Dairy keen on conservation

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February 8, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Strickler Dairy will be recognized with a water quality award at Wednesday evening’s Allen County Conservation District annual meeting, and for good reason. Water, waste as well as fresh, is recycled on the dairy at the northeast edge of Iola.
Harry Clubine, farm manager, said that waste water, laced with cow manure, is flushed from an open-sided barn where up to 400 cows can gather while awaiting milking three times a day.
The barn has a concrete floor, with a 3 percent slope to the west, Clubine said.
“There is a 12-inch line in each of four alleys and when the cows are in the milking parlor, we do the flushing,” Clubine said.
That carries away manure, much of which is screened out as the waste water flows into a lagoon. The manure, composed mostly of undigested hay and other fibrous material, is hauled off to be composted.
After composting, some, because of its high fiber content, is used for bedding. Much of the rest is sold for lawn and garden topping.
“If we were to leave the manure to compost long enough, it would turn to soil,” Clubine observed.
In the lagoon, any remaining solids settle out and then are hauled to fields for distribution.
Two lagoons are in use, the first with a capacity of 5 million gallons and the second, of a million gallons, to capture overflow, known as “red water” due to its distinct color.
“We use the red water to flush the barn,” Clubine said.
An outside company is enlisted to remove sludge from the lagoon, a process that entails sucking up the muck from the bottom, rich in potassium and phosphorus, and spreading it on fields by way of a hose that snakes its way from the lagoon to cropland up to a mile and a half away.
To accomplish the long-distance distribution, a 5-inch hose approaching 21⁄2 miles in length is used and traverses roads through culverts. The material is injected 6 inches into the ground with a special device with winged chisels that permit it to spread out for easier absorption.
Steve Strickler, dairy owner, said cost of the sludge injection was about a fifth of similar commercial chemical applicants, a savings that has prompted a neighbor, Delbert Nelson, to have his cropland treated.

THE LAGOONS are not easily visible near the dairy on North Kentucky Street. A 20-million gallon freshwater pond is.
“That’s the one where people see all the geese,” Strickler said.
For several years Strickler’s has tapped the 20-foot-deep pond’s water, using it for its business needs. Pond water is transferred to a water-cleansing plant by way of a floating pump.
Treatment starts in a 30,000-gallon tank where polymers, soda ash and ferrous chloride are injected to remove solids, Clubine said. The treated water also flows through several layers of filter material, from large aggregate rock to what amounts to little more than coal dust, to screen out solids not removed initially. Chlorine also is added to zap bacteria before the clean water flows to a 3,000-gallon holding tank.
“We have rural water at the houses (associated with the dairy), and the water we purify is used in the dairy itself,” Strickler said.

STRICKLER Dairy was started in 1948 by Ivan Strickler, Steve’s father, and has been an award-winning operation ever since. Steve returned in 1978, four years after being graduated from Kansas State University. Ivan Stickler died in December 2008. Strickler Dairy’s continuing success is testimony to how the family has kept on the cutting edge of dairy technology.
Today 340 cows are in the milking cycle. That number will grow to about 375 by early spring, Clubine said. The dairy also has about 350 heifers on pasture, many of which eventually will be a part of the milking herd.
Most bulls are sold, Strickler said.
“The bull market isn’t as good right now as it has been, but it’s still about half of our operation financially,” he said. “It is especially important with milk being in a slump at $14 (a hundredweight).”
In addition to those born on the farm, Strickler also buys and sells bulls.
Many dairies have moved to more cow-friendly environments in west Texas, eastern New Mexico and southwestern Kansas, Strickler noted.
“Eastern Kansas isn’t ideal for a dairy. Humidity (in warmer months) is a problem and right now the snow and ice and mud are just as much of a problem,” he said.
That’s why the huge holding barn was added at the dairy several years ago, to keep fresh cows on a clean surface. But that, too, has disadvantages.
“Being on concrete all the time is really hard on cows,” Strickler said. “We have a cull rate of about 35 percent, while 20 percent is normal in more conducive environmental conditions.”

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