Waste not: Dairyman tackles problem head on


FREDERICKTOWN, Ohio — When Tom Freer’s family started looking at building designs for a new barn, Tom knew the design of the barn’s manure storage facility was just as important as the number of freestalls.

That’s one of the farm management decisions that earned Freer and his wife, Elaine, one of five Environmental Stewardship Awards presented statewide by the Ohio Livestock Council. The Freers’ award was sponsored by the Ohio Dairy Farmers Federation.

Tom and Elaine Freer are the third generation to manage Klever Holstein Farm, farming today in a partnership with Tom’s uncle, Jim Klever, and his grandmother, Doris Klever. And, like his uncle and grandmother before him, Tom Freer knows the rolling hills of Knox County require special conservation attention.

The farm’s 325 acres are farmed using no-till methods. Freer plants no-till corn, no-till wheat, no-till alfalfa (he’s had the best luck drilling the alfalfa into wheat stubble, rather than into corn ground) and even drilled his oats for the first time this year.

The farm has long followed the contour strip method to minimize soil erosion; grassed waterways channel run-off and reduce erosion; and what used to be called “shelter belts”, or a row of trees running along a field’s edge, remain to serve as windbreaks, stem erosion and harbor wildlife.

“Most people probably took them out to farm larger fields,” Freer said.

Fences have been built to keep cows and heifers out of ditches and springs to reduce stream bank erosion, and the family has developed and installed a spring water tank for the livestock.

In 1997, the family built a new freestall barn and double-six herringbone milking parlor for their Holstein cattle. Sited atop a hill, the barn is in a good location for ventilation, but Freer wanted to make sure the hilltop site wasn’t going to be a problem for manure storage or parlor wastewater.

Working with the local Soil and Water Conservation District and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Freer built a concrete bottomed manure pit that is under roof to reduce odors and keep out rainwater.

The milkhouse waste water runs from through a tile to a series of three settling basins in the valley below. The basins serve as a bio-filter to purify the water before it travels through a grassed waterway.

The local SWCD has tested the water coming out of the settling basins, Tom said, and it’s been cleaner than what’s already in the adjacent creek.

Through the USDA’s EQIP program, Tom’s son, Jeremy, now 18, planted 1,700 pines, walnut and poplar trees as an FFA project to protect highly erodible land on one of the farm’s steeper areas.

Freer said all of their conservation practices impact the environment, but have also improved the farm’s profitability. “Testing the soil saves in applying fertilizer only where needed and rotating crops aids in better yields,” he said. “Keeping cattle out of low-lying, wet areas avoids cases of mastitis, which can be costly to treat and reduce milk production.”

Freer has applied the same management savvy to the dairy herd, which has grown from the 55 head the family had been milking to their current milking string of 84 head and an equal number of calves and heifer replacement animals. Production averages 75 pounds/cow.

He concentrates on raising quality alfalfa hay and corn silage for the herd and has just purchased a bagger to bag forage and silage for the TMR.

Down the road, he hopes to build better housing for the replacement stock but, as Elaine puts it, “With expansion you have to take baby steps.”

Elaine helps milk every day, helps feed the heifers and is putting the farm’s records onto computer, relieving Doris Klever of many bookkeeping responsibilities. Jimmy Klever helps milk and feeds the heifers and calves. The Freers’ two children, Jeremy, 18, and Courtney, 15, also help on the farm.

“It’s just teamwork,” Tom said. “We just do what we have to do to get things done.”

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