By Kyle Sharp
About 2001, Visser Dairy with about 1,600 cows started up next to the crop farm of the Zeedyk family in Defiance County. At the time, Roger Zeedyk Jr. farmed the land along with his sons Roger IV, Mike and Adam. An arrangement between the two farms soon materialized, with the Zeedyks supplying corn silage to the dairy and, as partial payment, the dairy’s manure would be applied to the Zeedyks’ fields for fertility.
In the first few years of this arrangement, the problem was finding someone to apply the manure in a timely fashion, said Roger Zeedyk IV.
“It always got there, it was just never quite when you wanted it, or it didn’t quite get applied the way you wanted it,” Roger IV said.
Roger IV had watched people do custom manure application over the years and talked with them about how it needed to be done. This experience, along with a growing frustration over the continued timing problems with the dairy farm arrangement, prompted him to purchase his own manure application equipment in 2006 and begin doing custom work.
“Now, I can do what I want, when I want,” Zeedyk said. “And most people didn’t want to move the manure real far, and now I can take it where I want and need it.”
At the time, Zeedyk was working at a factory in Hicksville, and the new venture, plus doing some custom planting, fertilizer application and spraying, eventually helped him leave that job and commit to farming full time. It was a lifelong goal for Roger IV, who grew up on his father’s grain farm and started driving a tractor as soon as he could push in a clutch and turn a key.
Aside from a large Case STX375 tractor, Zeedyk bought all new manure application equipment from Bambauer Equipment near New Knoxville. The dragline system includes agitators for stirring stored liquid manure prior to and during application, about 2.5 miles of 6-inch hose, pumps and a Gen-Till tillage tool applicator that slightly tills the field as the liquid manure flows through the dragline and is applied on the modestly worked ground.
“I got a 30-foot applicator, which is a little larger than some use, but it takes fewer trips across the field, which means less compaction,” Zeedyk said.
Compaction, which is a big issue on the area’s heavy clay soils, is a reason why the farms he works with prefer the dragline system. The manure is applied more evenly and without the compacting weight of individual manure tankers.
“It’s pretty light, and you can run over the soil pretty good,” he said. “Quite a few guys wouldn’t even take manure if it was hauled by tanks.”
The farms Zeedyk applies for have Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs) that dictate how much manure can be applied to their fields. Using these plans and regular soil samples, his customers determine where they want the manure applied and at what rate.
“I do the agitation and everything,” Zeedyk said. “They tell me the fields, and I take it from there.”
He has two agitators, which are hooked to a tractor and start stirring stored liquid manure five to eight hours before application begins.
“You have to stir the manure so it is an even consistency,” he said. “So when it is applied, you’re getting the same nutrients on all the fields.”
The agitation continues while the manure is being applied and never stops until the job is finished, Zeedyk said.
Zeedyk has about 2.5 miles of dragline, and can bring in more if a job requires it.
“I have moved manure 3.5 miles away from a dairy before,” he said. “It takes a couple hours on most fields. You pump 1,000 to 1,500 gallons of manure per minute once you get going, depending on how far away you are. We can do 1 to 1.5 million gallons a day. It just depends on the size of the fields. It’s not too bad once you get everything set up.”
Manure samples are pulled during application and given to his customers, so they can have them tested to know exactly what nutrients have been applied.
“I can tell them gallons per acre and even have maps, so they can see where it has been applied and how much,” Zeedyk said. “That way, when they get their test results, they’ll know if an area needs anymore fertilizer or not.”
Zeedyk’s wife, Tracy, sometimes helps, and his two sons, Preston, 13, and Zach, 11, also regularly lend a hand by driving tractors, rolling up hose and checking hose lines for leaks.
“I’m pretty sure they could do it without him,” Tracy said, only about half joking.
Once a job is started, the applicator is usually running 24 hours, nonstop until the job is done, unless something unusual happens.
“That’s the worst part about it,” said Preston, who has done most everything in the past accept drive the applicator, which he hopes to do soon.
“The worst part is turning when you get to the end of a field,” Zeedyk said. “If you hit the hose, it’s bad. It gets expensive. You blow a hole in it and it’s shooting out everywhere. It’s a mess.”
“It’s not fun,” Preston said.
When his family isn’t available, Zeedyk hires part-time help. The job typically always requires at least two people, he said. Although it is nice having the boys around, because they know how to do everything and can help explain things to new people.
“Before, I had to be there all the time to explain everything,” Zeedyk said.
While his first year was, admittedly, a big learning experience, Zeedyk said he has gotten much more efficient with experience. For example, he’s learned how best to roll up hose so it doesn’t knot up, and how to better get out knots when they occur; not to leave hose out in winds because it will get blown into knots; and how to better maneuver the applicator around trees and other field obstacles.
“Mainly, it’s been learning how to handle the hose,” he said. “And, how to clean it out quicker. I’m probably 30% quicker now than I was the first year.”
Zeedyk does some manure application early in the summer on wheat ground, but most of it is done in late August and early September on ground that has recently been chopped for corn silage. In addition to the Visser Dairy, he applies manure for Springfield Dairy near Bryan in Williams County and for a hog farm near the 650 acres he owns in Defiance County after venturing out to farm on his own about three years ago.
“I’ve done several dairies in the past. I used to do 50 to 60 million gallons a year, and now I do about 25 million,” he said. “I go to classes to get certified as a Certified Livestock Manager through the Ohio Department of Agriculture.”
Anyone in Ohio who land applies and transports more than 4,500 dry tons of manure or 25 million gallons of liquid manure, or its equivalent, per year is required by ODA to receive a Certified Livestock Manager license, said Jon Rausch, Ohio State University Extension animal manure management program director.
To receive Certified Livestock Manager licensing through ODA, a farmer or custom applicator must attend three “core” training sessions and three “elective” sessions, and complete ODA’s Certified Livestock Manager application. This certification must be renewed every three years, Rausch said. In addition, ODA offers Certified Livestock Manager training sessions several times each year. For more information on these training sessions, contact ODA’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program (LEPP) at 614-387-0908.
In addition to following each farm’s CNMP so manure is applied where it is needed and at the proper levels, Zeedyk constantly checks tile lines during application to be sure manure is not getting into tile and potentially flowing into nearby waterways. If necessary, tile plugs are used to prevent this from happening. He also follows appropriate setbacks for waterways, wells and houses, and regularly checks the dragline for leaks.
“I’m always checking the forecast so I don’t apply within 24 hours of rain,” he said. “You make sure the ground is not saturated before you start, because dry soil is better able to absorb the manure.”
The potential for saturated soils is why he rarely applies manure in the spring and avoids applying in the winter.
As fertilizer costs continue to rise, more farmers are looking into manure to help lower their fertilizer bills.
“It has been a great thing for my dad and brothers. It’s really cut their fertilizer costs,” Zeedyk said. “And the manure from the hog farm I work with goes on my crop ground, which has helped me too. I don’t put much additional fertilizer on. Maybe just a little nitrogen or potash if need be.”