A $150,000 state grant will help a Bridgehampton dairy implement a modern solution to the ancient agriculture issue of manure management.
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The Mecox Bay Dairy Farm in Bridgehampton raises Jersey milking cows for cheese and is one of a handful of Long Island operations offering sought-after raw cow's milk. Credit: Randee Daddona

Mecox Bay Dairy, a multigeneration family farm established in 1875, was a dairy until the 1950s, then a commodity potato grower before returning to cows in 2003. The farm, a rural expanse surrounded by multimillion dollar Hamptons homes, raises cows for beef and cheese and is one of a handful of Long Island operations offering sought-after raw cow’s milk.

The money will help Mecox Bay manage the excrement from its 23 milk-producing Jersey cows, a small and docile breed known for its high-fat milk, and more easily turn their manure into fertilizer.

A 1,000-pound dairy cow produces about 80 pounds of waste per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unmanaged manure contributes nutrients, disease-causing microorganisms and oxygen-demanding organics into the environment, the agency said.

“It all has to do with making sure that we are doing everything we can to keep the clean water clean,” said Peter Ludlow, whose parents Arthur and Stacy own the farm. “And make sure … manure is being contained that we can save and use for fertilizer on the field. That’s the simple overlying principle.”

For about half the year, the farm’s dairy cows are kept on a concrete pad with sand-covered stalls. Once a day a tractor pushes their waste into a covered hole where a liquid slurry is made. The sand beds are also raked out, functioning in a way like kitty litter.

The farm’s current system holds about 5,000 gallons of slurry that must be emptied and spread across the fields every few days, even during the cold months when crops absorb fewer nutrients. The farm grows corn, alfalfa and oats for animal feed, but only grass is sprayed in the winter.

The grant will fund an approximately 150,000-gallon tank that will allow the farm to limit spraying to twice a year at optimal times, greatly reducing its fertilizer costs and impacts, Ludlow said. It will also pay for gutters to reduce surface water collection near the cow pens.

The $154,275 grant from the state Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control Program was awarded to the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District to administer the project.

The state Department of Agriculture and Markets said the more manure applied in poor conditions, the greater the chance for nutrient losses in the fields. Storing manure allows for improved management of when and where the fertilizer is applied.

Corey Humphrey, manager of the soil and water conservation district, said the Mecox Bay Dairy initiative is a project with good environmental value for the money spent.

“It’s allowing them to manage their waste stream in the best possible way that they can,” Humphrey said. “You can store some of this material just like in your on-site septic systems or just like in your cesspool and let the microbes and bacteria and fungi effectively clean this waste stream.”

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