Innovative Farming Methods Save Money, Spare the Environment

Bedding calves at Dave and Pam Bolin's farm is yesterday's news. In an effort to help the environment and control costs, the Clarksville dairy farmers shred old newspapers to keep young heifers comfortable.

CLARKSVILLE, Iowa — Bedding calves at Dave and Pam Bolin's farm is yesterday's news.

In an effort to help the environment and control costs, the Clarksville dairy farmers shred old newspapers to keep young heifers comfortable.

Its enabled them to abandon buying straw, and they keep thousands of pounds of newspapers out of the landfill each year.

June is dairy month, and the Midwest Dairy Association is spreading the news about ways Northeast Iowa farmers are helping the environment.

Whether its recycling, implementing conservation practices on the land or turning animal waste into electricity --- the association says dairy farmers provide nutritious food in an ecologically sound way.

"It's good for people to realize we're here, because we love the land ... and we do take care of it the best we can," said Pam Bolin, who manages a 71-cow milking herd with her husband, consisting of Holsteins, Guernseys and Jerseys.

At a time when livestock farmers and the public have clashed concerning production practices, farmers want consumers to know that the vast majority of producers care about the environment. The dairy farmer near Farley who was convicted late last year of digging trenches from a manure pit to a stream is an aberration, farmers say.

"If any of our sons choose to come back, they would be the fifth generation to farm Beaver Creek Farms, and we won't do anything to jeopardize that," Pam added.

To keep the herd productive, the Bolins raise their own replacement heifers. At any one time, more than 50 could be on hand. Transforming heifers into productive milkers centers around animal care.

During a drought in the late 1980s, when corn and straw were in short supply, the Bolins talked to a family friend and colleague in Minnesota about his use of shredded newspaper for bedding. After experimenting with the concept, the family soon realized chopped up newspaper was just as absorbent as straw, easy to use and environmentally safe when it is spread in the field with manure, especially since almost all local newspapers use soy ink.

"There was no corn, and our grinder was just sitting there. So we just dropped some paper in," Pam Bolin said. "It's dry for the calves, and they're comfortable."

If the curious calves munch on the paper, it won't hurt them, and it's biodegradable.

The news got out, and soon neighbors were dropping off old newspapers at the Bolins' house. They put a collection box at the Clarksville post office and picked up bundles from the local nursing home and from the Clarksville Star newspaper. Dave's father also collects papers during his paper route.

On average, the family grinds about 100 pounds of newspapers once a week. It takes about 40 minutes, unless whoever does the grinding gets distracted.

"Sometimes I'll see Dave holding up papers and reading. You find some interesting stuff," Pam said.

Late last week, for example, they found a back issue of the Clarksville Star with a story about the Clarksville football team breaking a 25-game losing streak in 2003. The Bolins' youngest son, James, was on the team.

They do have to sort through the paper, picking out materials that have included Match Box cars, cookies, computer disks and even a wallet.

The family estimates they keep at least 5,200 pounds of newspaper out of the local landfill each year, and they save more than $800 a year by not buying straw to bed 11 calf huts and two larger heifer pens.

An older-model New Holland feed grinder and Farmall M tractor is used to make the bedding. Cottonseed sacks, which are already on the farm, are used to bag the material. Each piece is about the size of a quarter. The largest screen is used in the grinder, and no modifications are needed.

"There's not much invested in equipment, just time," Pam said.

That's exactly the reason very few farmers recycle newspapers for bedding, said Robert Tigner, Iowa State University Extension dairy specialist. He said shredded paper is just as good, if not better, than straw.

"Comfort is not an issue. ... This issue is quantity," Tigner said, which means getting a system in place to collect enough of it. And many farmers don't want to take the time.

Besides recycling newspapers, the Bolins invested in a Therma-stor system that collects water used to cool milk. Instead of it going down the drain, they use the warm water for cleaning and for small calves to drink.

Northeast Iowa dairy farmers have instituted a variety of other environmentally friendly practices, from terracing fields and planting buffer strips along waterways to capturing methane gas from liquid manure to generate electricity.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News