FIRTH — In celebration of Earth Day, a group from the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation made its way to Prairieland Dairy east of Firth to see what the farm has done to run as efficiently as possible.
Terry Landes, Prairieland public relations and marketing manager, said the move to increase the farm’s sustainability began in the late 1990s, when multiple changes began.
“Well before the word sustainability was a buzz word and the huge movements regarding consumer oriented environmental issues came up, the dairy was already there,” Landes said. “We understood that, and wanted to create a diary operation that utilizes the land and gives back to the land what it needs. We try to utilize as little electricity as possible and reuse as much as we can.”
Landes explained one key way Prairieland is efficient is the way it uses water.
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The farm has three wells, one of which pumps at a time, that puts the water to use in several key ways.
“Because that water is so cold when it first comes out of the ground, the first thing we do is have that cool the milk as it’s coming out of the cows,” Landes explained. “Then that water goes to either areas where we use it to clean or directly for the cows to drink.
“That water is then sent back into the barns for a flushing system that uses complete gravity. From there it goes back to a holding basin that go back into the fields. Every drop of water that’s used at the field is used for four different things.”
Keith Olsen, Nebraska Farm Bureau president, said water conservation is an important step toward helping the environment.
“It becomes an economic issue because if you don’t need to pump as much water, you’re saving money,” Olsen said. “We’re raising a lot more for the amount of water we use.
“Another beneficial thing they do is a lot of composting with the manure to sell it to individuals that want it for their gardens or farm ground. It doesn’t get wasted, it gets used as a nutrient.”
Landes said Prairieland’s commercial grade composting operation, which was implemented in 2002, is not as simple as it sounds.
“We take the solid manure and compost that, but it’s not a matter of just piling it up,” Landes said. “We’ve got gravity flow drainage then when the moisture comes out of that we take and turn it every few days. At the end of that, you end up with an odorless, sterile soil amendment. The whole design of it was that nothing left here couldn’t be utilized in a positive manner.”
Gravity is a common theme at Prairieland, which was designed with gravity flow and wind direction in mind.
“The barns are built so the center of the barn is the highest and the ends are the lowest,” Landes said. “When we recycle the water to flush the barns, that is all done by gravity. Our entire manure management system here is ran on three pumps and all gravity.
“The barns are also built east to west for a reason. The prevailing winds in this part of the state are north and south so we use that to keep the cattle cool. Cows have a body temperature of over 100 and a very thick hide, so we’re not necessarily as concerned about them in the winter as we are in the summer heat. The other thing that moving that air through does is keep down flies. If they don’t have a place to land and lay eggs, they don’t stick around.”
While the Nebraska Farm Bureau visits different locations every year, Olsen said Prairieland Dairy, which employs 24 on the farm and has 1,500 cattle, was an ideal stop on Earth Day to promote conservation.
“In the agriculture business, we’re true believers that we practice Earth Day every day of the year,” Olsen said. “This operation really does some great things to protect our soil and water and take better care of the animals.
“As farmers, our livelihood is the soil. The first care I have as a farmer is to take care of the soil and make the best use of what we have. The better we take care of our soil, the better it will treat us. It’s the way it should be.”