Clean water is a priority for Poultry Environmental Steward

Paul Dahlinghaus

By Matt Reese

To do his part to prevent any sediment or nutrients from leaving the farm, Paul Dahlinghaus of Auglaize County has really stepped up the participation in EQIP on his dairy, turkey and hog farm. With his brother, he farms 600 acres and has continued his family’s tradition of dairy farming with milking 65 to 70 cows. Dahlinghaus also has added a contract hog finishing barn and a contract turkey finishing barn with Cooper Farms. Dahlinghaus is this year’s Poultry Environmental Stewardship winner, presented by the Ohio Poultry Association and Ohio Livestock Coalition.

“We put in some new waterways and one thing led to another,” he said. “We knew we had to keep improving.”

One of the first things they addressed on the farm was the milk house wastewater three years ago.

“We put in a two-step system of two septic tanks. A tile runs into a septic tank to filter solids, then it goes into a second empty tank,” Dahlinghaus said. “When that gets full, an above-ground sprinkler gently sprays the water in a fine mist out onto a wetland area with grass and cattails.”

The grass and cattails filter out any remaining sediment from the water before it goes into the ground, according to the detailed NRCS guidelines. Dahlinghaus also has been really impressed with the covered manure storage barns he added through EQIP.

“My brother and I put up a manure barn at the dairy with six-foot walls. We love it,” Dahlinghaus said. “I added another barn for turkey manure. It composts while it is in storage, and we haul a lot less manure that way. It is a lot nicer to work with.”

The dairy building can hold six months of manure before it needs to be spread, and the turkey building can hold a year of manure. The turkey manure, in particular, composts very well, especially since sides were added to the building to prevent rain and snow from getting in as well.

“For turkeys, you clean the whole building out after every three flocks once a year,” Dahlinghaus said. “We get them at around 5 weeks old and have them until they are 20 or 21 weeks old. Then every four months, after every flock, we go in and clean out any wet and trouble spots and underneath the feed lines. We haul it to the manure building. Moisture has really not been an issue in the barns that have ample ventilation.”

The manure is then applied based on soil tests to the fields that have depleted the phosphorus. The crop rotation includes corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa hay and a cover crop. Because the watershed requirements revolve around phosphorus levels in the soil, supplemental nitrogen must be used as a starter and sidedress for corn, and ammonia sulfate is applied to the wheat.

The alfalfa is planted in the fields with the highest phosphorus levels. The four-year crop is followed with corn (the stalk residue counts as a winter cover), then soybeans, and then wheat for another winter cover crop. After wheat, Dahlinghaus no-tills 45 pounds of Sudangrass seed per acre and follows the drill with light hog manure application.

“I can get one or two cuttings of hay out of the Sudangrass, and the roots do great things. After 30 or 35 days I can get the first cutting,” he said. “It dies in the winter and it really loosens your dirt. I do two passes with a field cultivator and then plant corn the next spring.”

The Sudangrass smothers out weeds, sequesters phosphorus, requires no chemical control and, as long as it is 6 inches tall going into winter, it meets EQIP’s requirements for a cover crop. Dahlinghaus has also worked with oats as a cover crop following corn silage.

Because he farms both in and out of the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed, Dahlinghaus can haul the manure to land outside of the watershed when he nears the acceptable phosphorus levels in soil tests. Dahlinghaus also added a one-third-acre pond in woods that is basically a deep wetland that has been designed by NRCS.

“All the farmers are doing a better job around here. I drive around the lake and this year things are a lot better, but it is not going to be fixed overnight,” he said.  “As long as I do my part, it is all I can do. I hope my boy takes over and my grandkids take over, and if you don’t have quality water we’re all going to be in trouble. I just try to do my best and follow the guidelines around the roads, wells and residential properties. People 10 miles away from us kind of laugh at all the rules we have to follow. But we live here and we either have to do our best with the situation or move somewhere else.”

For more about this farm and the other Environmental Steward winners, see the September issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.

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