Why Dairy Farmers Love Sand like a Child at the Beach

There is something about building a Sand Castle at the beach that is so satisfying and spectacular.  The sand feels wonderful beneath your toes and molds to your body.  The sand can be formed into anything your heart desires.

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Image from parade.com

On our dairy farm, our cows are equally excited about sand.  Sand is their bed.  Sand is the best bedding we can use for both our cows comfort and health.

Sand Beds

Freshly Raked Sand Beds

At Fairmont, we use “deep sand beds” which means there is not even a floor to the bed, it is all sand.  The sand molds to cows bodies, just like ours at the beach, making a custom bed for each animal.  This type of bedding has proven to be the top choice for dairy producers when it comes to leg comfort, providing a soft spot for the cows hocks to rest and an easy material to get back up in.  Sand also beats out other bedding choices due to the nature of it being non-organic (not related to or derived from living matter), meaning the growth of bacteria is a non-issue compared to bedding with shavings for example that comes from a living organism.  The growth of bacteria in bedding can lead to infections of the udder, called mastitis.  That is why it is very important for our cows health and the quality of our milk to use the best bedding we can find.

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Our girls enjoying their beds!

With all of the positive aspects of sand, finding a plentiful and consistent source for our bedding is often troublesome.  With our recent purchase of the Norman Dix property on Route 2 in Plainfield, we found sand!  If you are local to our Central Vermont area, you may have seen the project we were working on this winter.  We have been digging sand and running it through a screener to ensure a high quality bedding product for our cows.  By extracting the sand we were able to improve the field by making the unused hill in the middle of the field usable!  Another added bonus was driveway material that was screened out of the sand.

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Our trucks have been busy this past winter hauling sand to the main farm in East Montpelier to stockpile top quality bedding for all the beautiful ladies at Fairmont Farm!

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This girl is captured getting some beauty rest in a clean and comfortable sand bed!

Our cows…the reason why we love sand like a child on the beach.

 

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Drag Hosing….the Future of Manure Spreading

Being able spread manure without driving manure trucks to and from the farm….this is now possible through drag hosing!  This spring we hired Eric Severy to do some drag hosing from the main manure pit at Fairmont Farm as well as our new satellite manure pit at “The Haven”.  We do recognize the impact we have on our community and our neighbors and are excited to share that by keeping our trucks off the roads by drag hosing 225 acres, we were able to reduce that impact!

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Drag Hosing on Vincent Flats Road in East Montpelier.  This picture is taken between half a mile and a mile from the Farm.

This system takes quite a bit of setup which involves A LOT of hose, use of town culverts and owned and rented land to spread the hose on.

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Pit Crawler at work in the Fairmont Farm manure pit.  This crawler stirs up the manure and sand (from our bedding) to make a consistent and spreadable product.

This is where the drag hosing begins!  From here a pump works to move manure from the pit through the hose and all the way to the fields.

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Manure Pump.  From here the hose followed the back of the barns…

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Went through the pasture…

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Under a culvert….through another pasture…

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Down the road….

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Through another culvert….

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Across a field (which happens to have a great cover crop on it!)….

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Through another field….

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and finally…to the tractor spreading on Vincent Flats!

This was a really fun experiment for us this spring, something that we are excited to give another try either in the fall or next spring.  We were able to move manure much quicker with this technique and there was less wear on our equipment and the roads!

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While we would love to use this technique on all of our fields, we have a large number of fields that are a distance away and the logistics would not work out.  For those fields you will see our equipment out on the roads, you can check out this post from last spring on road safety.

Corn planting looks different than it used to….

Our cropping goal, at Fairmont Farm, is to be 100% no-till with cover crops, and we have nearly met this goal for a number of years now.  However this year we were about 70% no-till with a cover, 15% no-till without a cover and 15% minimal tillage.  Some of the reasons we have done more tillage this year were: repairing damage to fields from manure spreading in wet conditions, and field stacked manure from barns that are not compatible with our liquid system during the winter months.  The reason for having some fields no-till without a cover is due to the late harvest last year, we ran out of time to get a cover crop planted on some of our later harvested fields.  So, what is no-till and what are cover crops?

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Corn Planting – This picture is no-till planting with a cover crop


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Corn Planting – This picture captures planting new corn directly into an existing grass field

No-till is a type of conservation practice that we use in which we no longer till our fields up before we plant corn.  Instead, the soil is left undisturbed and seeds are directly sewn into the existing vegetation.  We pair our no-till planting with the use of cover crops.  Cover crops are planted after the corn is harvested in the fall and are terminated after spring corn planting.  By planting corn this way, we are simulating a natural ecosystem for the plants.  The benefits include an overall increase in soil health, reduced soil erosion, reduced soil compaction, increase in yield, increase in nitrogen recycling, and increased ability to filter and retain water among many other benefits.  From a management perspective, there are also significantly fewer inputs involved in this system including reduced time, money and fuel.

