Salad Bar Beef, but so far it’s a bit light on the details.
 

farmerjan

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Okay, got a bunch of questions. First, how much space/acreage/land do they have to graze/run on? Is most of the manure because you are feeding in one spot? Is their grazing area such that you are going to be subdividing into lots to practice rotational type grazing? What do you consider alot of manure? What is the condition of the ground they are on and if divided up, will any of it be used as hay growing?

There are some ""rules and regulations"" in this day and age for spreading manure. Not that we all follow them.... but you need to be aware in case there is any complaints of any kind. Manure cannot be spread within a certain # of feet from any stream or body of water, and can only be spread while there is an "actively growing crop" so the nutrients do not leach down through and get into the ground water. Okay, any day that it gets above 45 or 50 can be considered warm enough for an actively growing crop of grass or rye or something. What it was implemented for was to stop farmers from going out and spreading on a snow covered field so it just sat there and then as the snow melted it ran off with the snow melt. Plus probably some aesthetics of looking as manure covered snow (LOL).
All that aside, if manure builds up with the proper amount of straw/hay/bedding mixed it, it makes a type of "compost" that will actually be a little warmer for the animals to lay on in the cold. As long as it isn't soggy wet muddy.
Cows will avoid grass that has had fresh manure spread on it. If spread on a hayfield as early in the spring as possible, there doesn't seem to be any adverse effect by the time 1st cutting is made 6-8 weeks later. Or spread again for a 2nd cutting crop. In pastures, if it is not spread or dragged, then they will often avoid it for that growing season. If it is dragged, say as soon as you rotate them into the next paddock, then by the time they get rotated back it is usually a moot point because the dung beetles and the earthworms and all the microbes will have broken it down into usable fertilizer. Providing you get some moisture.
I am assuming that you are wanting the chickens and/or turkeys to help spread it. They will, but only if they can find insects/larvae to go after. And they only spread it for a foot or two in any direction. Rotational grazing also helps that as you spread the manure throughout the field, then get them off and it will become the fertilizer. If they are basically grass fed, then there will be few/no grains for them to scratch around for and it will be more liquid and will break down faster anyway.

The only time you actually harrow in manure is on a barren plowed or no til type field. Pastures and hay ground would only get a drag at most or you will be "digging up" and disturbing the crop/grass or whatever. But then some do call it a drag harrow....
 

greybeard

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I drag the piles down most years, about once/month and after the first time it gets rain, the cows don't avoid any particular area other than the few piles I missed where green grass is tallest.
I use an old 10" x 10" pole, cut down to about 10' long, chained behind a tractor.
drag.jpg


Other things you can use for a drag is a short length of chain link fence with some weight on the back 1/4th of it, or even an old beat up cattle panel or gate.

Now, back when the govt regs were dictating to the vast herds of millions of migrating bison where they could poop and couldn't poop, I suppose one had to be careful, but I've never had anyone from the Nanny State come out here and tell me I was doing it wrong.
 

Cindy in SD

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Okay, got a bunch of questions. First, how much space/acreage/land do they have to graze/run on? Is most of the manure because you are feeding in one spot? Is their grazing area such that you are going to be subdividing into lots to practice rotational type grazing? What do you consider alot of manure? What is the condition of the ground they are on and if divided up, will any of it be used as hay growing?

There are some ""rules and regulations"" in this day and age for spreading manure. Not that we all follow them.... but you need to be aware in case there is any complaints of any kind. Manure cannot be spread within a certain # of feet from any stream or body of water, and can only be spread while there is an "actively growing crop" so the nutrients do not leach down through and get into the ground water. Okay, any day that it gets above 45 or 50 can be considered warm enough for an actively growing crop of grass or rye or something. What it was implemented for was to stop farmers from going out and spreading on a snow covered field so it just sat there and then as the snow melted it ran off with the snow melt. Plus probably some aesthetics of looking as manure covered snow (LOL).
All that aside, if manure builds up with the proper amount of straw/hay/bedding mixed it, it makes a type of "compost" that will actually be a little warmer for the animals to lay on in the cold. As long as it isn't soggy wet muddy.
Cows will avoid grass that has had fresh manure spread on it. If spread on a hayfield as early in the spring as possible, there doesn't seem to be any adverse effect by the time 1st cutting is made 6-8 weeks later. Or spread again for a 2nd cutting crop. In pastures, if it is not spread or dragged, then they will often avoid it for that growing season. If it is dragged, say as soon as you rotate them into the next paddock, then by the time they get rotated back it is usually a moot point because the dung beetles and the earthworms and all the microbes will have broken it down into usable fertilizer. Providing you get some moisture.
I am assuming that you are wanting the chickens and/or turkeys to help spread it. They will, but only if they can find insects/larvae to go after. And they only spread it for a foot or two in any direction. Rotational grazing also helps that as you spread the manure throughout the field, then get them off and it will become the fertilizer. If they are basically grass fed, then there will be few/no grains for them to scratch around for and it will be more liquid and will break down faster anyway.

The only time you actually harrow in manure is on a barren plowed or no til type field. Pastures and hay ground would only get a drag at most or you will be "digging up" and disturbing the crop/grass or whatever. But then some do call it a drag harrow....
Thanks, FarmerJan!

