Roman Stoltzfoos: Dairying the “New” Old-Fashioned Way!

COUNTRY FOLKS of Pennsylvania
Jon Casey
October 19, 1998

Roman and Lucy Stoltzfoos farm a 95-cow, 200-acre dairy just outside Gap, PA. They have committed their farm management program to one that emphasizes doing farm projects in a way that is friendly to the environment. They want to operate their dairy the “Natural” way.

Recently they spent the day hosting an environmentally oriented field day and pasture walk to share many of their methods and management ideas with neighbors and friends. The event focused on ways to maximize the use of pastures for grazing the milking herd, to improve barnyard runoff problems, and to effectively use barnyard waste for pasture supplementation. There were specialists on hand to give talks on septic system construction and maintenance, non-chemical methods of effective fly control on cattle, and eliminating stray-voltage problems.

When he moved his dairy to this location, Roman determined that he wanted to build his dairy production and overall operation on the “least-cost per pound of milk” formula. He preferred this to the “highest production per cow” methods currently in use by many of his contemporaries in the industry. In early 1997, Roman and several other area farmers went to New Zealand on a tour to visit dairy operations and to observe their dairy farming methods. He was aware that many New Zealand farmers relied almost exclusively on pastureland for feeding the dairy herd. He wanted to see if he could use similar techniques here on his Lancaster County farm. Many of the New Zealand farmers have used this “least-cost” concept and improved upon it.

Following his tour, Roman began to implement several ideas that he had picked up abroad. He began experimenting with several changes in pasture crops. Most notably, he planted a variety of New Zealand kale. He found that the kale had a hard time holding up to the rigors of pasturing in the southeastern Pennsylvania climate. The summer heat tended to thwart regrowth and after repeated attempts to get this plant to work on his farm, he abandoned the kale for more conventional combinations. He now mostly relies on Holland Ryegrass, alfalfa, and bluegrass mixes. Meanwhile, the old, heat-hearty fescue still finds a place on the Stoltzfoos farm. “I can keep the cows over there by the creek, and they just never seem to wear it out!” he says, pointing to a field not far from the group.

This past season he tried grazing a field of corn, which was planted specifically for that purpose. “I wanted to try it, but it got away from me and I couldn't get it all grazed off before it got too tall,” he says. “I went ahead and cut it down so they could finish it off.” He says he did not notice any real energy boost or production improvement, so he does not plan to graze any more corn in the near future.


Dealing with Manure and Wastewater

Another concern that Roman wanted to address was his barnyard manure management. To deal with the problem, he wanted to employ a technique that he had seen “down-under”. There he had observed concrete, “self-cleaning” cattle areas. They are constructed to be self-cleaning, when it rains, or when it rinsed. Roman became involved as a participant in the Environmental Quality Initiative (EQI), to assist him with this plan. As one of two demonstration projects, he had his farm critiqued. With additional technical advisement from the Lancaster County Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Roman began.

Using his own limited funding, and some assistance from project funding grants, he poured the existing, sloping, cemented area that now empties into a water-tight, triple clay-lined earthen catch basin. He constructed a sloped, cement barnyard, similar to the ones he had seen, to replace the existing dirt barnyard area. Previously, on a weekly basis, he had removed manure from this area with a front-end loader. Foul weather had often complicated this project in both winter and summer months. With the new surface, he has reduced the need for regular scraping. When necessary however, he or his son will still need to scrape or flush the area, if the weather does not cooperate.

Another aspect of the waste management project was in dealing with his parlor wastewater. He now empties his milking parlor wastewater directly into the basin as well. When questioned about the impact of the cleaning products on the pit's microbes, he emphasized that the wastewater is “friendly” to the digestive process. Roman's use of “Vista”, an enzyme soap product, enhances the activity of the microbes instead of killing them. Roman says that “Vista” works as well or better than any cleaner he has ever used. He says that the only evidence that the cleaner is flushed into the pit is a telltale odor that is different from the one that is usually present.

Currently, Midwestern Bio AG monitors his pasture soil conditions and makes recommendations on how to balance the field fertilization for his specific needs. Roman applies a poultry litter/compost mixture that he supplements with a trace mineral package and gypsum (for added sulfur). He plans to use these collected nutrients to supplement his pasture fertilization program.

