My little hill farm in Royalton, Vermont—host to the Bob-White Systems micro dairy—is housed on 40 acres of badly-abused land. When my wife Wendy and I bought the farm in 2001, most of the old pasture had grown in or been stripped for gravel. Up until the early '90s, the land served as a junkyard and the last stop for totaled cars. Needless to say, the land was in bad shape and needed rehabilitation.
Since Bob-White Systems is a research facility, we do not sell the milk that is produced on site. We drink what we can and give the rest away as barter (i.e., milk to neighbors raising pigs in exchange for pork). Still, there is plenty left over. A few years ago I got wind of research being done exploring the benefits of using raw milk as fertilizer. Early reports were favorable, and I finally got around to trying it myself last summer. Here is what happened—and why I am a convert to this natural method of fertilizing my pastures.
How to Use Raw Milk as a Soil Ammendment
I bought a 40-gallon three point hitch sprayer (like this one from Demco) that fits onto my tractor and started spreading the raw milk on my pastures. I try to spread in the evening in order to slow the evaporation process but, in reality, I spread the milk whenever I had time. Since I have a 30- gallon bulk tank, I spread 30 gallons of milk at a time. This takes about twenty minutes of actual spray time. At first, I had concerns that the smell of the milk would bother our neighbors. Luckily, it didn’t; there was no smell. And, the cows had no objection to grazing a pasture recently sprayed with milk. For reference: They object to grazing on pastures where manure has been recently spread.
At first, I didn't notice any immediate improvement in the quality of the pastures, but last summer was the first summer that I did not have to graze my cows on a neighbors’ land. My pastures held up through the season and provided enough grass for my cows. This year, there is no question that the pastures are more lush. In fact, my cows can't keep up. The turf is much thicker and contains a much higher percentage of white clover with fewer weeds and wild strawberries. The grass is healthier and provides more nutritional value and dry matter for my cows, which equals more and better feed thanks to the raw milk.
Price of Raw Milk
I understand that I am in the unique position of having access to surplus milk. Even so, the milk that I spread is much less expensive than commercial fertilizer ($23.20 per hundred weight of raw milk versus $30 per hundred weight for fertilizer at my local farm supply store).
If you have (or have access to) excess milk, it might make sense for you to spread it on your land, even if it is only the milky rinse water (from cleaning your milking equipment). The only caveat is that you have to spread the milk right away or keep it cold and agitated so it doesn't separate. You cannot use a conventional sprayer if your milk has separated. Another option is to mix the raw milk with your manure.
Whatever you decide to do, surplus milk and milky rinse water should be viewed as a resource rather than a waste product on the dairy arm. As you can see, putting it to work, rather than throwing it down the drain, works for me, my cows and my pasture, and it can for you, too.