PLEASANT LAKE, Ind. — As small livestock farms continue to pop up in northeastern Indiana, those farm operators have had questions regarding practices such as manure management and rotational grazing, according to Kayleen Hart, administrative coordinator for the Steuben County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).
To help provide answers, the SWCD and the St. Joseph River Watershed Alliance are hosting a small farm livestock workshop Aug. 12. A Nonpoint Source Pollution Prevention grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management will also help with funding. The free event will provide information on animal mortality and watering systems, in addition to grazing and manure management.
"There are more and more people with that small amount of animals on their property," Hart noted. "They may have one or two horses or one or two cows. We receive a lot of questions, so we decided why not get people together and get their questions answered?"
Indiana had 37,166 farms in the 10- to 179-acre category in 2012, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. That figure is up 1,640 farms from 2007. Farms of 10-49 acres increased from 19,533 in 2007 to 20,770.
The small farm owners simply may not be familiar with how to best manage their animals, Hart said. "They buy a large piece of property and some animals and don’t know what to do after they have them," she explained. "It’s doable, but you have to know how.
"You have to make sure you rotate your animals and make sure you manage your pastureland correctly. More people want to do rotational grazing and fencing but need to be sure there’s enough ground to do it properly."
Hart said she would like to see an attendance of 20-30 people. The event is open to anyone but is geared toward those in northeastern Indiana and southeastern Michigan.
The number of small or hobby farms is also on the increase in Hillsdale County, Mich., said Shelby Bollwahn, livestock environmental educator for Michigan State University extension. The small-animal operations in the area include poultry (broiler chickens and laying hens), goats and beef and dairy.
"We want to be sure they have some form of environmental stewardship on their farms," said Bollwahn, the workshop’s featured speaker. "We’re just touching on a few of those things. This is an educational opportunity. The exciting thing with these small farm operators is that they really want to learn."
The desire of consumers to know where their food comes from is in part driving the increase in the number of hobby farms, she noted. "You’re city folk, you want to go have a farm," she said. "It’s giving them the initiative to have their own farms. But there’s a lot to consider when starting your own farm."
There aren’t many field days providing educational opportunities for small-scale or hobby farmers, said Sharon Partridge-Domer, watershed program manager for the Allen County, Ind., SWCD.
"Hobby farms with livestock face a unique set of circumstances that challenge owners to balance good animal husbandry and site management with protection of our surface water resources," she explained. "At the workshop, participants will learn how to prevent contaminated stormwater runoff from leaving their operations, what to do with all the poo, what to do when animals that will not be eaten die and how to manage pastures for optimal performance."
Registration for the workshop is requested but not required. The meeting will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. EDT on the farm of Chris and Bethann Mathews, owners of Promise Ridge Farm. The farm is two miles east of Old Highway 27 at 789 E. Bellefontaine Road, Pleasant Lake.
For details or to register, call the Steuben County SWCD at 260-665-3211, ext. 3.