DEXTER - Nestled on a hill in Dexter above Lake Wassookeag, sits Mark McKusick’s organic dairy farm. Mark’s Great, Great Grandfather started the farm in the late 1800’s with 10 cows, some turkeys, hens, sheep and a small potato crop. Today Mark, along with one full time employee, two part timers, and seasonal assistance from his wife Cheryl, manages approximately 175 head of cows including 85 milkers.
He operates 344 acres of land that includes alfalfa, grass, rotational pastures and woods. Pasturing is a top priority for his organic dairy. There has to be sustainable nutrients available, so all of the pastures are seeded with mixed grasses and legumes.
Exercise, fresh forage, sunlight and fresh air are important factors in an organic dairy operation. The cows have access to an extensive rotation pasture system during the growing season, and a large barnyard area in winter.
Mark also feeds his cows haylage, grain corn, cornmeal, soy meal and other supplements to maintain production and a healthy immune system. When Mark made the switch from conventional to organic in 2001, he seeded all of his silage corn crop fields to grasses and legumes, thus greatly reducing the potential for soil erosion, nutrient runoff and pesticide impact.
Mark appreciates how important conservation is to his operation, especially because of his location. He understands the importance of a clean water supply, using around 4,500 gallons of water a day on the farm.
Several conservation practices have been installed on the farm.
Manure management is a top priority, and a system of heavy use protection areas, manure and waste transfer pumps, and a manure storage structure were installed to facilitate the collection and storage of waste.
The nutrient laden waste is then spread on fields at the optimum time to fertilize the crops. Winter cover is also used. Other conservation practices include grass waterways, diversions and subsurface drainage which reduce or redirect runoff from pastures and fields.
The barnyard area receives a lot of waste and roof runoff, so a catch basin was installed to route this flow to a transfer pump then into the storage pit.
During the winter months, Mark harvests wood from the 250 acres of woodlots scattered around the farm. He cuts selectively, depending on the market’s needs, and also harvests firewood for the family and farm operations.
A grass cover is established on the woodyards and roads to reduce erosion and ensure that there is no bare soil left after harvest.
In honor of his efficient and productive dairy farm with an eye towards conservation, the 2003 District Conservation Farm Award goes to McKusick & Son Farm of Dexter, Maine from the Penobscot County Soil & Water District.
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