Editor’s note: This tip was provided by Darin Mann of M & M Feedlots in Idaho. Mann is also the northwest director for the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association.
“We can all visualize in our minds that feedlot or dairy that is a public-relations nightmare. There is the typical broken fence lines, damaged feed bunks, bent gates, huge stock piles of manure, weeds lining the sides of the lagoon ponds and the ever growing pile of old equipment and rusty parts that have been saved for years.
“Although this is not your typical farm, there are areas in which we can all improve. We need to take the time and invest some money into cleaning up our facilities. By doing so, we will have more pride in our operation, employees will be more positive and your neighbors will appreciate being your neighbor.
“You do not have to eat the whole elephant at once. It probably took a couple of decades to make the mess, so it will probably take several months, or a year, of concerted effort to get it all cleaned up. Little by little, you will make progress. The key to maintaining a clean operation is to fix things when they break. Do not let your list of repairs grow so large that it becomes an enormous burden to complete.
“On our operation, we raise replacement heifers for local dairymen. Like all facilities with livestock, we have manure, odors, dust, flies, dead animals and heavy traffic on roads coming in and out of the facility. Here's what we have done to address some of these issues.
We installed scrape alleys and back fences behind each feed manger. This allows us to clean all of the wet manure out of the corrals several times a week. This wet manure is immediately put into compost rows. By doing this, we eliminate the manure with the most odor; remove an environment where flies lay their eggs; and leave a clean feeding area for the heifers. Whatever you do, please do not stockpile manure on your property line next to a busy road or your neighbors' houses.
In each corral, we installed large irrigation sprinklers to control dust during the dry summer months. This also allows the heifers to cool down. We also have a dust control company apply their biodegradable, environmentally friendly product to our heavily traveled gravel roads throughout the feedlot. This reduces particle matter in the air we breathe and helps us all enjoy the sunset.
We built a solid metal box with a swinging door. Here we place the dead animals until the rendering truck arrives and properly disposes of the carcasses. Although death is part of life, seeing a dead cow may be a new experience for a first time visitor. Is this the impression we want to leave?
All truck drivers who regularly visit the feedlot are instructed to slow down around our neighbors' houses. We have asked that they drive 35 mph on the roads leading into our facility. This is far below the posted speed limit.
A considerable portion of our facility is landscaped. We have several acres of lawn around the corrals and more than 600 trees that almost fully enclose the operation. This is not only a good windbreak for the livestock but also a nice geographic feature. In the middle of the feedlot, we have a fully landscaped park with a gazebo and windmill. Here we entertain our neighbors and guests who visit our facility.
“Each year we give dozens of tours to schoolchildren, teachers, Boy Scout troops and elected government officials. During these tours, we are educating them and showing them that we are good stewards of the land, that we care about animal welfare and that we support our local schools and community. As I said earlier, we have manure, odors, dust, flies and dead animals at our facility, but when our friends and neighbors leave, all they remember is how pleasant their visit was.
“At our family-owned and managed farm, we have taken a proactive approach to educate our neighbors and the general public. We in agriculture often times do not take the time to share our story; others, who do not always have our best interest in mind, are telling it for us. We must be proactive and not always reactive. We must start now and tell our story every opportunity we get. When negative headlines appear about our operations or industry, it is too late! However, in order to build positive relations with our neighbors and the general public, we must first clean-up our messes and mend some fences.”