In most cases, every gallon of water that comes into Miltrim Farms, located near the Marathon County village of Athens, will get used at least three times.
The first use is generally to cool the milk from the farm’s 2,500 cows before being used as drinking water for cows or to wash the milking parlor. The parlor water is then used to wash sand used for cow bedding and is then used to flush the channels used to remove manure from the barn.
“Basically, we’re trying to use as little water as possible,” said David Trimner, general manager of Miltrim.
Founded in 1988, the farm was the first in the country to certify its on-site water practices using the International Water Stewardship Standard from the Alliance for Water Stewardship. Major corporations like MillerCoors had adopted it, but it had not been applied to individual farming operations previously.
“Our water table is relatively shallow,” Trimner said. “We have quite a bit of water in our area, but because it’s shallow, we just want to make sure we utilize that resource properly so we always have it.”
The AWS standard pushes farms and other companies to continuously improve their practices. Among the improvements Trimner has made are high-efficiency nozzles on a system used to cool cows, cutting usage from 2 gallons per minute to a half-gallon.
One benefit of the robotic milking system Miltrim recently installed was a 25% reduction in water usage compared to a conventional parlor, and Trimner said he set it up to use as little water as possible.
“Obviously, if it’s really something that doesn’t pay off, you just can’t do it, but for the most part, all the things I mentioned, it’s actually relatively easy to find a payoff for those,” he said, noting that it costs money to pump water out of the ground and to haul manure away. Less water going into manure pits means less volume to take out.
Beyond saving money, focusing on water usage is about being good community members, Trimner said.
“Some people are just not going to like us no matter what, but we do our best to be really good neighbors and to help enrich the community and not make it worse,” he added.