Big manure-related changes
By Paul MacDonald
By Paul MacDonald
There have been big changes at the
dairy operation of North Carolina’s Myers Farms, Inc recently,
including a switch to a drag hose set-up for manure application and the
installation of a separator.
There have been big changes at the dairy operation of North Carolina’s Myers Farms, Inc recently, including a switch to a drag hose set-up for manure application and the installation of a separator.
North Carolina’s Barry Myers has made some significant changes to the family dairy farm in the last few years in terms of manure management.
Myers has made the switch from using an irrigation system for manure application to a drag hose set-up, and he recently installed a state-of-the-art separation system.
And as far as Myers is concerned, it’s all part of staying on top of manure management in a state where livestock operations are under increasing scrutiny.
|Manure at the 1,000-cow Myers dairy operation goes via flumes to the separator, which removes the sand, and then on to the first stage waste storage pond.|
While hog operations in North Carolina have faced increasing environmental pressure—and an outright moratorium on growth—dairy operations in the state also have to meet stringent regulations. These regulations may be onerous, but they also may put the state’s livestock industry in a leadership position. “The additional regulations may have been thought of as being negative early on, but in the end, as the other states have to catch up, maybe it’s a good thing,” says Myers.
The increased regulations bring benefits and drawbacks, says Myers. “There’s no doubt that compared to years ago the industry is doing a better job of manure management and application because we’ve been directed to,” he says. “There’s also been an education process.
“It’s not all a negative thing. There are good things that have come out of it. But like a lot of regulatory processes, there are things they want you to do that don’t seem to make a lot of sense. It’s very time-consuming, that’s for sure.”
When Myers is talking about manure management, he pulls open a deep drawer on his desk filled with binders of detailed information on every aspect of their manure application program on the farm. With sons Ethan and Joshua taking on management of the general operations of the farm, Barry is in charge of manure management, crop production, feed purchasing and is construction manager on new facilities, the latest being the installation of the new separator.
With a 1,000-cow herd, manure management seems to take on a life of its own, in terms of consuming Myers’ time. The farm has reached that size following several expansions. Barry’s father, Homer C Myers Jr, started up with 15 cows in 1947, then went Grade A in 1960 with 80 cows. The first phase of the current dairy operation was completed in 1992, with the milking herd at 375. Three more freestall barns for cows, and two for heifers, were completed by Barry and crew from 1993 to 2004, finding the herd at 987 on test today.
On the manure management side, they were a scrape and haul system until early 1982, when a waste storage pond (WSP) was constructed. The current waste system for the entire operation consists of a 1.8-million gallon first stage WSP, a second stage with three million gallons capacity, and the third stage at 10.5 million gallons.
From the barn, the manure goes to two collection basins, and is then piped underground to the first stage WSP, with most of the solids staying there. Water is recycled out of the third stage WSP for flushing the freestall alleys.
“With the increased size of the herd, it just made sense to go to the flush system,” says Myers.
The most recent change has been the move to a sand bedding system and the installation of a McLanahan sand separator. Instead of being directed to the catch basins, the manure is now going via flumes to the separator, which removes the sand, with the manure then going on to the first stage lagoon.
|The McLanahan sand separator being installed (right) earlier this year. The feature that directed Barry Myers to the McLanahan system was its hydro cyclone, which allows percentage of sand removal into the high 90s.|
“The separator is a big project with a lot of engineering,” says Myers. “We’ve done a lot of the installation ourselves. We had some help with the concrete work, but on a day-to-day basis, it’s pretty much been done by us.” The installation, while receiving no cost share, was pre-approved and inspected by NRCS officials.
Myers notes that separators are not equipment you can just snap in place, and start up. The term “plug and play” doesn’t apply. It’s pretty detailed work and they, of course, want to do it right, so it took a bit of time.
Myers took quite a look around at the different systems before opting for the McLanahan. “The feature that really pushed me to go with McLanahan was the hydro cyclone that they’ve added in the last couple of years. With this, you can remove up to the high 90s of the sand. That really made it as far as I was concerned.”
He looked at passive sand systems and saw some that worked well and some that did not work so well. “You might still be letting 30 percent of the sand through with a passive system and with a 1,000-cow dairy, that’s a lot of sand to be dealing with through your waste system.”
Now that the separator is up and running, Myers is expecting the benefits to start. Being able to use sand bedding, what he terms “the gold standard” of bedding with its increased cow comfort and health, is one benefit right off the bat.
Further along the manure management system, Myers has also made some significant changes, although these have been in place now for about two years.
He made the switch from applying manure with an irrigation system to a drag hose system. “For us, this is unequivocally the way to handle waste,” says Myers. “The main reason is it’s easier to control application rates and you don’t have to worry about run-off.”
Applying manure effluent with irrigation systems can be tricky, especially in the rolling farmlands of North Carolina.
“You can think you are doing everything perfectly and then a little swag of land can catch you and it can start running. With the drag hose, you are right there and you can see what is going on. When you hit that little swag, you can catch a couple of gears and go a little bit faster. If it runs at all, it might run 20 feet within the field, and that’s it.”
Myers admits he was skeptical about the drag hose system at first. “I thought why would anyone want to be out there on the tractor for hours when you can just set up your irrigation system, and check it. But from a labor standpoint, it’s actually less labor.” He notes that there is a fair bit of time involved in setting up multiple irrigation sets.
There are also safety advantages to the drag hose system, as well, he feels, since they are no longer opening irrigation hydrants under pressure. However, Myers says irrigation systems have a big advantage in one area: you can use them to apply slurry on a growing crop.
The farm opted for the Cadman 5500 5.5-inch hose reel system for its needs. Myers says that the dealer representative Lee Brock of Brock Equipment Co had suggested they go with a 4000 or 4500, but they wanted the length and capacity. “The efficiencies of pumping the 5.5-inch hose versus the four-inch hose are pretty significant,” notes Myers. “It’s one big machine and it’s a load, and you have to keep that in mind when you are hauling it around, but you can reach a lot of acres from one set-up.”
The 5500 drag hose reel is said to be ideal equipment for large fields and large application amounts. According to Cadman, it is capable of handling 100,000 gallons per hour, and covering 105 aces per set-up. It has 1,550 feet of 5.5-inch hard hose and features a walking beam axle for smoother operation over rough fields.
Along with the Cadman system, Meyers purchased a Semen’s electronic flow meter from Green Lea Ag Center to help them keep track of application volume and rates. Myers uses a 7810 4×4 John Deere to move the 5500 reel from field to field, and an 8300 4×4 John Deere with three-point Cadman spray boom to pull the drag hose.
Key to the success of the drag hose system is the extensive piping system Myers has on his crop lands. They have 900 acres, owned and leased, which is double cropped on a no-till basis, with small grain in the fall and corn in the spring. They have a total of about two miles of eight-inch underground pipe. “That’s something we’ve been working on and adding to over the years, starting in the early 1990s,” explains Myers.
The drag hose system has brought advantages in a number of ways. “One of the main things is it really cuts down on the odor. Because you are discharging it from a low point, there is so much less volatilization. And a big plus is that wind is not a factor. With irrigation systems, any wind over about eight miles an hour, and you just have to shut it down.”
|Barry Myers (right) with one of the farm’s two Houle 6300 tankers. The tanks help them access the land without buried pipe and to apply nutrients evenly on the entire land base.|
Myers has a tip regarding hose kinks, which happen from time to time with a drag hose system. After some lengthy efforts on their part to fix kinks by splicing, he now has a local person do a weld on the hose instead, which makes the hose as good as new.
While Myers still has the irrigation equipment sitting in a shed on the farm, it’s likely that will be going soon now that the drag hose has proven its stuff. “I’ve held on to it for insurance in case things didn’t work out with the drag hose,”
Filling out the manure management system are the farm’s two Houle 6300 tankers and two Houle pumps, a six-inch unit and an eight-inch unit. The tanks help them access the land without buried pipe and apply nutrients evenly on the entire land base, as well as handle the heavier slurry from the first stage WSP. “The tanks will always be part of the operation, but I see us doing less of that,” says Myers. “I want us to move as much of the hydraulic load as we can through the drag hose system.”
Barry’s son, Ethan, has come up with an innovative approach to making the tanker loading set-up more efficient. Previously, when they hired extra tankers, there was some waiting time for one tanker unit while the other was being loaded. Ethan suggested putting in place a “splitter” and two load stands, so that while one tanker was being loaded, the other could be maneuvering into place to receive its load. A valve from Houle allows them to switch the flow in two
different directions. “It works great,” says Myers.
While all the manure application records still find their way into those big binders in Myers’ desk, they’ll be working on moving that data to a computer database in the very near future. They are already using technology, mapping the fields with a GPS system. But Myers notes it would be nice to see some of the tax dollars the ag industry is paying spent on a simple manure management software system.
“Instead of hand writing the inputs, where it is tank hauling, drag hosing or irrigating, and then transcribing it on to forms, it would be good if we could input it on a Palm and then download it to a PC.” Ethan transfers the handwritten information into a spreadsheet program—developed by a local farmer who has shared it with them—that calculates the Plant Available Nutrients needed to complete the proper forms required by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality.
|The waste handling system for the Myers dairy operation consists of a 1.8-million gallon first stage waste storage pond, a second stage with a three-million gallon capacity and the third stage with 10.5 million gallons.|
With the drag hose system firmly in place and a newly installed separator system, Myers will be working on tweaking these set-ups over the next while. It’s all part of their strategy to make the best use of their manure as nutrients. “The proof that you need to do that is even more evident with the escalation in fertilizer prices over the last while. NPK prices have all really jumped. Of course, your fuel costs have gone up as well, so that factors into the cost of the manure distribution system. But it makes the drag hose system look even more efficient because it’s a good way to get the manure to where you need it.”
Longer term, he has one additional barn planned, to upgrade their dry cow and calving area. “If the increased cow comfort from the sand generates more income through increased milk product, as we expect, that would be the next step.
“But right now, we’re at a point where we are going to focus on trying to do things better rather than grow, at least for the time being.”
Myers notes that it takes hard work on a number of fronts to stay competitive with all aspects of a farm operation, including manure management, and that there’s no one magic solution. Myers says that his 81-year-old father says that the way to be successful in the dairy business is to do the right things, “and have some good luck, and he’s probably right.”