We have 12.5 acres plus a rented pond, all zoned “limited ag,” surrounded by USFS land. The USFS land is “leased” to a rancher for grazing his Black Angus herd in summer. Otherwise no neighbors. We’ve only had the cows since September 8th, so not that much manure yet really... but I can see it’s going to need dealing with.

I meant a drag harrow; I’ve been looking at them on Amazon. Some are smoothish on both sides; some have a smooth and a toothy side. I’m thinking the latter dual purpose one, since we also have a gravel road to maintain. It’s good to know I can drag the paddocks as soon as the cows and poultry (if they seem interested) are finished with them, then rotate the cattle back over them in the right timing.

I do plan to do rotational/progressive grazing starting in spring once the grass gets a good start. For now I’ve got them fenced into the east 6 acres with free choice hay. It was all kept pretty well-mowed up til they got here, then the very next day after I brought them home we got hammered... the month of unending hail. The hail beat up what grass was left. Nevertheless they’re mostly grazing and doing all right so far.

We don’t have the means to make hay and for three cows plus future calves, it’s probably cheaper to buy it than to tool up. I’m too old to do much scything and bailing. If they can’t keep up with the grass, then maybe we’ll have to cut a little around the more fertile areas. Our place is mostly meadow with a little pine wood in the center and some aspen in the SW edge.

Straw here is costlier than good hay—we’re in western SD—no crops to speak of but beef—so I guess the bedding will be hay and maybe some pine straw. They (two of them anyway) are just sleeping in their shed for the first time. I put the mineral blocks in there to tempt them inside, along with some semi-icky hay to lie on and maybe nibble at if they feel inclined.

We have a springtime drainage across the NE quadrant. I’d like to dig another pond and collect some of that water instead of having it spread out all across the grass, but I’m afraid to even ask about regulations. Anyway the cows will need fencing out of that bit in spring until it dries up, and from around the pond, of course.

I think that probably covers your questions unless I missed something. So it sounds like what I need to do is drag the manure promptly when rotationally grazing and keep their shed and feed/water areas well-bedded. Then, I’ll assume, spread the composted bedding wherever the ground seems to need it?

Thanks again! I really appreciate your help!
 

Cindy in SD

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I drag the piles down most years, about once/month and after the first time it gets rain, the cows don't avoid any particular area other than the few piles I missed where green grass is tallest.
I use an old 10" x 10" pole, cut down to about 10' long, chained behind a tractor.
View attachment 54255

Other things you can use for a drag is a short length of chain link fence with some weight on the back 1/4th of it, or even an old beat up cattle panel or gate.

Now, back when the govt regs were dictating to the vast herds of millions of migrating bison where they could poop and couldn't poop, I suppose one had to be careful, but I've never had anyone from the Nanny State come out here and tell me I was doing it wrong.
Thanks, Greybeard! That’s a great idea. I’m going to try that as soon as the ground dries up a bit from this most recent rain/snow episode.
 

greybeard

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We have 12.5 acres plus a rented pond, all zoned “limited ag,” surrounded by USFS land. The USFS land is “leased” to a rancher for grazing his Black Angus herd in summer. Otherwise no neighbors. We’ve only had the cows since September 8th, so not that much manure yet really... but I can see it’s going to need dealing with.
My property is surrounded on all sides by US National Forest Land. They don't care where or how often/much cattle poop.
 

farmerjan

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Thanks for the info. Yes, you can buy a drag harrow or you can do like @greybeard said. Use what you have or can find cheap. An old set of bedsprings is what so many used around here. I'm talking the real old timey kind. But a piece of chain link fence will work to break it up; or one of the 16 ft welded wire fence panels, like from tractor supply, cut to whatever size you want/need. We have an old one that has gotten bent up, that we use with a couple of old tires chained behind it and an old log chained on top of the panel for some weight. A piece of chain link fence, with a little weight to keep in on the ground, will break up the patties. It will also work for some driveway work...
If your cattle are the highlands I see in the picture, they will like the outside weather more than being inside unless it is really rough. Their double haircoat is the greatest protection. They are also known to be very good foragers so should keep down some of the "brush" more than some breeds of beef cattle that only like to graze. You can let the manure/bedding build up, then say clean it out in the spring. Pile it to compost it and it will make great fertilizer for the next year in the garden or the pastures.
Pine needles will be fine but remember they are very acidic as is the manure that the cattle produce. You will have to monitor the ph of your soil and probably add lime. That is something you should do now. Soil sample and get a baseline of what you are dealing with to start. Lime takes a little time to get into the soil and bring the ph up. Usually figure a year after applying lime before you see any real good results. ANY kind of carbon (bedding, hay, straw, pine needles, leaves) is good, you will just have to amend it so that you can soil that will grow a garden or good grass.
 

greybeard

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An old set of bedsprings is what so many used around here. I'm talking the real old timey kind.
Yes, they work fine, till they start coming apart and you find springs embedded in your now flat tractor or truck tire....

There's all kinds from the 'store bought' ones to the home made ones. Tire drags are almost free and pretty common here.
tire drag.jpg


tiredrag.jpg


And then, there's this.....
 
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