Demo Farm Network helps Deer Run Dairy thrive

Tivoli Gough
Barry Bubolz, left, NRCS Area Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Coordinator, with Derek Ducat, on a field planted with barley, winter rye and radish. The field is planned to go into no-till alfalfa.

Step by step, Duane and Derek Ducat work to keep the farming legacy their grandfather started thriving. Establishing Deer Run Dairy LLC, in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, has helped the father and son team do just that, keep on farming the legacy.

The dairy is owned and operated by Duane and Derek Ducat, and Dale Bogart.

“My dad bought the farm in 1984 and we were milking 70 cows back then,” explained Derek.

The family worked to expand the farm in small steps, working up to milking 120 cows in a stanchion barn. The family also grows crops and does custom work on the side. They wanted to grow and expand their dairy by making conservation-minded decisions along the way.

Through the custom work the family was completing on neighboring farms, they met Dale Bogart.

“In talking with Dale, who lived nearby, we both wanted to expand and do similar things on our farms,” added Derek.

The Ducats and Dale worked for over three years looking at different farms to combine their operations and grow. They found the right spot in 2007, and in the fall of 2008, they started milking 750 cows at Deer Run Dairy. Now, they milk 1,500 cows and manage 2,400 acres. They also complete around 1,400 acres of custom work in the area.

Derek heard about a new network of farms in the region that the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) started, funded through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“Dad had always worked with NRCS to complete conservation practices on the farm; I knew I wanted to continue working to build the farm, with conservation in mind. When I heard about the opportunity to be a Demonstration Farm, I knew I wanted to join in on the effort,” explained Derek.

The Ducats and Dale became one of four farms that demonstrate the best conservation practices to protect the Great Lakes, known as the Door-Kewaunee Watershed Demonstration Farm Network. The USDA-NRCS and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, are guiding this effort in cooperation with Peninsula Pride Farms, a farmer-led organization.

Deer Run Diary Demo Farm sign.

Through the demo farms, Deer Run Dairy is focusing on testing low disturbance manure application methods, cover cropping, no-tilling, including “planting green” and installing a denitrifying bioreactor for tile lines.

Their goal is to keep their soils healthy, grow the best feed for cow health and performance and have a thriving farm that enables the ability to adapt to changes in farm technologies, landscapes, weather and economies.

“We’re proud to be a part of the Demo Farm Network, enabling access to new technologies and the ability for us to share with others a better way of doing things,” added Derek.

No-till corn into winter rye on July 1, 2019.

Through a partnership with NRCS and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Deer Run Dairy practices residue and tillage management, no-till and cover crops.

“In 2018, we did 700 acres of cover crops. We’ve been planting covers for 5 years. We started on wheat ground, where we planted mainly radish, rye, barley and turnips,” explained Derek.

Deer Run Dairy has continued to expand its cover cropping with covers planted following corn silage and also on fields that will be no-till planted to alfalfa the following spring.

“The ability to no-till plant directly into living cover crops this spring helped us deal with the wet conditions that were present,” stated Derek. “These no-till fields also allowed for easier silage harvest this fall with less damage done to the fields due to the increased carrying capacity of the ground.” 

Through EQIP, Deer Run Dairy also completed upland wildlife habitat management and wetland wildlife management. These practices enabled the farm to improve habitat for wood ducks and bats by placing some structures. The farm also installed filter strips to provide an area of herbaceous vegetation to remove contaminants from overland flow and conservation cover.

No-till alfalfa, peas and oats into rye on June 21, 2019.

Deer Run Dairy planted conservation cover to provide permanent vegetative cover to reduce soil erosion and sedimentation. The farm also assessed possible energy improvements to the operation. They worked with NRCS through EQIP to complete lighting system improvements in their dairy barns and facilities.

“Our biggest challenge with expanding is incorporating manure,” explained Derek. Deer Run Dairy is working with the Demo Farms to find ways to reduce erosion and practice no-till, while incorporating manure.

“We want to be able to apply manure in a no-till situation on growing crops,” added Derek. “Through the Demo Farms, we’ve been able to try and tweak low disturbance manure applications.”

Deer Run Dairy hosted a field day where the Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, center, attended to learn about the benefits of soil health. (2) No-till alfalfa, peas and oats into rye on June 21, 2019.

The farm also held a field day to show specialty equipment options to other farmers in the area and demonstrate the benefits of low disturbance manure applications.

“We’re looking at minimizing the physical disturbance of the soil during application. Low disturbance manure applications can help with nitrogen and phosphorus retention, and is compatible with planting and maintaining cover crops,” added Barry Bubolz, NRCS Area GLRI Coordinator.

After Deer Run Dairy took off silage, they drilled a cover crop of winter rye in right away. Then, their custom hauler came in and broadcasted 5,000 gallons.

“We did three applications of 5,000 gallons in the fall and in the spring, we were able to do another application; some before and after planting,” explained Derek.

Deer Run Dairy also learned they can apply manure through tall rye. “We put a bit of early nitrogen down to recoup what the rye was holding and later, we didn’t have to side dress. The corn never stressed, our yields were great and I was very happy with the tillage savings,” added Derek.

Deer Run Dairy, with the help of the Demo Farms, will continue to experiment on the best ways to incorporate manure into a no-till system. They also plan to install a denitrifying bioreactor on some subsurface (tile) drained ground.

The practice includes installing an edge-of-field structure containing a carbon source, such as wood chips, to reduce the concentration of nitrate-nitrogen in subsurface agricultural drainage flow via enhanced denitrification (i.e., removing the nitrates or nitrites from soil, air or water by chemical reduction).

Corn harvest on October 4, 2019.

“Bioreactors help improve water quality by reducing the nitrate-nitrogen content of subsurface agricultural drainage flow. We’re excited to see the results after the installation on the Deer Run Dairy demo farm,” explained Bubolz.

Through the Demo Farms, Deer Run Dairy has had increased public interest in what the farm is doing and trying on their land. The farm is taking the right steps in doing more active conservation and demonstrating it to the public.

Derek also notes the cost share assistance can help farms in this tough economy do more.

“Its been great to have the other three farms and the partners to network with; sharing ideas, successes and failures help us all to succeed and make conservation work. We are able to do so much more because of the assistance from NRCS,” he said.