We currently crop about 3,600 acres, 1,500 of which are corn.  Being able to get all of our corn planted in a timely manner, for our short growing season, with our small and rocky fields was one driving factor when we originally made the transition to a no-till cover cropping system.  However since then, we have greatly appreciated all of the other benefits that are gained with this new system.

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Close-up of our corn planter in action


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This photo does a great job showing the excellent soil health in our no-till system

“Across the Fence” had a great episode on October 22, 2012, they interviewed Ray Archuleta from Natural Resource Conservation System (NRCS).  In the video, Ray has a few demonstrations to show the difference in soil health between conventional land and no-till land.  The no-till land naturally stays together, retaining nutrients and water, far superior to land that has been tilled.  The impact this has on water quality is substantial.  No-till soil is able to handle heavy rains without the worry of runoff from nutrients.  This is because the root systems combined with earth worms and other living organisms aerate the soil and make room for the water while simultaneously creating a natural “glue” that keeps the soil intact.

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2016 Corn Spraying – Front View of the Sprayer

What do you see being sprayed after the corn is planted?  The last part to a successful no-till and cover crop system is the termination of the cover crop so it does not compete with the productive crop.  After the corn (Roundup Ready) is planted we use a Glyphosate (generic Roundup) based program to kill the cover crop.  All of our spraying is done by Bourdeau Bros. Inc., a licensed, certified and reputable company.

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Time for a re-fill!

The above picture is a close up of the BIG spray rig, which is designed to be able to maneuver in between corn rows if the corn has already started coming up.  In this picture the spray rig is getting a refill and the Glyphosate is being mixed up.

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2015 Corn Harvest using 2 Choppers


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High Quality Silage being “pushed up” and “packed”.  Notice the yellow color, this shows a high percentage of corn grain in the silage.

What is the result?  The results for this new no-till and cover crop system is a win-win for farmers and for the environment.  Farmers are able to use less inputs to produce a higher quality crop with increased yield much more efficiently, while conserving the natural ecosystem and preserving soil health and water quality!

Spring has Arrived!

Here at Fairmont Farm, Spring is finally in full swing.  We are happy to have the longer days, warmer weather and hints of green!  With a late start to the growing season, we are bustling around to get everything going.

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Blue skies and green grass have just arrived here in East Montpelier, VT at the “Home Farm”

Manure spreading has begun and will continue throughout the spring.  Last year, we stopped spreading manure on our fields before the December 15th Winter Spreading Ban because of snow on the ground.  When the Ban was lifted on April 1st, our fields were still too wet to spread on so we continued to wait until conditions improved (the Accepted Agricultural Practice).  With a little over four months that we did not spread, our manure pits are close to full and we are glad to begin applying nutrients back onto the land.  Although we do use some fertilizer, our manure accounts for a good amount of the nutrients our crops need.  We crop about 2,500 acres in East Montpelier and the surrounding areas and we crop another 1,000 acres in Craftsbury and the surrounding areas.

Fairmont 2015 Spring Spreading

Spreading in Craftsbury, VT at Fairmont Dairy, LLC, what a beautiful view!

We hope that our neighbors and communities enjoy the beautiful farm landscapes around them.  Being good stewards of the land, being a part of our community and being good neighbors is extremely important to us.  You can visit our website and read about our “Manure Management“, we are constantly trying to evolve the system that we have to improve water quality, crop yield and efficiency.  We are very excited about a couple recent projects that will reduce Spring road traffic and greatly improve soil compaction, leading to improved water quality and crop yield.

Fairmont Frac Tank

This is our new “Frac Tank”! It works as a holding tank on the side of the field allowing us to move manure with Semi-Tankers. The tankers can unload into the Frac Tank rather than needing to go on the field, this keeps only our spreaders with flotation tires in the field which reduces soil compaction.

While we do our best to reduce the Farm traffic on the roadways, you will still see a lot of us.  Safety is a top priority of ours, so when our equipment is on the road there are a few things you can remember to ensure both your safety, and ours.  Please remember that we often will turn into or out of a field driveway that you may not be expecting, our equipment is often large and slow but we are not on the road for long.  Vermont Agriculture put out a great Youtube video about road safety and farm equipment, please take the time to watch the video and share what you learn with your friends and family!

Spreaders on the Road

A Fairmont manure spreader heading up the hill to the farm in East Montpelier, VT

Happy Springtime!