Most of the forage fed to the Miner Institute dairy herd is grown here on the farm. Grass, alfalfa-grass and corn are harvested from about 1,000 acres. Approximately 400 acres of corn for silage is grown each year and typically planted in mid-May and harvested in late September. Corn is harvested in the early fall, when the whole plant moisture is between 65 to 70 percent moisture. Proper moisture content is critical for optimal packing density and for proper fermentation, which helps to preserve the corn to be fed throughout the year.
Alfalfa-grass forage fields are harvested three to four times per growing season. All grass and alfalfa-grass grown at the Institute is used to make hay crop silage using wide-swath mowing to increase the rate of dry-down to capture more nutrients. The target moisture for ensiling is 68 to 65% moisture. Grass and alfalfa-grass forages are stored in horizontal concrete silos or tube-like plastic bags termed ‘ag bags’. After fermentation, the forages are fed to the cows and make up an important part of their total mixed ration.
Animal waste from lactating cows, dry cows and heifers is stored in clay-lined, earthen manure lagoons (5.5 and 1.1 million gallon capacity). Liquid manure is applied to grass fields after each hay cutting to replenish nutrients removed with harvest and also applied to cornfields in the spring before planting and the fall after harvest. The compost area accommodates semi-solid waste from calf hutches, the calf greenhouse, waste feed/silage, and horses. Composting manure, when properly handled, can result in a reduction in manure volume and weight and a reduction in pathogens.
Miner Institute follows a comprehensive nutrient management plan. These plans prescribe best soil and nutrient management practices for crop production while minimizing risk of nutrient loss to surface and groundwater. Soil tests are combined with manure nutrient analyses to determine the nutrients needed by either corn or alfalfa/grass to maximize the yield and quality of the feed produced. The type of soil, slope, erosion potential, phosphorus level, and proximity to waterways are also considered when determining nutrient application rates.