Dairy air

Dairy Air

Today’s aroma in the Kewaunee County air is brought to you by thousands of dairy cattle. One dairy cow can produce up to 150 pounds of manure and urine per day. The amount produced by a CAFO or Confined Animal Feeding Operation having at least 1,000 cows is astounding.

According to the WDNR web page on CAFO permitees, there are 15 dairy CAFOs in Kewaunee County. So by doing the math that’s 15 CAFOs X 1,000 cows = 15,000 animals X 150 lbs. of manure/urine per day = 2,250,000 pounds of manure/urine per day from the dairy CAFOs in our county. Most CAFOs have more than 1,000 animals, so this number is actually much larger.

Farmers store that manure in deep, open pits until they are full.  Then, they need to spread that manure on fields that hopefully have some vegetation on it to help filter out the pollutants before they can reach a stream, river or lake. There are legal limits to the amount of liquid manure that can be applied per acre of land. Just visit the Wisconsin DNR website to read the regulations. Once applied, that manure needs time to soak into the soil and let plants and the soil’s natural microbiology take over to digest the manure. However, sometimes the amount applied by some farmers exceeds the legal limit, and often successive applications occur on the same ground within days if not hours.

The applications of course are not pleasant to the senses. Okay, the odor is downright offensive, permeating and lasting. Depending on the direction of the wind on the day of application, you might not even know what’s happening within miles of where you live. After witnessing multiple applications on a single field Thursday and Friday with the wind in my face, I can tell you it really stinks. But I’m glad rain is not in the forecast. Because if it would rain in any significant measure, much of the manure spread in the last two days and continuing today, would amount to an accidental spill into nearby waterways. Except it wouldn’t be accidental.

Read more about it in Wisconsin’s Lakes at Risk The Growing Threat of Pollution from Agriculture and Development.  www.wisconsinenvironment.org/uploads/28/0f/280f84f08d11975d74cfcaaf7f42de08/Wisconsins-Lakes-at-Risk-web.pdf



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9 responses to “Dairy air

  1. Bill

    Great to have a website like this. It is long overdue and gives citizens a place to share deep concerns that are often ignored by local and state government.
    I hope this will alert concerned citizens who will then demand needed changes and protection for our air, water, and soil.


  2. Hank

    How can this kind of irresponsible behavior possibly be legal??? The damage to watersheds, air quality, ground water, rivers, lakes, public health, flora, fauna, etc. has to be immense… family dairy farms of several dozen head don’t even compare. The landscape can only absorb so much. The dairy air reference is perfect!



    • Hank

      oops… I wasn’t quite done… I’ve heard complaints about this kind of dumping from friends and relatives all the way to Green Bay. It should be up to those practicing this… technique… of ridding their operation of wastes, including antibiotics, hormones, nitrogen, etc. to insure they are protecting the ecosystem as well as the public. This looks a lot like a “spill,” and is of concern.


  3. Tom

    This type of agriculture represents a giant step backwards in land stewardship..enough to make Aldo Leopold roll over in his grave!
    It would be interesting to place bets on how long before this form of agriculture implodes with major ripples in the animal based food system….Bets anyone? See your local “bookie”!


    • Thanks for your comment. We will be talking about sustainable agriculture in future blogs.


      • tom konop

        Not everyone is concerned about the environment. It seems the greed that has arisen in this nation puts the emphasize on the dollar. Although I do not agree with the size of the large farms, I also realize that like the corner grocery vs Walmart CAFO’s are here to stay. Maybe the situation points out the need for zoning.
        This manure… ground water situation is not as new as it is made out to be. Back in the time of many small family farms and everyone winter spreading, it was well known that in the spring of the year wells yielded this yellow tainted water. Dairy inspectors did not dare take water samples in that area of Casco, Lincoln, or Red River. Young people were happy to get showers after gym classes at their high schools, because the water at home was containated.
        What about the sewage that a city like Milwaukee dumps every time they have over an inch of rainfall. Have you ever noticed the Lake currents travel North from Milwaukee???


  4. concerned Neighbor

    So here is what i do not understand.

    1st Hank calles the manure application a “spill” however it is infact quite
    the opposite indeed. Based on my knowledge of agriculture I can inform you that the farmer making this application is hauling no more the 5000 gal of liquid manure to the ac. on established alfalfa. At that rate it would be the equivalent of spreading 1/4 of bag of weed and feed on someones lawn in the spring. When you fertilize your lawn do you incorporate it of till it under. No because it would ruin your lawn. The same thing is happening in the picure above. If you want the numbers a can give them to you here they are typical dairy manure has about 5 units of N per 1000 which means he is applying 25 units of N per ac. there are about 18 units of weed and feed per 100 lb. If you have 1/4 ac lot in Luxemburg and you apply 1 bag of weed and feed you applied 36 units of N on your lawn. So basically when the average person applys weed and feed to there lawn the are apply more N then the farmer above.

    2nd. You talk about sustainable Agriculture but you do not really know what that is. The average number of people willing to own and operate farms is droping drastically. The concern is not “sustaning” agriculture but instead “surviving” agriculture. Food is the one industury we can not afford to ship over seas. With less and less farmers every year it makes perfect sense that the remaining farms need to “pick up the slack.” Everyone wants to go to the store and pick up a gallon of milk 2.50 a gal. or a pound of cheese for 3.50 lb. or yogurt for 10 for 10 but to do that we need to keep the agriculture industry alive in wisconsin and kewaunee county.

