I grew up on a small dairy farm, and we always had an abundance of two things: milk and manure. Every so often, all the manure would be used to fertilize our cattle pastures, resulting in thriving, verdant grazing for the dairy herd.

I recently spoke with an Ohio cover crop grower who has found an innovative way to incorporate manure using a dragline application. The dragline is also a unique tool for terminating their cover crops.

Steve and Carl Ayers own a 650-cow dairy and 2,150 acres with corn, soybeans, and wheat, primarily double-cropping cereal rye as a cover crop and silage source for the dairy herd.

The Ayers’ began using the manure dragline in 2019 due to extremely wet conditions rearranging their cover crop termination schedule. A quarter-mile rubber dragline was pulled into a field of cereal rye that had been planted green.

Applying upwards of 8,000-10,000 pounds of manure per acre using the dragline in spring and fall has drastically reduced the need for fertilizer on the Ayers’ operation, according to their long-time agronomist Mike Snyder.

The dairy uses a passive manure separation system to break up the manure from water used in a flush system and straw used as bedding. The leftover manure is then pumped into one of two lagoons — one for liquid manure, the other for solids.

According to Snyder, the liquid manure alone, when pumped from the dragline at a rate of 18 gallons per acre, applies 47 pounds of phosphorus (P) and 198 pounds of potassium (K) per acre.

Manure from dairies, beef feedlots, equine or swine facilities, and even poultry litter could all be effective, efficient fertilizer sources. And innovating out of necessity can enhance those benefits.

You could be doing the livestock owner a service by helping them get rid of the manure, while capitalizing on cheap, sustainable fertilizer for your cover crops and cash crops.