Blog: When it reeks to high heaven...

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click image to zoomModern Farm WifeModern Farm WifeModern Farm Wife blogger Jessica Folkema and her husband, "Dairy Man." Marrying the Dairy Man has inexplicably changed my vernacular, my vocabulary, and the stories I relay without a second thought. I am often shocked at the things that come out of my mouth. Seconds after nonchalantly finishing a sentence with, “…and that’s how the cow broke out of the barn,” I realize, with startling clarity, that I am slowly becoming desensitized to the things city slickers find abnormal.

I chat about feed prices. I regale mildly interested coworkers with tales of mischievous cattle. I utter words like “artificial insemination,” “TMR,” and “manure” without skipping a beat. It’s shocking. Half the time I don’t even realize I’m talking about something counter-Jess until I’m around a friend who knew me before I moved to the country. Their look of horror/shock/confusion provokes a moment of self reflection—“Um, how the heck do I know that!?”

I hope to cling to my urban roots for as long as I can. I don’t want to lose my knowledge of the Chicago subway system or how to be an aggressive city driver, but as I spend more time out here, it’s inevitable that I will slowly morph more deeply into my role as a farmer’s wife.

This brings me to something I never EVER thought I would be discussing: cow poop. Or, for those with more delicate sensibilities, manure.

These are the facts: We have cows. Cows eat food. As with all animals, food has to be digested and then *ahem* disposed of. Our hundreds of bovine ladies spend a good majority of their day engaged in this disposal process. When the girls are in the milking parlor doing their thing, our employees drive a skidster (small loader) through the barn and push the latest offerings out into a manure pit.

Modern Farm Wife

Our dairy has several small pits. Please do not confuse them for ponds or reflecting pools. Not even the ducks would make that mistake.

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The Dairy Man’s father’s dairy (also known as the home dairy) has a massively ginormous pit.

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This baby is the size of a soccer stadium and can hold FOUR MILLION gallons of manure. Back in 2008, it was a thrilling addition to the farm.

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Each winter, the cavernous pit fills to the brim. In the spring,  we (as always, “we” is a loose pronoun) spend a couple of frenzied weeks emptying it out.

Typically our manure hauling just involves a pit, a pump, and a tractor. But during the weeks I’ve dubbed “Manure Mania,” we actually bring in trucks to expedite the hauling process. This allows us to haul a greater quantity of the smelly stuff in a shorter period of time (because, after all, five trucks can drive much faster than one tractor). The Dairy Man hauls manure throughout the year, but there are only a couple of weeks in which we actually try to empty out the pits.

During the mania of manure, there are four steps.

1: Pump the manure from the pits using a tractor.

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2: Fill a truck and drive it to one of our fields (we’ve only got 1100 acres to choose from – oy vey).

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3: Pump stinky liquid from truck to manure spreader.

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4: Drive the tractor through the field spreading a delightful fairy dust of … poo.

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Rather than simply throw manure on the fields, we inject. Oh yes. A futuristic little contraption on the back of the manure spreader injects the organic fertilizer directly into the soil.

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This process not only cuts down on the odor, but it injects nutrients directly into the soil, creating an optimum environment for our future corn babies.

Waste not, want not. The cows are making it and our crops will love it.

Now I just have to resist the urge to whip out this information at dinner parties.

For more adventures from an urbanite learning to live the life of a modern farm wife, visit

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Wm F. Tooley "The Teach"    
Platte, South Dakota  |  October, 24, 2013 at 01:33 PM

Hey Jessica, I am enjoying your blogs! Keep those smiles coming? And yes, I used to be a teacher. Here are a few things to think about in making your dairy more sustainable – and profitable. - PUSHING MANURE takes lot of work and doesn’t keep the barn clean between milking. Have you considered hourly flushing? Flushing is less expensive, keeps the barn cleaner and prevents hairy wart. Flushing can be done with recycled “safe-water” if the lagoon is stirred continuously. Search for "Oak Lane - Eight Row” to see a barn automatically clean itself. - STORING MANURE in a lagoon without stirring lets a lot of nitrogen escape. "If you can smell it, you're losing money!" Your crops need that N-nitrogen to take up P-phosphorous the cows produce. Continuing to apply low nitrogen manure, fields can become unbalanced. - PUMPING requires agitation to remix solids and liquid. Agitation costs fuel and tractor hours. Continuous lagoon circulation is a cheaper way to avoid agitation costs – and eliminate odor. - HAULING onto fields with manure tankers is more costly than spreading with travelling guns or pivots. Hauling compacts soils to reduce yields up to 30% especially for alfalfa. - INJECTION OR KINFING raw manure will also severely degrade soil fertility by stealing oxygen from the soil and killing the microbial matrix which needs oxygen to survive. - NUTRIENT APPLICATION in spring or fall is not the best practice. Did you know that fertigating during summer when plants need nutrients most will increase crop yields by 20%. And summer fertigation avoids environment risk from leaching and runoff. Well, that is a lot to think about all at once. Until next time, keep up the great blogging

Dr Dan    
Ohio  |  October, 24, 2013 at 02:35 PM

Yiu comments are presented as absolute. There are a number of them that are very debatable

Real World Dairy Farmer    
USA  |  October, 24, 2013 at 02:46 PM

The above comments sound like an unsolicited sales pitch... Ugh. Nothing worse than a preachy sales man... There are so many ways to farm correctly, no farm deals with the exact same geography or logistics, making one-size-fits-all sales pitches off-putting. From what I can see, the Modern Farm Wife's DM is doing a GREAT job. And, thanks by the way for the blog- I'm enjoying it immensely (I look for it daily). Very relatable from both sides of the "farming fence". Thank you for the positive spin. I think that perspectives from folks such as yourself, being from the city, and now on the farm, carries a whole lot of credibility with the non-farming community. Again, thank you!

Dr Dan    
Ohio  |  October, 24, 2013 at 02:37 PM

Apologies, should read before posting : You

Wm F. Tooley "The Teach"    
Platte SD  |  October, 25, 2013 at 09:23 AM

Dr Dan, Thank you. That is why I posted. This debate needs to get going. New information form CIG demonstrations give us hope for better solutions.

Wm F. Tooley "The Teach"    
Platte SD  |  October, 25, 2013 at 11:39 AM

Real World Dairy Farmer, Sorry if the comments above came off sounding preachy to you. And thanks for reminding us one size never fits all. So then here is a question. Why do most dairies end up doing almost the same things, in almost the same way, with nearly the same equipment? Obviously somebody “sold” them on the tools and methods they use today? Modern Farm Wife and her DM are doing a great job with the tools they have available. My comments above point out only six simple ways they could do better and they deserve the increased profits! So yes, I am selling something - learning. That is what a teacher does. We shouldn’t want to leave this world of dairy farming where we found it when I came in. There are better and more profitable ways of doing things today. The knowledge is freely available. It doesn’t cost anything, just learning. The way we have done things all our life, may not be the way we want to do it – or will be allowed to continue – in the real world of dairy farming in the future. Everything changes. Best regards.

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