By Kayla Weaver, OCJ field reporter
“To stay ahead of the curve, you have to stay educated. Continually challenge yourself to be able to do better, because whatever the rules are today, they are likely to be changing. Whatever you can do to get ahead of that makes keeping up a lot easier. We don’t want to get behind. We like to be continually improving.”
That is the philosophy that led Bill Knapke of Meiring Poultry Farm to be named the 2012 poultry recipient of the Ohio Livestock Coalition Environmental Stewardship Award. The third-generation poultry farm in Fort Recovery is owned and operated by Bill and his wife, Janet, along with their four children.
At the farm, black and white photos from the 1940s adorn the office wall and pay tribute to Bill’s grandfather, Herb Meiring, who established the farm with chickens and hatching eggs, later passing it down to Bill’s uncle, Jim Zehringer. Bill has fond memories of working with them and enjoys having his family on the farm today.
“It’s nice to have the kids around all the time to work with them,” he said. “The same way as when my grandma and grandpa were here, and my uncle, aunt and cousins. I got to work with all of them. You learn a lot by doing that.”
Today, Meiring Poultry raises replacement pullets and can house up to 320,000 birds at a time in four conventional high-rise barns. Each flock starts with day-old chicks that are brought in over a one to two week period. Over the next 15 to 17 weeks, Bill and his family provide care for the birds that goes beyond simply feeding and watering.
“We take daily recordings of feed and water, monitor the temperature and implement schedules for lighting and vaccinations. There are also insect and rodent control programs in place and bio-security measures are taken with visitors,” Bill said.
Once the birds mature and are nearly ready to lay eggs, they are moved to layer farms. With Meiring Poultry being largely a contract grower, most birds are sold locally, but some occasionally make it as far as the East Coast. And each flock that goes out leaves behind barns that need to be cleaned and manure that needs to be managed.
“We have a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) and our acres are satisfactory on nutrients so we don’t need to add any additional phosphorous. All of the nutrients we produce here, we broker. It’s sold and spread on acres that do need the nutrients,” Bill said.
Bill is also a technical service provider who can write CNMPs for other farms and is an environmental manager at Cooper Farms, a local business integrated in turkey, swine and laying hens. He works on permits and management plans for contract growers as well as working with their feed mills and processing plants to manage storm water and dust from the facilities.
Many pieces of the management plans Bill writes can be seen through current practices on his farm. In addition to poultry, he also manages some row crops.
“We have participated in quite a few programs. We have CRP filter strips, buffer strips around the fields and stream banks, field windbreaks, tree planting to control erosion and cover crops. We also do no-till,” he said.
One of the more unique programs they have implemented is the installation of edge of field monitoring equipment in partnership with the Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resource and Conservation Service. Water from surface runoff and sub-surface drainage tiles is monitored to observe how nutrients and water move through the soil. With monitoring equipment set up at two locations, the field is broken into two different sections to allow for comparison of practices such as cover crops or no-till against conventional methods.
The research will show any differences in the amount of phosphorous that moves through the soil and provide data that will be valuable to address phosphorous issues both locally and globally.
“We can learn from this and figure out how to better address the issues that are facing Grand Lake St. Mary’s, Lake Erie and the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico,” Bill said.
For Bill, these issues are about more than compliance with the EPA or Department of Agriculture, but taking care of the land for the future.
One of the ways Bill strives to do his very best is through the cover crop program that has been implemented over the past few years. While he describes it as a “work in progress,” he also finds it exciting to see some continuous improvements. His cover crop of choice is cereal rye with no-till soybeans planted into it in the spring. Potential benefits seem to be less weed pressure, cooler soils temperatures in the summer time and moisture conservation, which can be extremely beneficial in a year with drought conditions. The ground seems easier to plant in the spring and the yields are as good or better.
Continuous improvement is of obvious importance to Meiring Poultry Farm with a couple of projects on the table for late summer and into the fall. They plan to build a manure storage building to allow manure collected from the barns in the winter months to be stockpiled until summer or fall when the timing is better.
In addition, there are plans to build a couple wetlands that will give them the opportunity to collect runoff from both the farm fields and around the buildings and chickens houses. The wetlands will also allow for capturing some of the dust that is emitted from the fans on the poultry buildings and give an opportunity for treatment.
When those projects are complete, Bill wants to continue to update the chicken houses, most of which were built in the 1980s, to keep up with animal care programs and the industry in general.
“As it changes, we want to be able to change with it,” he said.