October 31, 2014

West-end Dairy on look out for feral pigs

Tim Barnum
Painters paint pipes in the new holding pen at West-end Dairy.
Tim Barnum
The new parlor, expected to be operational June 5.
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ADAMS TOWNSHIP — The corn is planted in West-end Dairy’s fields, although owner Dan Fisk says West-end was behind schedule due to rain, and now the crops are being closely monitored for feral swine activity.

Being vigilant in preventing the wild pigs from hitting their crops is important to the Fisks, since Dan says last year the animals destroyed about 20 acres of crops.

“It (pig invasion) means replanting, and that’s not cheap,” said Dan’s father, Hubert Fisk, who has been taking up the task of trying to see if wild pigs will be a problem again this year. “You don’t see them, you see tracks. They’re a night varmint, and they’re smart.”

“They’re going to be a problem,” Dan added.

He also says that there isn’t much that can be done about the pigs, since they are mostly active at night and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) doesn’t allow night hunting or for shooting of the nuisance without a small game license. Dan says his wife found this out last year after shooting a feral pig on farm property, as the DNR visited the farm soon after and threatened to write her a ticket.

Dan also says he attempted to get a Michigan Milk Producers Association resolution passed that would allow farmers to carry uncased firearms on their property in case a wild pig is seen, but says it failed due to safety reasons southern members were concerned about.

Unfortunately, Hubert says he has been seeing feral swine tracks in multiple areas of West-end Dairy farmland.

Pigs notwithstanding, Dan says the planting process will press forward as farm employees begin to plant hay in near future.

In other West-end Dairy news, Dan says the farm recently wrapped up one of its busiest times of the year.

“We had our annual flurry of activity, we had our manure pit pumped,” he said, adding semi trucks load manure out of the pit and spread in on West-end’s farm fields twice a year on Adams Road, much to the chagrin of neighbors who complained about the smell, sound and dust kicked up by the process. “We hauled 400 semi loads down that road and that’s a dusty road.

“That’s what MDA (Michigan Department of Agriculture) wants us to do,” he added.

According to Dan, West-end Dairy is enrolled in an MDA Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, and was the first farm to do so in Arenac County, which does soil testing on farms, determines where and when manure should be spread in farm fields and how much is spread.

On the milk production side of the farm, Dan says prices are at one of their lowest points of the year, mostly because of schools letting out.

However, he says since West-end is part of a CWT – Cooperatives Working Together – which works to export dairy products internationally and raise the price of the products, he hopes the price may go up a little bit.

“It’s (CWT) a deal where every dairy farmer provides 10 cents out of every 100 pounds of milk, it comes out of our milk checks,” Dan said, adding that money is then used to buy dairy cattle for slaughter and that this year’s buyout took 103,000 cows out of production, taking approximately 12 billion pounds of milk off the market. “The CWT just did a buyout. We’re hoping that’ll drive the price of milk up.

“The beef people aren’t really happy with us, how it works,” he added, saying that the beef industry says CWT buyouts floods the beef markets. “It’s not a popular project with the general public, you know, because you’re slaughtering a lot of cows at once.”

But while the program isn’t popular with the public, Dan says it helps farmers because a government program, the Dairy Export Enhancement Program, which also tries to push products internationally, hasn’t been doing much for dairy farmers.

“We’ve been having a really hard time getting the government to help us kick this stuff out of the country,” Dan said. He added the federal program also is currently selling the products for $9 per 100 pounds, while the cost of production is approximately $15.

Production wise, the process of producing milk at West-end Dairy is expected to be a lot smoother in the near future as the new milk parlor is almost ready to be put to use.

Dan expects it to be running on June 5.

But while it is going to be a big plus for the farm in the future, Dan says it may be rocky for a while.

“We’re going to have 425 cows that have never been in here,” he said. “The first week, it’s not going to be pretty.”

He says cows will be standing differently and in a completely new building, so until they familiarize themselves, there will be more resistance to coming and going in and out of the parlor.

Even amongst construction, planting and everyday farm chores, though, West-end Dairy has been infused with some more family time, as Dan says his granddaughters, Makala and Madison Shaw, have started to prepare heifers, cows that are yet to be pregnant, for the Arenac County Fair.

“School will be out soon, so they’ll be over everyday,” Dan said.

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