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Hobby Farm Manure and Pasture Management

An image of a hobby farm

The Small Farm Misconception

So, you don’t own hundreds of acres, have a ton of cows or horses, and your hobby farm isn’t your source of income. Don’t think for a second that you don’t need to have a plan and the right equipment to properly manage your manure and pastures. In the last twenty years there has been a massive movement from urban living to owning property out in the country. These new hobby farmers are not typically purchasing large amounts of land but are wanting to fulfill their need for a more peaceful lifestyle with five to twenty acres. For many, this is their first experience with property, livestock, and having to know what it takes to maintain their land. So often the misconception is that a small farm doesn’t need the same pasture and manure protocols that are necessary when owning a lot of land and livestock. This could not be further from the truth! In fact, the fewer acres you have to work with, the more difficult it is to properly maintain your pastures, process your manure, and keep your hobby farm, pastures, and animals healthy and fed.

Piles of Manure Attract Flies

Where there is manure there are flies

The smaller the farm, the more difficult it is to control the fly population and it all has to do with how you manage the livestock manure. Not only are the flies a major annoyance to both people and animals but they can carry disease, making them more than just a nuisance. If you want to get rid of the flies, you need to start by controlling the larvae, which around a farm is most commonly found in manure.  So, what is the best way to manage your manure so that it helps minimize the fly population? On a small hobby farm, with just a few acres, you won’t have enough space away from your barn to pile your manure and let it compost before spreading it. It would help with the flies if you could put your compost pile in the “back forty” of a larger farm. But with fewer acreage available, your best defense against those pesky flies is to manage it daily and properly spread it on your pastures.

A herd of cattle in a pasture

Making the most of your pastures

So, the million-dollar question is “how do I maximize my limited pastures for turn outs, grazing, and manure management…all at the same time? The answer is all about turning your pastures quickly, making sure your manure breaks down and the UV rays of the sun quickly eliminate the ability for a heavy fly population to grow. Common knowledge is to make sure that you don’t have large chunks or piles of manure on your pasture; this is a breeding ground for flies.  If you have a manure spreader that just isn’t designed to shred manure and control a fine spread, you have to then go out and make another trip or two around the pasture on a tractor or ATV while pulling a chain harrow or what is commonly called a pasture harrow.  Okay, so this works, but it is not the most efficient or best practice for a hobby farm. We all know that time is a precious commodity, so the best practice for managing your manure is to have a quality-built and properly featured manure spreader. A quality-designed manure spreader will shred the manure inside the box before it is delivered to the spreader’s beaters to be spread evenly on the pasture.

Honda ATV with ground driven pull-behind compact manure spreader

Compact Spreaders That Will Get the Job Done

So, if a quality-built, compact spreader, is what you need, what are the features necessary to properly maintain and turn your pastures quickly? There are many different features that manure spreader companies will promote, but these three features are the most critical when it comes to properly managing a small hobby farm:

1 In-line Shredding Blade

Without question, you have to “shred before you spread”. Most manure spreaders are not equipped with shredding blades and if the manufacturer does offer them, more often than not they are an additional option that has to be purchased separately. However, there are spreader manufacturers who not only have them standard on the spreader but have integrated a second shredding bar inside the box; and inside the box is critical! If you are looking at a spreader with a single shredding blade that is positioned at the top or above the box, it will only be affective for a small portion of the manure. The combination of two shredding blades inside the box is the ultimate feature design for exposing more manure surface to the ultraviolet sunlight, which reduces parasites and allows it to decompose far more quickly. Not only will this help in turning your pasture quickly but will also make them more eco-balanced. An eco-balanced pasture or paddock can help reduce colic, increase pasture turn efficiency rates, help produce more vigorous grass growth, and reduce odor & flies around the farm.

2 Variable Speed Control

A second necessary feature is variable speed control of the floor of the spreader. Depending on the time of year, manure can have many different consistencies including wet, soft, hard or even frozen.  The consistency of the manure can determine how it spreads and without variable speed control, the manure can bind up a spreader which could do significant damage and put a halt to your work. With PTO spreaders it is easier to control the floor speed, but very few ground-driven spreaders have variable speed controls. They do exist, so make sure you find a spreader that has this feature!

3 Fines Pan

If you are going to make the effort to properly manage your pastures and make sure they turn quickly, your manure spreader will need a fines pan. All spreaders will drop some manure in a trail directly behind the spreader and this defeats the concept of an even spread. A fines pan ensures all manure is spread by preventing small manure fines from falling off the back of the spreader… The fines pan will prevent this and ensures all manure is broadcast evenly on the ground.

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