Raneys practice conservation to protect farmland and watershed

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ADAMSVILLE, Pa. – Most of Jeff Raney’s conservation work on his combined 250-acre dairy farms in Adamsville, Pa., is invisible.
Hidden. Hidden underground are all the pipes that lead from a nearby freshwater stream to watering troughs in the barnyard and the pipes that lead from the milkhouse to a liquid waste holding tank.
Walking around the farms, you may not see the improvements, but you realize that it is different from other dairy farms.
Jeff and his wife, Brenda, purchased their first farm 20 years ago and just last year purchased a farm about a mile away.
Their son, Adam, and daughter-in-law, Michelle, live there and help to milk their 50 cows.
The family operation also includes Raney’s daughter, Erin.
The Raneys started doing small projects with the Crawford County Conservation District several years ago when they put in streamline fencing to keep pastured cows from walking through the stream.
Watershed. The Shenango watershed was a major reason for the conservation district’s help in the process. Raney realized his farming practices within the watershed affected waters for many miles downstream.
A year after the first project, the conservation district’s Ron McCorkle got in touch with the Raneys to do more projects.
“They will do any activity they can do to make more clean, fresh water,” Raney said of the district’s involvement.
The next step was putting in a milkhouse waste management system, roof runoff management, heavy use areas and fresh water troughs.
Milkhouse waste. Raney wanted to do a better job of managing waste water generated during milking.
In his new milkhouse waste management system, two concrete storage tanks are used to gather waste.
The waste usually consists of milk, milk fat, mild detergents, lots of water and some mud and manure.
One tank is used to settle out solids. The second tank is used to collect the liquid waste. These tanks are automatically pumped out about every 48 hours onto a grass, or sod, leech bed. The water then soaks into the ground.
Roof runoff. Installing gutters, downspouts, and underground outlets have been beneficial to the Raney farms.
Managing roof runoff prevents clean water from flowing across concentrated waste areas and barnyards, reducing pollution and erosion, Raney said.
It addition to improving water quality and drainage, it helps reduce flooding and mud problems.
Roof gutters are normally installed on the barn to direct water away from the barnyard.
Drop boxes are installed above the barnyard to collect water before it has a chance to enter the barnyard. Then it is piped under the heavy use area into a grassy area to be dispersed.
“The french drain dried it up,” said Raney, “I was surprised as we were doing the project at how wet the dirt was and how much that has changed.”
Heavy use area. According to research done by the Crawford County Conservation District, barnyards like Raney’s were typically located in the lowest part of the farm because it was near a water source.
Unfortunately, this proximity to water makes for a muddy mess in the barnyard and muddy areas are breeding grounds for disease-causing bacteria.
The mud also makes daily operations of the farm difficult, not to mention the wear and tear on equipment.
Raney diverted this problem by creating a heavy use area.
He created the area by first laying down geotextile, which is a material similar to a heavy feed bag, across the barnyard.
Then he placed 12 inches of crushed limestone, then laid the geotextile.
The gravel creates a stable area for the cattle and a solid surface for the farmer to scrape and remove manure, while the fabric acts as a barrier to keep the gravel in place.
“It’s rolled into a hard, permanent surface,” Raney said.
Fresh water troughs. Raney no longer worries about his cows contaminating his creeks nor does he have to pump water to them in the pasture.
Source points from natural waters are still used, but now gravity flows water through a waterline from a creek to a trough.
With adequate water supply, troughs can be located within different areas to water herds.
“The cows now have fresh water without contamination,” Raney said.
Raney admitted the conservation district’s project goals were not always the same as his goals, but he went with the district’s recommendations and everything worked out.
“The cows are out on the pasture more and they’re more comfortable outside,” he said.
Red ribbons mark another conservation project, where the Linesville FFA chapter planted shrubs and trees along the creek this last spring. The vegetation was selected based on Raney’s decision to try and bring in more small animals to the area.
Helpful and happy. Raney said what really makes the conservation management a good idea is the grants that helped to pay for the projects.
The conservation district did the work of signing up for the grants and funded all the projects 75 percent.
Raney said he’s happy now that the ground isn’t torn up or muddy.
“It’s changed the whole look of the place,” said Raney, adding it’s so much easier to do his daily tasks now.
He said it was a real plus not having to worry about running fresh water to the cows and the pipes freezing this last winter.
Helping hand. Raney has no other conservation projects in the works, but the conservation district still has lots going on as they work their way to other parts of the county.
“Farmers, as a general rule, wouldn’t do it on their own,” said Raney, “I credit them (the district) for being aggressive and approaching us to get these projects done.”
Raney encourages other farmers to get in touch with their local conservation districts to see what they can do for them.
“They are helpful, not just to farmers, but to landowners,” said Raney, “Conserving water and protecting the environment is important and they’re going about it the right way.”

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