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Leveraging Litter

Bar G Ranch Poultry incorporated a turkey operation and significantly improved the cattle herd


Some farmers buy chicken litter for their fields to avoid using commercial fertilizers. The Glasers took it one step further. They added a large turkey operation – producing approximately 600,000 birds a year – to guarantee their supply.

The Glaser family, owners of Bar G Ranch Poultry in Rogers, Texas, owns 500 acres and leases another 250. On that land, which has been in the family for three generations, they run 200 cow/calf units. They also raise turkeys for Cargill Turkey Production, LLC, in four 450-foot by 50-foot turkey houses, with each house holding 30,000 birds.

The birds are raised from one day to six weeks, and are changed out five times year. When the birds come out, front end loaders come in and remove 250 to 300 tons of litter – one of the main reasons for the turkeys.

“We built the whole system to integrate the turkey operation with the cattle operation,” says owner Darrell Glaser. “I saw right away that the litter was going to make the difference. That we could save a lot on fertilizer costs on our cattle operation, and improve our soil. It’s done so much for our organic matter and our water holding capacity of the soil. It’s turned our whole operation around.”

Getting started
The transformation began 20 years ago in the mid 1990s. Darrell’s family farm wasn’t profitable and his mother Jeanette was faced with either selling or leasing the farm. Darrell, who was getting his master’s in nutrition, and his wife Shannon, who was completing her master’s degree in biochemistry, had to decide if they wanted to go back.

“Coincidentally, when I was completing my master’s degree, I took over a nutrition lab from a lady whose parents were contract-growing turkeys for Plantation Foods, and the whole idea started there,” says Darrell. “We had to figure out a way to make the family profitable. We started in research and ended up in production agriculture.”

Darrell and Sharon found a way to balance careers and farm life, and set out to turn the farm around. One of the first steps was adding turkeys to provide the much needed fertilizer.

“When I came back from college, we had a farming ranch and we were running some row crop. We converted everything over to improve pasture with different coastal Bermuda grass, some Tifton 85 coastal. We also did some cross fencing for better rotational grazing, and then utilized the litter,” says Glaser, now 47.

Since then, the Glasers have doubled their stocking rate, all due to incorporating turkey litter, which in turn improved the soil condition, fertility and water holding capacity. They make it all happen with two full-time employees, as well as Glaser team, which includes Darrell and his four sons: Trenton, 18, Trevor and Troy, who are 13, and 11-year-old Travis.

Moving the litter
When it comes time to spread, Darrell leans on a local farmer.

“He has a pretty good system,” explains Darrell. “He has three flat bottom floor trucks, and as soon as we bring the manure out of the houses, he loads it and takes it to the spots where it’s going to be put it on the farm ground.”

Luckily, the farm is located where spreading can take place year round, although it tends to take place most often in the spring and fall.

The litter that’s not spread on-farm is used by neighboring farmers. Nothing goes to waste – including the mortalities. Because the ranch is a brooder farm, raising such young turkeys, they may lose 25 to 30 birds a day. The Glasers incinerate the mortalities and the ash is added to the litter that’s spread on the pasture.

“They’re very small, so you don’t really have a lot of mortality to deal with,” says Darrell. “That’s why the incineration works the best for us.”

Controlling the cows not the turkeys
The Glasers don’t have a lot of control over the turkey operations. It’s fairly standardized and most of the management decisions are made by Cargill. That works out, because the Glasers aren’t focusing on big margins with the turkeys. Instead, the focus is on the cows where they do have control and are trying innovative things.

“We run a purebred Beefmaster operation. And we use an embryo transfer program and work to establish cows that do better on grass and are more efficient converters of feed. So, we’re working on both sides of the system,” says Darrell. “What we’ve done in our cattle operation is we’ve tried to increase the quality of our cattle through better animals that use the grass better, which in turn allows us to market those for a premium also.”

Proactive water planning
Twenty years ago, when the Glasers set out to change things around, water quality management wasn’t yet an industry standard. But the ranch was proactive and has operated under a water quality management plan since the very first day birds were placed on the farm in 1994.

“We worked with the soil conservation service on managing our litter and following guidelines to try and make sure the soil was cared for and there was no over fertilizing,” says Darrell.

And the extra effort was worth it.
“We didn’t run into a lot of problems that a lot of places had where they had been raising birds for years prior and then they started testing their soils and found out they had a tremendous excess of phosphorus in the soil, then had to stop using their litter,” he says. “Because we started managing from the beginning, we’ve been able to continuously use our litter from the very start because we’ve kept a very close eye on the phosphorous levels in the soils. And we’ve managed our application rates to our yield goals, like how many cattle per acre or how much hay we wanted to produce. And we test every year to make sure that we’re not getting an imbalance of our nutrients.”

Management practices have worked well. To date, the farm has never had an excess nutrient buildup.

Watering holes
One of the other things the Glasers did when they decided to increase their cattle was to build five new clay-bottom ponds, 6,000 yards each, in addition to the five Darrell’s grandfather had originally dug. Again, they worked with soil conservation folks.

“They came out, looked at the property, surveyed and said here’s where you should put your ponds and that’s what we did,” says Darrell.

The ponds provide a water source for the cattle, help handle drainage and run off and add value to the property because there is more water-holding capacity. The ponds also provide wildlife habitat and help prevent soil erosion.

Awards & education
The work they’re doing has been getting recognition. This year, the farm was one of the recipients of the USPoultry’s 2014 Family Farm Environmental Excellence Award, where farms are judged on dry litter management, nutrient management planning, community involvement, wildlife enhancement techniques, innovative nutrient management techniques and participation in education or outreach programs.

Darrell believes education is the key to the future of family. That doesn’t mean doing anything more than just speaking to people and letting people know where their food comes from.

“We always talk about agriculture. Since we began our turkey operation we’ve raised almost 14 million turkeys. When someone asks that question and you say that, they’re very intrigued and want to know how in the world do you raise 14 million turkeys. Then I tell them the brands of product that you would see that possibly would have come through our farm.

“In my opinion it’s absolutely critical to our industry that we be good stewards and also share the knowledge of what goes on in our farms in a factual manner because there’s so much out there that may not be true. They need to know that, for the most part, we take good care of the land because that’s where our livelihood comes from.”

Tomorrow
The Glasers have lots of plans ahead – more ponds, better soil, improved cattle operation through breeding and efficiencies – and it still all hinges on the litter.

“The whole key is how we’ve integrated the turkey and cattle operations together to produce a least cost system. The turkeys benefit the cattle, in that they produce the litter, which saves us a lot of money on commercial fertilizer. Then the cattle benefit from the turkeys because the labor I use on the turkey farm also works on the cattle operation – maximizing my labor force. So it’s just a least cost system that just works really well.”

Darrell adds, “We’ve been able to do it for this number of years and are seeing continuing improvement. Some of the things we’ve put in place for years, we’re starting to see the plan come to fruition. After 20 years, we’re reaping the rewards.”

 

 

 


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