Forage & Grains
Nebraska dairyman applies raw milk to
pastures and watches the grass grow
The following article shows the experience of one farmer in Nebraska. There are many state and federal agencies that might have different opinions on the legality of spreading undiluted raw milk on pasture without a permit, many milk buyers that prohibit the use of large quantities of milk on the farm and some insurance companies that might question the practice. Please check with all relevant agencies and companies before making any decisions about this practice that could well be a great way to manage milk surpluses without the cost of trucking the milk from the farm.
Reprinted from the website www.greenpasture.org/community/?q=node/228
Added July 17, 2010. An Illinois steel-company executive turned Nebraska dairyman has stumbled onto an amazingly low-cost way to grow high-quality grass – and probably even crops – on depleted soil.
Can raw milk make grass grow? More specifically, can one application of three gallons of raw milk on an acre of land produce a large amount of grass?
The answer to both questions is yes.
Call it the Nebraska Plan or call it the raw milk strategy or call it downright amazing, but the fact is Nebraska dairyman David Wetzel is producing high-quality grass by applying raw milk to his fields and a Nebraska Extension agent has confirmed the dairyman’s accomplishments.
David Wetzel is not your ordinary dairyman, nor is Terry Gompert your ordinary Extension agent. Ten years ago Wetzel was winding up a five-year stint as the vice president of an Illinois steel company and felt the need to get out of the corporate rat race. At first he and his wife thought they would purchase a resort, but he then decided on a farm because he liked to work with his hands. The Wetzels bought a 320 acre farm in Page, Neb., in the northeast part of the state, and moved to the farm on New Year’s Day in 2000.
“We had to figure out what to do with the farm,” Wetzel said, “so we took a class from Terry Gompert.” They were advised to start a grass-based dairy and that’s what they did. “There’s no money in farming unless you’re huge,” Wetzel said, or unless the farmer develops specialty products, which is what they did.
In their business, the Wetzels used the fats in the milk and the skim milk was a waste product. “We had a lot of extra skim milk and we started dumping it on our fields,” Wetzel said. “At first we had a tank and drove it up and down the fields with the spout open. Later we borrowed a neighbor’s sprayer.”
Sometime in the winter of 2002 they had arranged to have some soil samples taken by a fertilizer company and on the day company employees arrived to do the sampling, it was 15 below zero. To their astonishment they discovered the probe went right into the soil in the fields where raw milk had been applied. In other fields the probe would not penetrate at all.
“I didn’t realize what we had,” Wetzel said. “I had an inkling something was going on and I thought it was probably the right thing to do.” For a number of years he continued to apply the milk the same way he had been doing, but in recent years he has had a local fertilizer company spray a mixture that includes liquid molasses and liquid fish, as well as raw milk. In addition he spreads 100 to 200 pounds of lime each year.
Gompert, the extension agent that suggested Wetzel start a grass-based dairy, had always been nearby – literally. The two are neighbors and talk frequently. It was in 2005 that Gompert, with the help of university soils specialist Charles Shapiro and weed specialist Stevan Kenzevic, conducted a test to determine the effectiveness of what Wetzel had been doing.
That the raw milk had a big impact on the pasture was never in doubt, according to Gompert. “You could see by both the color and the volume of the grass that there was a big increase in production.” In the test the raw milk was sprayed on at four different rates – 3, 5, 10 and 20 gallons per acre – on four separate tracts of land. At the 3-gallon rate 17 gallons of water were mixed with the milk, while the 20-gallon rate was straight milk. Surprisingly the test showed no difference between the 3-, 5-, 10- and 20-gallon rates.
The test began with the spraying of the milk in mid-May, with mid-April being a reasonable target date here in central Missouri. Forty-five days later the 16 plots were clipped and an extra 1200 pounds of grass on a dry matter basis were shown to have been grown on the treated versus non-treated land. That’s phenomenal, but possibly even more amazing is the fact the porosity of the soil – that is, the ability to absorb water and air – was found to have doubled.
So what’s going on? Gompert and Wetzel are both convinced what we have here is microbial action. “When raw milk is applied to land that has been abused, it feeds what is left of the microbes, plus it introduces microbes to the soil,” Wetzel explained, adding that “In my calculations it is much more profitable (to put milk on his pastures) than to sell to any co-op for the price they are paying.” \
Wetzel has been applying raw milk to his fields for 10 years, and during that time has made the following observations: