"I'm certain that by moving it inside, it helps them by making the calves a little bit healthier, but it also helps reduce some of the [phosphorus and bacteria] that are a large concern in the Lake Champlain Basin," said Reckhan, who presented the Leerkes with Essex County's top AEM award a year ago and urged them to compete for the state award.
Other projects at Leerkes farm assisted by the AEM program have included a leach aid for silage and a wastewater treatment system for their milkhouse.
In addition, the Leerkes have participated in a regional program to recycle plastic wrapping used for hay bales. They also practice ridge-tilling in their fields and use a no-till corn planter.
"In this county, we're the only herd that grazes rotationally year-round," Erik said, citing another measure for erosion and runoff control.
Reckhan said it was the farm's many pollution-reducing measures, proximity to Lake Champlain and positive community presence that made the Leerkes such a strong candidate at the state level.
"I didn't expect much," said Erik. "We don't do it for the awards."
Though some of the projects have been an investment of time and money, Erik said, the grants available through the AEM program have helped and the benefits have been well worth the work.
"It's nice because there's always something you can do," Erik said. "You're always thinking, What can you do next? What can you do to keep it clean for the next generation?"