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Grazing dairy south of Chiefland a new concept Lack of odor makes it more appealing From the Levy County Journal

By Terry Witt Staff Writer Chiefland farmer Ron St. John calls it a politically correct dairy. The Southpoint grazing dairy he recently opened doesn't produce odors for neighbors to complain about. It's a new type of dairy, and appears to be a more popular one. Driving along County Road 347 south of Chiefland, Southpoint grazing dairy can barely be seen through the window of a vehicle. If it wasn't for a dirt road that cuts through a maze of grassy fields, the dairy might be invisible. There aren't many buildings. What's more, the smell of a large dairy is all but absent. At the milking center, which is more than a quarter of a mile off the road, the smell of cattle grains and cow manure is noticeable, but the odor is mild and confined to that location. "I'd like to think there's no smell here," said Manager Pete Hetherington, a native of Australia. He designed the farm and operates it for St. John. Southpoint has been in operation for six weeks. There have been no complaints from the public to this point. The green fields surrounding the milking center make up about 99 percent of the dairy. The 600 milking cows and 200 mothers-in-waiting graze in the fields most of the time. A pivot irrigation system keeps the fields watered and growing. The waste left in the fields by the cows is disposed of by nature. The nutrients are recycled naturally and become fertilizer for the grass. Grazing dairies operate much differently than confinement dairies. The big confinement dairies house milk cows in barns and feed them in the barns. The animal waste is recovered and sprayed through pivot irrigation systems onto fields. The sprayed manure has a noticeable smell. Alliance Dairy north of Chiefland, also owned by St. John, is a confinement dairy. He said neither the grazing nor confinement dairy pollutes. At Southpoint, the cows receive most of their food and nutrients from the grass they eat. They must forage for their food in the fields. Come milking time, they walk at a leisurely pace to the milking center to munch on grain. When the cows are released to go back outside, they are rotated to a field of fresh grass until their next milking. Hetherington keeps track of his rotation on a computer. Hetherington uses a device known as a rising plate meter to calculate the amount of grass in a field. The device pushes down on a small section of grass and calculates the pounds per acre in the field surrounding it. The height and thickness of the grass tell are the factors it measures. The big tractors and big barns and activity found on a confinement dairy aren't part of Southpoint dairy. "This dairy is pretty sleepy," St. John said. Hetherington believes he can operate the dairy with five full-time employees and himself. The dairy is producing 50,000 pounds of milk every other day. When warmer weather arrives and the grass grows better, Hetherington anticipates producing 50,000 pounds of milk daily.

The only manure sprayed on the farm is captured in the milking center and mixed with water. It is sprayed while fresh on an 87-acre field set aside for that purpose. The slurry or water and fresh manure has a benign odor, with a slight tinge of chlorine mixed in. The chlorine is used to disinfect the pipes. St. John has received a state industrial waste disposal permit for the dairy. The permit allows him to dump no more waste on the land than the plants can absorb through their root system. He has monitoring wells in the property to keep track of aquifer water quality. But he said the grazing dairy is so efficient at absorbing nutrients from cow waste that he actually has to spray nitrogen on his fields to fertilize the grass. St. John and Hetherington said grass-fed cows produce milk lower in fat but higher in Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which is believed to have anti-carcinogenic, anti-diabetic, and anti-obesity properties. "This is not organic. It's better than organic," St. John said. Grazing dairies are nothing new. St. John grew up on one in New York. The dairies in old Florida were grazing dairies. Hetherington said 50 years ago the United States was the site of most grazing dairies. St. John believes the dairy industry outsmarted itself when it moved away from grazing. Southpoint dairy hasn't produced as much grass as Hetherington and St. John would like this winter due to the exceptionally cold weather. Most of the fields are planted in rye grass. The cold and frost doesn't kill the rye grass, but it can stunt its growth for a few days. But the growth has been good enough to sustain the herd of cows. St. John is sold on grazing dairies. He said the cost of setting up a grazing dairy is 20 percent less than a confinement dairy. There are fewer buildings and less upkeep, and the neighbors are happier. Grazing dairies are what he plans to open in the future. "You could permit another confinement dairy like Alliance, but the public perception is different," he said.

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Suggested Hed: Grazing dairy south of Chiefland a new concept

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Suggested Hed: Grazing dairy south of Chiefland a new concept