Feeding sheds reduce calf losses

December 16, 2003|ANN R. HARNEY

SALVISA - Otis Knox hopes a new building on his farm will lower the number of calves lost each winter.

The $26,005 covered feeding area and stack pad were just finished on the land he farms near here with his brother, R.D. Knox.

Last winter, it started raining in October 2002 and didn't seem to stop until April. Young calves would go to feeding areas turned into mud by the cattle traffic, get stuck in the mud and trampled to death by the larger animals.

"The farmers lost a lot of calves, and a lot of these farmers wanted to put in one of these buildings," said Joe Montgomery, Mercer County's district conservationist.


Otis Knox was one of 17 applications approved here out of 98 applications, Montgomery said. Each shed holds a feeding area where cattle can get to round bales of hay without trampling them and losing the hay. After several days, the farmer scrapes the manure out of the feeding area and stacks it against the back wall.

"They're designed to hold a winter's worth of manure," Montgomery said. They are built for the size of an individual farm's cattle population. Knox has 35 cattle, but he recently culled several from the herd so the number in his herd is usually higher.

The farmer pays 25 percent or more of the cost of construction and materials, and the state program, funded primarily from Phase I tobacco money, pays the remaining costs. Knox received a check last week at the conservation office for $18,600, the amount for which he was approved. Some of the items added to the shed were not approved by the conservation service.

Montgomery said Bill Thomas, the engineer from the Frankfort conservation office, oversaw the construction. "He said it was one of the better ones he's seen. Mr. Knox paid close attention to detail."

Knox hired Steve Johnson to build the structure and plans additional work.

He is going to put down more gravel and sand around the area so the cows don't enter the shed after walking through mud. After last week's rain, it's easy to see the need for more gravel. Knox has run city water back on the farm and intends to put a frost-free watering system on a concrete slab outside the shed. More gravel and sand will be put around the water source.

Knox has built his shed near a barn filled with round bales of hay, so he doesn't have to go far to move the hay to the feeding shed. The sheds must be used for the purpose for which they were built and maintained for 15 years. A conservation worker inspects the sheds at random to be sure they are not being used for other purposes.

Montgomery said the local office has overseen these projects for three years.

By the time the manure is removed from the shed in the spring, it will have become manure compost, and Knox will spread it for fertilizer on his row crops, including tobacco. While the price is right for the fertilizer, Knox is not optimistic about the future of tobacco, so he has turned his attention to other farm products that will provide some of the income lost from declining tobacco production.

He has sown nine or 10 acres of his farm with sunflowers. The area is used by dove hunters. The first few seasons, the state licensed the land for $2,500. Then Knox tried to go it alone, and the first year 400 hunters turned up the first day of dove season.

He now rents it privately to a group of hunters.

Knox can use the compost on the sunflowers, too. If you drive back to the hay barn and feeding shed, you'll see some travel trailers parked there. They are used by friends and family who also come to his farm to hunt deer.

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