4.8 -Sustainable Farm Management
Living in today’s world obliges every person in the world to take responsibility to minimize resource depletion and environmental degradation within their communities. While some citizens take this more seriously than others, the responsibility is even greater in agricultural and livestock industries, which are the leading causes for nonpoint source pollution (Lyle, 1994). Of all the federal funds directed towards reducing water pollution, ninety-nine percent has been spent reducing source pollutants from large manufacturing industries, although these industries are now known to be lesser culprits than agriculture. “Nationally, the greatest water polluter is agriculture, a widely dispersed nonpoint source” (Lyle, 1994, 9). It is therefore in the hands of social entrepreneurs and agricultural communities to take responsibility for their own nonpoint source pollution. This can be accomplished by adopting “sustainable management” techniques for both farm and livestock operations. In order to be sustainable, a farm must be self-renewing, or “regenerative” (Lyle, 1994, 10), in their operations. Sustainability requires ongoing regeneration. This can be applied in several ways on the equine farm operation.
Whether horses are kept in the stable or out on grass, owners must contend with the problem of manure storage and disposal. It is generally accepted within the horse industry to burn or bury wastes, polluting the air and groundwater in the process. Others keep an ever-expanding manure pile on a dirt lot outside the barn, spreading the worm-filled waste on the pastures when the pile gets too large. These manure piles leak nonpoint source pollutants into the water supply and are in violation of the federal Clean Water Act of 1977, which stipulates manure piles must be kept on concrete slabs to prevent water pollution (http://www.epa.gov/). However, there is another option that provides for “the continuous replacement, through its own functional process, of the energy and materials used in its operation”, which is known as “regenerative design” (Lyle, 1994, 10). Composting all organic farm waste under controlled conditions is less expensive than incineration or burial and far safer than spreading (Lyle, 1994). Composting is an aerobic process requiring little more than oxygen, heat and time. Besides being a process through which manure is disposed, composting is also an excellent way to reduce soil depletion
There are several ways a farm can implement a regenerative composting system. The complexity and sophistication of the compost heap depends on the number of manure producing horses living on the farm. The traditional system is to simply keep a manure pile on a concrete slab, spreading a can of lime dust over each wheelbarrow load brought to the pile. However, for larger operations, “Static Bin Composting” (Ambrosiano and Harcourt, 1997, 29) may prove to be more useful. Static Bin Composting requires a series of bins with removable fronts to be built upon a concrete slab (Figure 4.23). Several lengths of perforated PVC pipes are laid across the bins in intervals to allow sufficient oxygen to reach the center of the piles. Once the first bin has been filled, the front is attached and the pile is allowed time to “cook” (Ambrosiano and Harcourt, 1997, 29) while the other bins are utilized. After the bin has “cooked”, which can take two months to a year depending on the wastes, the compost becomes rich, dark organic soil that is highly sought after and purchased by gardeners and landscapers. Composting is a simple solution to a potentially dangerous problem. Taking the time to prepare the composting bins is well-worth the effort. Any inspectors from local environmental agencies will clearly see that as a farm manager, you are doing your part to responsibly treat the nonpoint source pollutants produced on your farm, creating a sustainable environment to benefit the agricultural community. “Sustainability requires ongoing regeneration” (Lyle, 1994, 10), which is exactly what composting does.
Figure 4.23 -Compost Bin
There are other small things a farm owner or hired manager can do to create regenerative systems. The use of chemical fertilizers and parasite control agents can be highly toxic to the environment. Obtaining a pesticide applicator’s license requires you to attend training classes at your local Cooperative Extension Service and to pass the pesticide applicator’s license test. The classes and test are useful for teaching the proper techniques for storing, using and disposing of certain potentially dangerous chemicals (Ambrosiano and Harcourt, 1997). Reducing the amount of chemicals used on a farm is also an important step towards sustainability. The process of mixed grazing, mentioned above, replaces chemical fertilizers with cattle and sheep and can be just as effective for controlling weeds and destroying internal parasite populations.
Sustainable farm management tends to apply to the systems employed to reduce resource depletion and pollution. However, “the same principles [regenerative design] can apply to the economy as a whole” (Lyle, 1994, 10). Consider the operations of the Thoroughbred racing industry. The lifecycle of a racing Thoroughbred is as follows (Biracree and Insinger, 1982). First, a substantial “stud fee” is paid to the owners of a stallion to impregnate a mare. Eleven months of feeding and caring for the mare go by as the breeders anxiously wait for the night their foal will be born. The foal then spends less than a year with its mother, frolicking in fields and playing with its peers, all the while being fed expensive high-protein diets to maximize their growth in time for the “yearlings” sale. Even before the actual age of one-year-old (all foals born in 2003 are considered one-year-old on January 1, 2004), the foal may be sent to an auction, where a trainer will spend upwards of $50,000 to purchase the future Derby winner. By the age of two, the horse will have spent countless hours under a saddle on the racetrack, exercising and training even before their growth is complete. The horse will spend its off-track time in an expensive stall on the racing grounds or training stable, receiving three costly meals each day. As the horse begins racing, at the age of two or three, more money is spent on entry fees. The horse is then expected to win the purses. If he doesn’t win often enough, or is injured too badly to continue racing, the horse is considered worthless and sold, all too often to slaughter houses. Thousands of dollars are thrown away and the horse’s life is over. This is not a sustainable system.
Organizations such as ReRun, Inc., described in the following chapter, can work to interject regenerative practices into the racing industry. Through education and tax incentives, ReRun, Inc. offers the “worthless” horses second careers as show horses, pleasure horses or companion animals. Thoroughbreds that are not suited for racing, either physically or mentally, can be “retired” to ReRun, Inc. where they will be rehabilitated and found new homes. These, and many other techniques, can change the “one-way” flow of Thoroughbreds and prevent the premature end of countless lives, creating a sustainable way to manage racehorses.