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Clovermead Farms commits to sustainability

Alice Guthrie Published on 26 September 2014
dairy cattle at feed bunks

Clovermead Farms Inc., located near Alma, Ontario, was recently awarded the recipient of the prestigious 2014 Dairy Farm Sustainability Award.

This award, presented at Dairy Farmers of Canada’s annual general meeting in Frederickton, New Brunswick, recognizes dairy farmers who are committed to innovation and sustainable practices to enhance the social, economic and environmental impact of dairy farms in Canada.

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Clovermead fits all requirements of the award, with a strong environmental commitment, a desire to live well in their community and attention to the bottom line in their business dealings and decisions.

Whale family

Korb Whale runs Clovermead Farms, with assistance from his parents, Bruce and Deborah, both of whom are still actively involved on a part-time basis.

It was a gradual process over a number of years for Korb to assume increasing responsibility for management of the farm, but for about five years now, he has been the main operator. Korb’s wife, Kelly, works off the farm. She is also busy with the couple’s three children, Rya, 4; Jack, 3; and baby, Reagan, 4 months.

The family employs three full-time workers. A standard practice at Clovermead is for family and workers to gather together over lunch. This gives the owners and employees an opportunity to connect and share ideas and concerns, and to bring each other up-to-date on issues that arise. Workers are encouraged to present their views, although Korb has the responsibility of final decisions.

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The family has farmed in this location for some time. Korb is the seventh generation. They built a milking parlour back in 1974 and a freestall barn in 1997. Here, cows are grouped in four areas – high production, low production, breeding heifers and a transition group.

Alleys in this barn are scraped every two hours. In 2007, the old parlour was replaced with three robotic milking units. Korb comments that it was important for cows to have good teat placement – udders are important for robotic milking.

The farm consists of 475 acres, with 10 percent of the land base dedicated to wildlife habitat and forest. The family is passionate about conservation and the environment – they have planted 50,000 trees over a 40-year span.

Their forest management practices ensure habitat for wildlife, with corridors between forested areas. The trees also help to stabilize stream banks and reduce wind erosion on their fields.

Korb grows all the forage and most of the grain required by the dairy herd. He purchases a supplement feed for the robots. Pasture is utilized only for heifers.

The herd numbers 135 milking cows, with an additional 180 animals as dry cows and youngstock. Ninety percent of these are registered Holsteins, on DHI and type-classified.

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The remainder are recorded crossbreds, as Korb has experimented with some cross-breeding for added health benefits. He has used Ayrshire, Brown Swiss and Norwegian Reds in his pursuit of the perfect dairy cow.

Korb in front of two anaerobic digesters

In 2012, the Whales installed two anaerobic digesters which collect biogas from the manure, produce electricity and transform dry matter into clean bedding for cows and high-quality fertilizer (with fewer weed seeds and pathogens than regular manure).

These huge units are fed a mix of manure from the cow barn, solid waste from the heifer barn, waste feed and off-farm waste. A large tank receives the off-farm waste and moves it to a pasteurizing unit prior to mixing it with the farm waste in a 10-foot-deep pit referred to as the mix tank. From this pit, it is piped to the first digester.

These digester units are 1,000-cubic-metre covered concrete tanks, where the manure mix is heated and stirred in an attempt to recreate the conditions of a cow’s rumen.

The mix is then moved to the second digester unit. “The more retention time, the more gas we can get out of it,” Korb comments. By using two digesters, the Whales can also ensure no fresh manure remains at the end of the process.

Once the mix has spent time in the second digester, it goes to the separator building, where it is pressed by the solid separator to remove moisture. About 10 percent of what exits the digester is available as solids.

They are able to capture 60 to 70 percent of these available solids for use as bedding for the cows or as fertilizer as needed. It is high in potash and phosphorus.

The excess liquids, called the digestate, are then piped to an outside pit. This slurry is used as fertilizer and is high in nitrogen – in a form more readily available to plants.

The entire system is computer-controlled from a separate building that houses multiple computer screens to keep tabs on every aspect of the unit’s production. They are running at full capacity of 250 kW per hour.

Recycled heat from the generator engine heats the digesters, pasteurizer and all buildings except the houses. Electricity produced by the system is sold to the grid; the Whales purchase back what is needed on the farm.

Korb is also involved in research concerning the digester, greenhouse gas and a mitigation project, as well as the University of Guelph’s high immune response (HIR) project.

This family is community-minded; they believe in being involved. Aside from his duties on the farm, Korb enjoys being an executive member of a Highland rugby club and is chairman of Cornerstone Renewables, a group of digester operators formed to work together at procuring off-farm waste.

By working together, they can ensure waste always has a place to go if one digester is unable to handle the amount offered. Deborah is also busy in the community, as director of the local agriculture marketing commission and of the Ontario Power Authority. Bruce is on the insurance board, and is currently serving as mayor of their municipality.  PD

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

PHOTOS
TOP PHOTO: Deborah, Korb and Kelly Whale, with children Rya, 4; Jack, 3; and baby Reagan in front of one of the extensive gardens at Clovermead Farms. The Whales were recently awarded for their commitment to sustainability.

MIDDLE PHOTO: A view down the feed alley of the main dairy barn.

BOTTOM PHOTO:  Korb Whale stands in front of the two anaerobic digesters. This is one way the farm plans to stay sustainable for years to come. Photos by Alice Guthrie.

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