Macy Conrad has a job that many her age consider crazy and exotic—something they often don’t expect when meeting her. The 25-year-old is a dairy farmer.
After graduating from the College of Wooster, Conrad returned to carry on her family’s dairy farming tradition on their farm in New Holland, Ohio, which is about 45 minutes south of Columbus. She and her father, third-generation dairy farmer Greg Conrad, milk about 100 cows at Conrad Farm.
“It’s my passion, it’s what makes me happy — it’s my feel-good place!” Conrad says, adding that it is fulfilling to know she is taking care of the cows and the land. Conrad believes that she, and young farmers like her, bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to the dairy farming sector. It’s a personal goal of Conrad’s to do the best she can to care for the planet, which starts on her farm.
“My generation is more environmentally conscious, and we are seeing ways that sustainability could be brought into different aspects of the farm,” she says. “Farmers have always been stewards of the land; this is not something new that we are thinking about, but we have to keep moving forward. We have to keep coming up with new technologies.”
The U.S. dairy community accounts for only about 2 percent of U.S. GHG emissions, but dairy farmers have committed to doing even more to be an environmental solution — their goal is to achieve carbon neutrality or better by 2050, while decreasing water use and improving water quality, and they’re already making progress.
Due to innovative practices in cow comfort, improved feed and genetics, and modern barn design, the environmental impact of producing a gallon of milk in 2017 shrunk significantly, requiring 30 percent less water, 21 percent less land and a 19 percent smaller carbon footprint than it did in 2007.
Conrad is encouraged by these improvements — and acknowledges there is always more that can and should be done. With climate top of mind for Conrad and her peers, she understands the importance of protecting the environment.
“We should care for our planet, we should care for our future, and if I’m not taking the proper precautions to protect this land, how could I ask that of someone else?” says Conrad.
Dairy farmers like the Conrads live on or near the land that they farm, so they have a vested interest in making sure the water is clean and of the highest quality. To prevent manure from running into nearby streams, rivers and lakes, dairy farmers use responsible manure management practices. They remove manure from barns and put it in temporary storage, which can include a pit, tank or holding pond. These secure on-farm facilities help reduce odor and hasten decomposition until the manure can be applied to fields as a natural fertilizer.
Manure is constantly on the minds of dairy farmers. One cow produces about 17 gallons of manure each day – that’s enough fertilizer to grow 46 pounds of corn. Manure from the Conrads’ cows is used as a natural fertilizer on the family’s 400 acres of cropland to return critical nutrients to the soil. “I feel good knowing that we are providing a sustainable source of nitrogen back to the soil while also disposing manure in a safe and environmentally friendly way,” says Conrad.
Fertilizing with cow manure increases the water-holding capacity of soil by up to 20 percent, resulting in reduced groundwater needed to grow crops. For Conrad, fertilizing cropland and implementing responsible farming practices like crop rotation and proper nutrient management ensures she is always giving something back to the environment, which is something she believes all farmers have a responsibility to do.
Another way dairy farmers can protect the local water supply is by installing catch basins or planting buffer strips of thick heavy grasses on crop fields to prevent manure runoff. They also use water responsibly, recycling water an average of 3 to 5 times. For example, water used to clean the milking parlor can be saved and used to clean manure from the barns or irrigate crops.
Conrad admits dairy farming is hard, often stinky, work — but it’s all she’s ever known and she is passionate about doing her part to contribute to a sustainable future. She loves the land and loves the cows. “The cows are part of your family, and that’s what keeps you going.”