The weather continues to improve with temps reaching the mid to upper thirties on a daily basis now. Little pockets of melting ice everywhere; driveways, fields and on the lakes. This weather seems more like March than February but we'll take it. After so many days below freezing, anything above freezing feels like spring. The signs of an early spring are around; you just might have to look a little harder for therm. I saw a couple of flocks of blackbirds last week; perhaps they know something I don't.
Planning for the upcoming season continues. I ordered 31,000 pounds of dehydrated chicken manure last Friday. Sounds like a lot and it is; it comes in 1000 pound bags, two to a pallet. It will get stored in the warehouse until we take it out into the field. Much of it will get applied in April and May; the bulk of it anyway. This chicken manure comes from egg layers so it's pure manure with no bedding. A couple of advantages of using this type of fertilizer is the cost and the ease of application. Using a spin spreader one can easily spread two to three acres in a morning, then harrow it in in the afternoon.
Compost on the other hand, while a great spoil amendment, is getting quite expensive. In the first ten to fifteen years I worked here we had loads of raw materials close by to make our own. There were several chicken houses and dairy farms local and straw and sawdust were easy to get and cheap. Not so today! The nearest poultry manure is an hour away, and while there are still plenty of dairy farms, sawdust and straw are prohibitively expensive. Sawdust is up around $ 100.00 a cord, ( it was 20.00/cord when we used to make our own compost) and straw is upwards of six bucks a bale.
Getting compost delivered in the spring was always a challenge. There's a short time span between when the fields were dry enough to get on and when the heavy loads posters went up. Once they went up we couldn't get it delivered until mid May and that was pretty late for us. We now get what we use delivered in the fall; we can spread anytime in the spring we want to now. We do however need to cover it most years, adding expense.
We got out of the compost business perhaps ten years ago. It was hard to make up the volume, the cost was a big issue and having one person dedicated to making compost strained our already busy farm crew. We used a loader and manure spreader to mix our raw materials and the wear and tear was catching up to us. Making 500 yards of compost means we'd start out with a thousand yards of raw materials. Turing the raw materials say an average of five times, means we'd run nearly 4500 yards of materials through the manure spreader. In a normal year the manure spreader would get maybe 500 yards run through it whilst spreading it. You see where I'm going with this.
When we started buying compost there were several companies making it. Locally. I think in the area now there are but three left. We have found a supplier with an adequate supply and a reasonable price. His compost looks like potting soil, has no weed seeds, is screened and delivered, and at a good price. No, we're not getting it for fifteen dollars anymore but that was the good old days. A test for good quality compost is leaving some in a pile to see if weed seed sprouts; if they have you know the compost wasn't heated up enough during the cooking period. This amounts to adding weeds to your land; something we all have enough of.
So anyway, dehydrated chicken manure is easier and faster to spread; it is also less expensive. Spreading an acre of land with compost costs about 1800 dollars; an acre with chicken manure - 360 dollars.
Nothing will replace compost, and we do use it some, just not for everything anymore. I like to use it on field that have low organic matter. We'll use it on four or five fields here at the Albion farm that are lacking in OM; we use it on our organic production fields as well. We have a field that we want to start using in a couple of years and this will take lots of compost to get it fertile enough for our purposes. It's about ten acres and the OM is pretty low - it tested at 4.3% and should be between 5 and 8. We planted red clover on it last year and when we plow that down this summer, should add some OM to the mix.
Until next week, Brian