Since 1868, someone in Tony and Ted Bornhorst's family has been farming this land near Fort Loramie, OH. Now that it's theirs, one word sums up their attitude toward it - protective.
The brothers' ancestors were German immigrants who arrived by canal boat, settled here because it reminded them of their native land, and started raising hogs. "There have always been hogs on this place," Tony says.
Tony, 43, and Ted, 42, formed their partnership in 1981. In 1997, their parents, James and Carol Jean, retired from active participation in the farm.
"What we've learned is that we've got to be good neighbors," Tony says. "We have to leave the land better than we found it. I don't know if the next generation will want to farm, but I'd hate to leave something to them that isn't as good as it possibly can be.
"Public perception is a crucial thing, too, so we try to keep the place looking as good as possible and keep the odor down," he adds.
"Economics plays a big role in what we do," adds Ted. "Put that manure on the ground, and it produces better. If you make a mistake with it, it takes years to correct it."
The farrow-to-finish farm totals 280 sows. They now have three production sites in the area.
Ted's place, the old family home farm, has two farrowing buildings, a sow breeding building, a gestation building and a large converted barn for finishing pigs. Tony's place has a nursery, a Nebraska-style, curtain-sided building used as a grower and a large converted barn for finishing. A third site, rented from a neighbor, has converted barns and is used as a feed-ration test facility.
They own 526 acres of cropland and rent 219 - enough to fill 50,000 bushels of storage with corn and feed the hogs.
"The operation is geared toward lowest production cost per 100 pounds of pork produced," Tony says.
With that in mind, the farm works on a combination of traditional and new technology. Manure management is a combination of scraping outside floors, shallow pits, deep pits and dry straw packs.
Sixty, 4 11/42 X 12-ft. farrowing pens with solid floors and straw bedding are scraped daily to a center gutter. "These are still nice buildings, even though they don't have the latest technology. It keeps costs down. We really think we can compete as long as we've got market access," Ted says.
The six-pen breeding building, designed by the Bornhorsts, gives the sows plenty of room to move freely. "We could fit the European guidelines for animal welfare in most of our buildings," Tony says.
With partial slats over a deep pit, plus 10 months' storage, their curtain-sided gestation building has pens for 180 sows.
Remarkably, the two converted barns for finishing were both built in the early 1900s. Chimneys help vent the air. One has three pens with 175 pigs/pen on dry straw pack and an outside floor with covered roof. The other barn has four pens with straw bedding and open, outside feeding floors. A third finishing building, rented from a neighbor, has straw bedding and a single outside feeding floor for 175 pigs.
The brothers say the chimney ventilation at the finishing barns helps keep them clean. Straw bedding is hauled as necessary. Scrapings from the finishing and breeding floors are hauled weekly, sometimes more often.
"We think that reduces odors. And it keeps pigs cleaner and prolongs the life of the straw pack. We like to keep fly numbers down and minimize the amount of manure that could be washed into the collection points during a heavy rain," Tony says.
Outside floors at the three finishing barns are scraped at least weekly. Runoff water is collected in holding areas with secondary earthen berms, pumped and spread on cropland. Roof spouting and collection points for runoff from the finishing floors keeps water clean.
A side-slinger spreader hauls the scrapings, farrowing house manure and straw pack. Collection points and pits are emptied as often as possible with a vacuum tank with injectors. Deep pits get pumped regularly. A pit additive keeps manure more consistent during pumping and helps eliminate odors.
Each year, the manure is applied on about 120 acres, normally 90 acres of wheat stubble and 30 acres of oat stubble with under-sown clover. About 50 acres of wheat straw is baled and used for bedding.
Their normal crop rotation is two years of corn, one of soybeans and one of small grain. Manure is always spread on small-grain stubble according to soil tests. Manure is spread on a field once every five years.
"It's important to have that rotation. If we don't, we can have weed and disease problems," Tony explains. "We grow two years of corn because a lot of nutrients out there is still tied up. Usually, the second-year corn is tremendous. That manure is breaking up yet into the second year. It's able to handle all the rain and take up all those extra nutrients."
