Table Rock Farm’s conservation efforts earn recognition

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by Sally Colby

Meghan Hauser’s great-grandparents Florence and Scott De Golyer had always lived in town, but in in 1915, they purchased a farm in Castile, NY.

“They were not farmers,” said Hauser. “My great-grandfather was a civil engineer and was working on the Genesee River. He fell in love with the area and bought a dairy farm – probably without input from his wife.” The farm was typical for the time, with a small herd of Guernseys, some chickens and sheep, and dry beans grown as a cash crop.

Today, Hauser and her mother Maureen De Golyer own the farm where they milk between 1,150 and 1,200 Holsteins. Cows are milked three times daily in a double-20 rapid exit herringbone parlor. The Table Rock Farm team focuses on cow comfort, safety and environmental stewardship.

Cow comfort is optimized through misters and fans in the holding area, with curtains that can be raised or lowered to create the most ideal temperature. A mister and fan ventilation system over the feed bunks creates maximum air flow where it’s needed most. The system is activated according to the temperature inside the barn.

Free-stalls are equipped with waterbeds and bedded with quicklime-treated manure solids. Stalls are bedded once a day and groomed each time a group of cows is moved for milking. Grooming brushes throughout the barns offer additional cow comfort. The addition of 5% quicklime to cured solids helps reduce pathogens in recovered solids.

Table Rock’s safety officer Annette Anderson, who serves in a variety of roles on the farm, oversees the farm’s safety program. Anderson was recently honored for her on-farm safety program by the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America. Some of Anderson’s safety topics include hearing protection, dealing with emergencies, safety glasses and personal health.

For their ongoing conservation efforts, Table Rock Farm has been named a finalist for the Leopold Conservation Award. The award recognizes agricultural landowners who have made voluntary conservation efforts that benefit both their own farm and the surrounding environment. Table Rock Farm is one of the state’s three finalists for the prestigious award.

Hauser said the farm’s conservation efforts started when her grandparents were operating the farm. “Conservation is the hallmark of the family ethic of farming,” she said. “Not only with my family but everyone who works on the farm.”

Nearly every aspect of the farm’s daily operations are directly related to conservation, starting with 1,800 acres of crops, primarily corn and hay, grown for a balanced TMR. The farm also grows peas for a local processor.

Table Rock Farm worked with the Wyoming County Soil & Water Conservation District to develop a number of conservation practices. A barnyard runoff management system was installed in 2008 to prevent erosion and redirect clean water. A filter strip helps remove sediment and nutrients from runoff prior to entering a waterway.

The farm has an ongoing conservation cover crop program, including strip cropping to prevent erosion. Short season corn allows the crop team to establish cover crops in autumn immediately following corn silage harvest.

Vegetative cover crops are established immediately following corn silage harvest on highly erodible land to protect vulnerable ground from erosion through winter. The farm works with the Western New York Crop Management Association on integrated crop management. “We’re putting a mix of rye, oats and radishes on most fields,” said Hauser. “There are also dedicated fields of triticale for harvest in spring.”

Table Rock fields haven’t been plowed in 19 years. Instead, a combination of zone tillage and no-till means less soil disturbance, enhanced erosion control and improved water quality. Soil health is also improved through replenished organic matter and soil nutrients.

The farm works with WNY Crop Management Association on an integrated IPM program to reduce the impact of pests on crops and animals. Beneficial nematodes were introduced to help manage corn pests, which has resulted in improved yields.

Pesticide application is done by a custom operator to ensure precision application. Custom application eliminates the need for pesticide storage and risk of spills and increases farm efficiency. Above-ground fuel tanks are situated on an impermeable catch basin (secondary containment) to prevent leaks that could potentially infiltrate ground water.

Nutrient management is a critical aspect of environmental efforts. The current farm program, initiated in 2000 with WNY Crop Management, determines balanced nutrient applications based on both the crop and currently available nutrients.

After deciding to make changes that would reduce bedding expenses, reduce methane emissions and manage odors associated with long-term manure storage, a nutrient management system was completed in autumn 2017. The farm team decided on a solid/liquid separator system coupled with a covered manure storage and a flare system.

The system has resulted in higher milk production with decreased SCC, increased cow lying time, less standing and better odor management. Manure hauling costs are less due to decreased precipitation accumulation in the storage unit. The farm also added a cover and flare system over the existing waste storage area to capture methane to flare.

Using recovered solids has resulted in much lower bedding costs. Sample testing of recovered solids treated with quicklime shows a bacterial count comparable to sawdust.

One challenge with the system has been variability in quicklime loads. Stored quicklime has the potential to lose quality and tends to clump in humid weather, but these issues are managed by the farm team.

A covered waste storage facility allows the team to schedule manure application when weather and field conditions are suitable. A paved bunker area includes a slow-flow filter to capture slow-moving liquid silage leachate and allows rainwater to continue flowing to a grass filter.

Although Hauser oversees operations on the farm, she’s quick to credit farm team members for their commitment to operating the dairy to achieve maximum milk production, ensure cow comfort and uphold ongoing environmental efforts.

“We can’t run a farm without excellent, dedicated quality people,” said Hauser. “For some young employees working on the farm, it’s their first job. Not all of them will stay with the job, but it’s an opportunity for them to see what dairy farming is all about.”

Visit Table Rock Farm’s Facebook page to follow what the farm team is doing throughout the year.

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