While Roman was focusing his attention on waste handling for the dairy, he also rebuilt his dwelling's septic system. With his house's age nearing the century mark, he was well aware that he, Lucy, and their nine children were overtaxing their existing septic system. As it turned out, their “septic” wasn't much more than a cesspool, so he was delighted that he had decided to make this improvement to his property. He still plans to modify the drainfield so that he will not have future problems.

Another management technique that Roman is in the process of developing is seasonal milking and breeding. By managing the herd on this schedule, he can make the best use of the pasture-growing season and not have to depend on purchased feed and baled hay to the degree that he has in the past. To help accommodate this plan, Roman plans to dry the herd off in November and December and then to freshen them from mid-February until about the first of June each year. Using this plan, he expects to have sufficient pasture to graze the herd during the entire lactation. He plans to supplement the pasture with baled hay, taken from the extra pasture growth each year, as the herd requires it.


Aiming for Less Stress Improved Herd Health

Since he produces no grain on the farm, he has to buy the grain he is currently using for feed. Eventually he plans to eliminate the bunk feeding and rely exclusively on pasture. He admits that he understands the potential for loss of milk production with the lower energy ration that he plans to feed. He believes that with this “Natural” method of farming, the lowered stress on the cows will compensate partially for the lower milk production. With his new plan, he expects greater cattle longevity and improved herd health as well. He believes that with the reduced costs associated with the pasture-only program, he can afford to add more cows to the milk herd to increase his volume of marketable milk. Increased cattle numbers will make up for the difference in cash flow. He agrees that time will tell if his ideas work completely.

Roman uses an interesting, though not widely known, method of fly control. He wants to keep his farm as environmentally friendly as he can, so he has employed a way to keep his cattle virtually fly-free without chemical pesticides. He uses a device called a “Fly Blocker System”. The AG Services division of Orkin Pest Control manufactures this system. David Marquis, the Northeast Specialist for Orkin AG Division, was on hand to give a presentation on how the system works. Roman's farm was the first in Pennsylvania to use the Fly Blocker. This “prototype,” first installed on Roman's farm is still in daily use after over five years.

While the unit itself has taken several years to perfect, the concept is simple. The flies are carried to the fly killer by their “food,” the cattle. As the cows pass through the “Blocker,” the flies are brushed off the cows by a curtain within the unit. The flies are then attracted to the “Zappers” (“Blue Light” bug killers) located along the sides of the unit. Passing through this system twice per day is sufficient to kill about 90 percent of the flies on the cattle effectively. Later in the afternoon, as the group toured the farm, they came upon the cows lounging in the lower meadow, near the creek. The absence of flies on the cattle was noticeable. Mr. Marquis reminded the group that Roman uses no other chemical fly control on the farm.

Another segment to the field day was a presentation given by Lawrence Neubauer of Concept Electric, Appleton, WI. His convincing presentation on how to eliminate stray voltage on the farm left many of the producers in attendance curious as to whether or not they might have a stray voltage condition on their farms that might need remediation. Surprisingly, they may! Mr. Neubauer contends that stray voltage exists on virtually all farms east of the Mississippi River. This is due to the power utility's method of power distribution. His argument was very convincing and his demonstration proved the existence of the problem (and its elimination) on the Stoltzfoos farm.

Concluding the morning's activities, Lori Sandman gave a newly formed milk marketing organization called the “Dairy Network Partnership.” The goal of this organization is to promote the improvement of environmental quality and economic viability on regional dairy farms. They collaborate with the efforts of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. As a way to gain consumer support, the Partnership plans to package and market milk that displays the “Environmental Quality Initiative” logo on each carton. They will then pay a premium to the dairymen who subscribe to the partnership. As farmers cooperate with the partnership, by making environmental improvements to their farms, they will receive a premium on their milk checks. Following an initial assessment, and then adhering to ongoing standards, the producers can maintain the quality standards that will give them the benefits of the premium payments.

For those who attended this interesting field day, there was plenty of sound information to take home and use. As mentioned above, because of the relevance and usefulness of several of the items covered at Roman Stoltzfoos' field day, many topics presented at this Field Day will be covered in depth in future Country Folks features.