They disk-chisel some corn stalks and use a fertilizer like super phosphate 0-0-60. "The N (nitrogen) already there from the manure helps digest those stalks. Then we come back later and sidedress anhydrous ammonia on corn. The stalks decompose, and the microbes die, and the N has to be freed from the microbes. So the N is there for the second year of corn," Tony says. "We've done considerable tissue sampling that'll bear that out. It says the corn actually needs more N on the first-year crop."
Not the least: they figure the phosphorus and potash in the manure application saves $22/acre by reducing commercial fertilizer needs, figuring on 130-bushels/acre corn.
On the home farm, phosphorus levels are already high enough. "We're only replacing what the crop withdraws," Ted says.
That puts the fertility priority on their rented acres and a newly purchased tract of land.
Just about every year, the Bornhorsts count on having 370 acres of corn, 240 acres of soybeans and 120 acres of small grains. "That acreage of corn at 125 bushels/acre is more than enough to take care of the hog operation. Our best year ever, corn averaged 167 bushels/acre," Tony says.
So, matching manure availability to fields, that means their maximum capacity is about 725 acres. "The question is `Can we apply on 125 acres and draw off it for the next five or six years?'" Ted says.
Some manure gets injected as a liquid, which turns out to be a great economic boost. "We sampled last year, and the value of it was two-and-a-half times the cost of hauling it. We pay (for) two trucks, $50 per truck per hour to haul it. That seems like a high cost, but it pays dividends," Tony says.
Ohio now bases manure-spreading regulations on phosphorus, not nitrogen. "We're getting recommendations and updating our manure nutrient management plan now," Tony says.
However the plan ends up, the Bornhorsts intend to continue putting organic matter into the soil. "It's important to give back to the earth," Tony says.
Soil tilth, in fact, shows a direct correlation to manure application. Over a 20-year span, soil tests indicate organic matter in one field increased from an average of 1.5% to 2.6%. Cation-exchange capacity in the same field increased from the low teens to 27.
"As soil tilth is improved, the soil has greater capacity to attract and hold nutrients, which helps protect water quality and the ability of the soil to hold moisture. That can reduce water runoff and maintain favorable growing conditions despite droughty conditions," Tony says.
They don't necessarily adhere to a manure-hauling schedule. "We haul whenever necessary. We try to keep them empty in the summer. See, we live here, too. I don't want to have to live with a fly infestation. Manure smells. You don't get used to it; I don't care what anybody says. You don't get immune to it. We take care of the situation before it becomes a problem," he says.
Weekends, holidays and special occasions like high school graduation are black-out times for manure hauling - all part of their good neighbor policy. By spreading a little bit of manure frequently, they avoid being forced to field apply a large amount at any one time, reducing odor problems. Injecting liquid manure also keeps odors to a minimum.
From the road, the Bornhorst brothers' farm looks like a hog-farming paradise. Blooming flower beds and a large number of trees, including fruit trees, give them an attractive appearance. They think that's important.
Their farm is open to frequent visits by farmers and non-farmers alike. Both brothers and their families are active in many local activities, as well as those of the Ohio Pork Producers Council. They've let local media representatives know their farm is open any time they need background footage, photos or information about the pork industry, and it's not uncommon to see a camera crew on the premises.
As they see it, it's all part of being a good steward. For them, environmental stewardship is a multi-faceted responsibility:
- Making sure they pass the land to the next generation in better condition that when they received it;
- Being proactive in conserving and improving natural resources and protecting the watershed;
- Promoting industry standards that are environmentally friendly and, at the same time, allowing the industry to grow and provide a healthy, nutritious product for consumers.
"By being active participants to address issues that affect the pork industry, we can help the industry to be environmentally friendly. Stewardship starts with the smallest link of the chain - producers such as ourselves - who continue to strive to improve efforts to conserve and protect the air, water and land," Tony says.