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Getting Out of the Muck

Series of Coastside workshops recommends ways for ranches and livestock owners to manage mud, dust and manure.

Managing mud, dust and manure starts from the ground up.

That was the overarching theme at the Livestock and Land Workshop last week, facilitated by the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District (RCD) and hosted at the Pillar Point Ridge Manufactured Home Community in Moss Beach. Workshops were held in partnership with local organizations and businesses, including Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ecology Action of Santa Cruz County, the Coastside Horse Council, Moss Beach Ranch, , , and the .

More than 12 ranch and livestock owners participated in the workshop, which focused on providing educational and technical advice to ranch owners who wanted to learn how to better manage mud, dust and manure on their properties as related to erosion, equine health and manure composting.

Previous workshops were held in Pacifica, Half Moon Bay and Pescadero.

Millard Tong, owner of Millwood Ranch in Pacifica, wanted to learn ways to take better care of his horses and their health regarding creek water, improving land management and implementing a manure composting system.

Lynda, a homeowner in Montara with four horses and chickens on her property, and Nan Humbel, manager at Morning Star Ranch — also in Montara — wanted tips on how to better keep their facilities clean despite all the manure, dust and mud.

Equine body worker Christine Hanson was at the workshop looking for resources for stables in regards to manure removal.

She came away from the workshop with a “better understanding of composting, that horse manure is a valuable resource and how important working with the existing environmental parameters is when designing spaces for keeping horses,” she said.

It’s true that “management of techniques and resource conversation measures can help overcome the erosion, mud and dust problems that many ranches experience,” said Susan Hoey-Lees, civil engineering tech for Natural Resources Conversation Service (NRCS).

At the workshop, Hoey-Lees gave a talk about reducing erosion, mud and dust. “It all starts from the soil, which is the foundation of your site, and how much rain you get and the topography and location of your site matters,” she said.

NRCS is a non-regulatory agency that helps develop and implement a plan so livestock and ranch owners can achieve their ranching goals in a way that protects and improves the environment.

The RCD is a Local Partnership Office with the NRCS and coordinates and cooperates to provide technical assistance and do conservation projects.

The San Mateo County RCD workshop is a program that’s funded through the State Water Resources Control Board through Prop 84.

“This workshop is not a NRCS project,” Karissa Anderson said, livestock and land coordinator for the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District. “They are partners with us in giving technical assistance, but the funding goes to RCDs.”

The program was originally started in Santa Cruz County through Ecology Action, a non-profit in cooperation with the RCD of Santa Cruz. Ecology Action then applied for Prop 50 funding to start pilot versions of this program in other counties, specifically San Benito, Monterey, San Mateo, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara as well as continuing the program in Santa Cruz, according to Anderson.

San Mateo County RCD applied for the Prop 84 funds to continue the program in special areas with biological significance, including the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve watersheds, the Ano Nuevo Marine Reserve watersheds and the Carmel River watershed.

The programs are implemented in cooperation with Ecology Action, Monterey RCD and RCD Santa Cruz.  

“The grant amount varies by RCD because of the watersheds,” said Anderson. “This grant funding will last through February 2013, and we will hopefully begin construction on our funded demonstration sites in late spring or early Summer 2012.”

In the meantime, workshops like the one given at Moss Beach are proving to be very successful in their mission.

“The RCD is a free, confidential, non-regulatory resource for local property owners and managers with resource concerns and are here to provide technical assistance. Don’t be shy about calling the RCD,” said Anderson, who is hoping that participants attending last week's workshop come away with knowing that “Best Management Practices” can not only help with big problems like erosion, mud, dust, and manure, “but can also help make chores easier, maintenance less and cheaper, and improve the quality of life for horses and other livestock,” she said.

“There are many simple Best Management Practices that horse and other livestock owners can do to improve their property, their horses’ quality of life and water quality like frequently cleaning stalls, keeping manure covered or away from rain and runoff, seeding bare areas, and more.”

In addition to Hoey-Lees’ presentation about erosion, Dr. Philip Bellamy, DVM, talked about the impact of mud, dust and manure on equine health. Otis Johnson of Land Stewards spoke aboutt manure composting options, and senior ranger Aniko Millan of Santa Clara County Parks shared a success story from the field.

Millan is a Livestock and Land demonstration site owner, which means she applied to become a demonstration site for implementing Best Management Practices for a livestock facility.

Properties selected as a demonstration site agree to match at least 45 percent of grant funds expended on site improvements. This can be achieved by labor, materials and/or cash contributions.

Millwood Ranch in Pacifica, which consists of 166 acres of paddocks with 65 horses, two steers, two goats, five ducks, approximately 50 chickens, 10 dogs, five cats, and an abundance of wildlife, is currently designated as a Demonstration Site by RCD in San Mateo.

Owner Tong applied to improve the ranch’s land management and implement a manure composing system.

“One of the major changes was how we handle and streamline manure removal to a composting area,” said Herb Kalotkin, Millwood Ranch facilities manager. “The next step was to construct five manure bunkers on a six-foot concrete slab with room for a total of 12 bunkers. We are talking volume. We are just getting started and once we have the NRCS plan, we can move forward.”

Kalotkin said that the current conditions on the ranch were affecting the health of the horses like “mud in winter and trying to keep horses feet and feed dry. Also dust in the summer, protecting eyes and keeping breathing passages clear,” said Kalotkin.

With manure bunkers and a composting system in place, Kalotkin is optimistic that the mud and dust issue will become more manageable.

“Our work with Millwood Ranch only consists of the composting bunkers,” said Anderson. “He [Tong] has plans to do much more, but construction on that won’t begin till next year after the rainy season is over.”

The workshop also stressed that every site like Millwood Ranch is unique, and that a good paddock and composting system are essential investments to maintaining a healthy ranch.

“We want to educate the public through the demonstration sites and help livestock and ranch owners understand what is going on with their properties,” said Anderson.

In addition, the services provided by NRCS to do confidential site visits and make recommendations for a plan and goals in regards to water, conversation, drainage and erosion.

“As places to keep horses continue to dwindle, it is very important that horse owners set up their facilities to be super clean,” said equine body worker Hanson. “This workshop showed me how that can be done and how successful that can be.”

For more information, go to www.sanmateorcd.org.

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