Lone Star Farm Beef

Lone Star Farm Blog – A Free Range Beef Farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Free-range, antibiotic & hormone-free, grass fed beef

Conversing About Conserving: An Update on Lone Star Farm’s Conservation Plan

Last year, Ernie Beiler gave us an overview of elements of the conservation plan Lone Star Farm has put into place over the last several years. This week, I caught up with him to see what he has noticed one year later.

FarmOverall, his assessment is that each piece of this conservation plan is “doing its job.” The Beilers had done careful research before implementing the four major conservation tools they now have in place on the farm, and they are pleased–but not surprised–to see that everything works the way it should and has improved the landscape of their farm. Still, Ernie notes one surprise: “I’m surprised we didn’t do it sooner!”

Let’s check in about each of the four major elements that make Lone Star Farm an environmentally friendly place:

No-Till Program & Cover Crops

The no-till program, which leaves the soil undisturbed and allows beneficial organisms to thrive there, was the first conservation step for Lone Star Farm. Since implementing the no-till program six or seven years ago, they have seen far less erosion, and their crops–which feed their cows–have flourished.

Our crops flourish with no-till program

It’s been a huge time-savings for the Beilers, too. Fieldwork used to eat up their time, but now custom operators plant and harvest most of the crops. These custom operators use less equipment, which saves on fossil fuels and reduces pollution.

In the winter, rather than leaving fields bare, custom operators plant a cover crop, such as wheat or rye, which holds the soil in place and prevents erosion caused by winter’s wind and spring’s thaws.

Grass Waterway

Between the waterway and the no-till program, the Beilers have seen concrete changes in the way the farm looks.

They used to see deep gullies, caused by neighbors’ runoff on its way to the creek. Now, the 40-foot-wide waterway’s rich grasses slow water down on its path through the fields, preventing that kind of erosion.

They have also noticed an improvement in the field behind their house. It’s a gentle slope, so the Beilers didn’t consider it a place that would see significant erosion, but in the past, they have had gullies there. Now, with water redirected through the waterway and the no-till program improving the soil structure, they have not seen the same issues.

Bottom line: They used to have to try hard to contain and stay after the runoff; now, they don’t have to fight it. It goes where there are systems in place to control it.

Stream Bank Fencing

Four years ago, the Beilers first planted trees around their stream to create the natural buffer zone referred to as “stream bank fencing.”

This area has become a particularly “wild” part of the farm, with the trees around the stream attracting more and more wildlife. Ernie notes that they have seen turtles, ducks, eagles, mink, muskrats and, yes, even snakes. One evening, three or four weeks ago, they saw a small buck right by their house. They had never seen deer so close to the house before. Nature is more and more at home on their farm!

As the older trees establish themselves, new voluntary tree growth follows. Out by the stream, walnut, maple and oak trees have begun to grow.

Manure Storage

The new manure storage continues to do its job, which means that the manure is hardly noticeable–exactly what you want when it comes to manure! This is the main way the conservation plan benefits the cows–their surroundings stay cleaner and so do they.

Nestled in scenic Lancaster County, Lone Star Farm is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It’s strategically placed to help improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay itself, and the Beilers are committed to this conservation plan because they want to see the bay–and the region’s water systems as a whole– flourish.

Our Farm’s Conservation Plan

Cows

Over the past several years, our farm has taken four major conservation steps to reduce erosion and avoid harmful runoff into the Chesapeake Bay.  We have implemented a no-till program, created a natural buffer around the creeks throughout our property, built a grass waterway and improved manure storage.

We have undertaken these steps for a specific reason.   Our farm sits in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and several years ago, we began learning about how much top soil farmers in our area are losing into the Chesapeake Bay.  This is not good for the farms or the bay.  In the bay, nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus can create “dead zones” where there is not enough oxygen for diverse plant and animal life to thrive.  We began to learn about how we could help both our farm and the Chesapeake by putting our farm on a conservation plan.

No-Till Program

The first step, five or six years ago, was to implement a no-till program.  This leaves the soil undisturbed, and it has drastically reduced the amount of erosion on our farm.  The crops produce just as well or better.  As the soil begins to acclimate to the no-till program, beneficial organisms in the soil begin to thrive.

Recently, we got to see “before and after” photos of our farm!  The government had an aerial photo of the farm on record, and even though this was not affiliated with our conservation work, we had an opportunity to compare this old photo with a new one, and we could definitely see the difference in erosion—it is a marked improvement!

A side benefit is that it’s been very labor-saving for us. We use custom operators to do most of the planting and harvesting.  Though there isn’t any cost-savings, we do appreciate the time we can spend on activities other than field work.

Our Farm2

Stream Bank Fencing

Two years ago we started a Conservation Reserve Extended Program (CREP), which helps farmers create natural “buffer zones” around their streams to improve the health of the water.  We looked into a program from Dr. Bern Sweeney, a University of Pennsylvania Biology professor whose freshwater research firm has even guided the U.S. government and other countries who turned to the firm for solutions to complicated water issues.

We were very impressed with this program, which guided us as we planted trees along the creek.  Even though some might see stream bank fencing as wasted space—the cows are not allowed in the creek except for a specific place for crossing—we have seen the benefits.  We learned about the science behind stream back fencing.  Shading the creek, for instance, creates an environment for helpful organisms and healthy bacteria that can’t survive in warmer water.

We have loved what this program has done for the health of the stream.  We’ve seen a significant increase in vegetation and wildlife along the stream.  Already, we’ve seen more mink, muskrats, ducks and frogs.  In a couple years, there will be wildlife like we’ve never seen!

Grass Waterway

Our third improvement has been to build a grass waterway.  We built a 40-foot wide space for water to run without impacting other parts of the field.  This also helps to channel our neighbors’ runoff on its way to the stream and has made a huge difference in the amount of erosion we have seen.

Manure Storage

Our most recent conservation change has been to improve our farm’s manure storage, which we put in place two years ago.  This collects manure in a way that is safe and keeps it from ending up as run-off, and also allows us to utilize it as fertilizer for our crops.

We are thrilled with the way the conservation plan has been working and all the positive changes we have witnessed as we’ve evaluated the health of our farm.

cows2

We are committed to environmental issues and to operating our farm in a way that protects the health of future generations.   Water is easy to take for granted, but we know that many cities are already dealing with problems related to their drinking water.  Putting these “tools” in place is our way of keeping the water clean for others as it moves through our property.

Springtime on the Farm

Spring is on the way!  One of the first signs of spring on the farm is when the first spring calves make their appearance.  One of our mother cows gave birth to twin girls!  As is sometimes the case with twins, they have a more challenging start, so we have to keep a close watch on them to be sure they are getting the proper care and nutrition.  My daughter named the baby calves Abigail and Alyssa.

This year we are expecting around 30 calves from March through August.  It’s a beautiful part of living on the farm, seeing all the new baby calves romping around in the meadows.

 

Happy Spring y’all!  Elmina

 

Pondering…

As I sit at my desk reflecting over my morning, I feel so blessed to be living a part of my dream. I had some awesome time with my son roaming the fields with the ATV, stopping occasionally to pop a few wild raspberries, that grow wild in a wooded patch along the fields, into our mouths, checking the progress of the crops since last week and simply enjoying the the presence of each other. We visited the new calf and I realize every birth is a miracle and it never fails to create a stirring within me, and I feel it all over again…… a connection with nature and a closeness to God that I have come to appreciate. I am indeed, a blessed individual!