Meet Our Farmers

  • States

Search Farmer Stories by State
  • States

Sustainable Farming a Priority and Passion for Iowa Dairy Farmer

March 2016 | Iowa | 0 comments

Iowa dairy farmer Marty Burken

Marty Burken with his daughters Hillary, Hannah and Haley

Sustainable farming simply means, “Doing the right things — for the environment, our family business and our community,” according to Iowa dairy farmer Marty Burken.

“We live and work here, my kids drink the water, breathe the air, and I hope they’re the third generation to tend this land and the animals it sustains.”

At age 10, Burken knew he wanted to be a dairy farmer. “I was an animal lover — from Wild Kingdom to caring for the cows.” His parents, Loran and Betty Burken, established Blue Hyll Dairy in Clinton, Iowa. “Building our family business worked out great, because my brother Mike liked tractors and crops, and I liked the cows.”

Creating “cow utopia” is Burken’s passion. “We’re building a new barn, and it will be the cow version of the Ritz Carlton. Every part is designed to make it comfortable for the cow, from the width of her bed to when the fans automatically come on to cool her,” he says.

A dairy cow is nature’s recycler. She converts plant fiber indigestible to humans, such as hay, into high quality protein in the form of milk and ultimately dairy products. She then replenishes the soil with nutrients and water from her waste, known on a farm as manure.

Blue Hyll also recycles, using water four times.

First, well water cools the cows’ milk. Second, cows drink this water and it mists them when the weather’s hot. Third, it “flushes” the barn floors — similar to hosing your driveway, except that this wastewater is captured and the solids are separated from the liquid. This nutrient-rich liquid, tested and matched to each field’s needs based on soil tests, is then used a fourth time when injected into the field to reduce odor. It increases the soil’s ability to hold water by 20 percent, according to the University of Missouri.

Manure, once a nuisance on the farm, is now an asset, according to Burken. Blue Hyll composts its manure solids for use either as animal bedding, or to sell to local gardeners and landscapers. “We’ve had people from Chicago drive out to the farm to buy it.”

Burken says the farm’s compost helped turn his own garden from heavy yellow clay soil to fluffier black dirt, where he and his daughters grow vegetables, including asparagus for their family-favorite asparagus soup.

You Might Also Like

For the Love of Dairy Farm Proposals

You’ve heard of barn weddings, but have you heard of dairy farm proposals? These couples combined their love of the farm with their love for each other, proving that every couple gets their dairy-tale ending.

Milk and Marathons in the Midwest

When Andrew and Jennifer Holle aren’t busy running the day-to-day operations of their 650-head dairy farm in North Dakota, they can be found running their four kids to various activities, or literally running miles—and lots of them—as they prepare to run the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 8th.

Share this page!