    3rd. CAFOS are not bad. Under Land Concervation 590 Standard it is not 1000 cows it is 1000 animal units is what qualifies as a CAFO which calculates to approximately 700 cows. With that being said CAFOS are closely monitored and watched by NRCS, Land Concervation, and the DNR. Manure applications, chemicals, and fertilizer are monitored very closely and randomly spot checked. In addition to all applications made must be done in a timley and safe manor. No one wants the byproduct of manure application (smell) not even the farmer himself. If it was up to him I am sure he/she would chose not to have any odor from farm. But like the smell in Kaukauna from the paper factory, the odor from the dairy farms can not be avoided.

    In a given year Agriculture pores more money into the local economy then all the other forms of industry in Kewaunee combined. If you take a look at the health of Kewaunees Economy and its excellent track record of monintering CAFOS and reflect on where you would like your grocery bill to be in the next ten years. I think you can agree with me that CAFOS are probably hear to stay and that they do more good then harm.


  5. Drover

    Following up with “concerned neighbor”… Many valid points, thanks for making them. First of all, there are not 15 dairy CAFOs in Kewaunee County, there are 14 dairy and one beef. Second of all, Wisconsin currently has less than half the cows that once resided here. At its highest population, Wisconsin had over 5 million dairy cows stomping through wooded areas, road ditches, streams, rivers, etc with absolutely no regulation. We can’t blame blame farmers 60-70 years ago for not knowing any better, but we can appreciate that farms today are regulated better than ever. In fact, Kewaunee County is a leader in the state for percentage of dairy farmers abiding to nutrient management plans, most of which are VOLUNTARY. CAFOs only make up about seven percent of all the dairies in Kewaunee County, so that means those seven percent plus another roughly 80 percent of the remaining dairies abide by nutrient management plans because they care about the land they farm on and live on. Don’t forget those farmers drink the ground water too! I can appreciate the efforts of groups like Kewaunee Cares but please make sure you get all the facts before you villianize your neighbors.

    Farmers of all kinds today are doing so much more with so much less. It’s really great to go to the store and get affordable food, isn’t it?


  6. Lynn

    I would like to respond to Concerned Neighbor’s points above about manure and CAFOs.
    Point 1: It would be great if liquid manure only consisted of nitrogen… unfortunately it does not. Liquid manure not only contains manure, but also antibiotics, hormones (BGH), steroids, chemical wormers, barn cleaners, copper sulfate, etc. This is then stored in manure pits containing millions of gallons. This anaerobic storage- along with all of the chemicals and antibiotics- have now killed off all of the microbes and enzymes that made manure bio-available for plants to uptake. On top of all this, we use glyphosate[roundup] resistant GM crops, that Dr. Don Huber of Purdue University has shown will take up 60-70% less nutrients then a conventional crop. So this is definitely NOT like fertilizing your lawn.

    Point 2: You are right- this is about surviving agriculture- unfortunately the current system won’t work. Sustainable agriculture uses ecological practices that minimize the need for synthetic inputs and maximize stewardship of resources. Sustainability does not impede on future generations ability to produce, or the health or availability of their natural resources. The recently released Rodale Institute 30-year farming system trial comparing organic vs conventional states:
    • Organic yields match conventional;
    • Organic produces better than conventional during drought conditions;
    • Organic farming systems build organic matter making them more sustainable;
    • Organic uses 45% less energy;
    • Conventional produces 40% more green house gases;
    • Organic farming is more profitable.

    I will concede organic food costs more at the store, but what we have to remember is that with organics we only pay once. For the majority of all conventional foods you have already paid for it once before you ever go to the store. Kewaunee County farmers received $8,979,000 in subsides in 2009, which means that each man, woman, and child in Kewaunee County paid $417 in taxes for their food… then they still had to go to the store to buy it. What we don’t have to worry about with locally grown organic foods is our food being shipped overseas and not grown at home. There were only a handful of community gardens in 1970, today there is over 18,000… and 7,000 farmers’ markets, with the fastest growing segment in agriculture being grass fed livestock production.

    Point 3: Self regulation is the flavor of the day. The CAFOs have the most regulation– but the least enforcement. When there is only one DNR employee covering 6 counties- spot checks are non-existent. If these checks do occur, it’s not on the rented land, and watching how many gallons are applied; it’s in the office checking the books. The larger these farms have gotten, the fewer local businesses are left to support our families and our small family farms. It is reported that a 5,000-cow dairy employs 80 people. That same 5,000 cows- put back on to 45-cow dairies like when I was a kid- would employ 111 people, with only 1 person per farm. Many of those 45-cow farms supported 3 generations. Those same farms would also need a full set of equipment, plus all of the hardware, supplies, feed mills, doctors, dentists, grocery stores etc, to support their families. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a revitalization of our towns here in Kewaunee County? My belief is that CAFO’S are not here to stay, and that they do more harm than good. Consumer awareness of the need for nutrient-dense food(health care), along with beliefs that animal husbandry/humane treatment of animals is important, that our finite natural resources are worth protecting, are all reasons which will be stumbling blocks to the industrial farm model. The real nail in the coffin though, will be rising fuel costs, the fact we have already surpassed peak oil, and the public’s growing disgust of the mega subsidies to huge agribusiness entities.


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