Carefully planning manure management
By Diane Mettler
By Diane Mettler
A new large-scale hog operation in
North Dakota has carefully planned out its manure management program,
and has addressed local concerns in the process.
|Dakota Country Swine raises and ships over 70,000 pigs annually. To accommodate that number of pigs, ten barns were constructed, housing 2,090 pigs each.|
A new large-scale hog operation in North Dakota has carefully planned out its manure management program, and has addressed local concerns in the process.
Dakota Country Swine celebrated one year of full operation this March, and over that year the 20,000-hog operation outside Cando, North Dakota, has brought a new era of hog production to this economically struggling area.
Owner Bruce Gibbens began building the $4 million operation two years ago. Elite Swine Inc contracts Dakota Country Swine LLP to raise and ship its pigs, totaling over 70,000 annually.
To accommodate that number of pigs, ten barns were constructed, housing 2,090 pigs each. “The barns were built apart from each other and at angles to remove the risk of airborne diseases,” says Kirk Larson, who manages the operation. “They sit on approximately 120 acres, but the owners also have about 3,000 more acres surrounding the operation.”
This new venture, although bringing jobs and revenue to the area, also brought its share of controversy. The high concentration of hogs is new for this rural area. A group called Citizens Against Factory Farms (CAFF) has been opposed to the farm from the start. And others have been worried about odor and manure run-off that could seep into the groundwater supply. There was some concern it could hurt tourism in the area.
But Dakota Country Swine is carrying out its operations by the book. The operation is new and those involved want it to succeed, and they are ensuring North Dakota Health Department regulations are being met.
“Anytime you try something new, you’ve got people who are set in their ways,” says Larson. “They worry about what you are doing. It’s easier for people to talk about the horror stories down south than to look at the positive things that are happening here.” The horror stories he’s referring to are the huge lagoons on hog farms in North Carolina and other east coast states that in the 1990s leaked tons of waste into fields.
Larson believes people would be less worried if they saw how closely the Health Department is involved in the farm’s operations. “Because we’re the first operation like this, they’ve made several surprise visits. I never know when they’re going to show up, so I have to be prepared, keeping track of a lot of different things. They are really watching us, and we want it to be done right.”
Knowing up front that 20,000 hogs would be on the site at any one time allowed Gibbens to plan an effective manure management system. Mikkelsen Construction out of Langdon, ND installed the system at the same time the buildings were being constructed. “We have two-foot pits under each of the 100- by 200-foot barns,” explains Larson.
“Approximately every six weeks—or about three times per batch of pigs—we manually pull the plugs in the barns and the contents of the pit gravity flow to a lift station. We’ve got it staged out so that we empty a barn every two weeks. Then we refill the pits with four to six inches of fresh water and start again.”
There are two lift stations, each servicing five barns and each with approximately 5,000-gallon capacity. The round, cement structures are buried on average 16 feet deep. “The lids stick up about three or four feet so we can perform maintenance, but it’s mostly underground because of the fact that the ground freezes down about eight feet,” explains Larson.
Both lift stations contain a 7.5 hp Flygt chopper pump programmed to automatically empty when needed. The manure is then pumped underground to a twostage lagoon. Pumping underground is beneficial because it creates less contact with the air and thereby less odor. And it’s a necessity in this part of the country where lagoons freeze three to four feet down during the winter months.
|Dakota Country Swine has a 17-foot earthen lagoon with a two-foot compacted clay liner, with storage capacity of approximately 12 million gallons. The lagoon is divided into three sections.|
Mikkelsen Construction also installed the 17-foot deep earthen lagoon with a two-foot compacted clay liner, with a storage capacity of approximately 12 million gallons.
The lagoon is broken down into three sections. Each lift station pumps into two sections on opposite sides. “The solids gather there, and as they fill up, the water runs into the secondary,” explains Larson. “When it comes time to apply to the fields, the liquids are combined with the solids to create a slurry.”
Because the farm wasn’t in full operation last summer, there wasn’t a great deal of slurry to be applied, so Dakota Country Swine contracted the work out.
Jerry’s Pumping of Villard, Minnesota was hired to handle the application using a drag hose system. A 2500 Supreme Ag Halco pump was brought in to pump the slurry from the lagoon through two miles of hose (one mile of eight-inch and one mile of six-inch) out to a Ford tractor with an attached field cultivator or “digger.”
The main hose was attached to a pipe on the tractor, where the manure was fed into a manifold and through 15 hoses and injected six to eight inches into the ground.
With this system, between 1,200 and 1,400 gallons a minute were injected into the fields at a rate of approximately 7,000 gallons an acre. “The goal is to make sure the manure is exposed as little as possible so that it retains the most nutrients,” says Jerry Loxtercamp, owner of Jerry’s Pumping. “What you smell is what crops need. So if you’re smelling it, you’re losing it. And you don’t want your neighbors smelling it either.”
The injections are based on a comprehensive nutrient management plan handled by Bruce Gibbens, all of which is closely supervised by the State Health Department. “As I understand it, we need enough land for a one-year supply of manure. This is 1,000 acres on a threeyear rotation. And we have enough land around here to do that,” says Larson.
Bringing a new enterprise to North Dakota, where this kind of concentration of pigs is relatively unheard of, is not only exciting for the owners, but it has the extension office at North Dakota State University excited too. “This land has never had this type of nutrients put on it before. It’s all been commercial fertilizers. So they are monitoring the land to see what the changes will be.” And those findings will be shared with the farm.
The fields that are getting their first organic dose of nutrients are used to raise wheat, corn, soybeans and some potatoes. Although the corn isn’t fed directly to the pigs, it is sold to the plant where Larson orders his feed. “So it’s basically going back to the pigs,” he says.
Making the adjustment to farming with confined animals has been challenging for Larson and the other five employees working at Dakota Country Swine.
Many of the men are farmers themselves and took the job to subsidize their own farms. They’ve had to get used to new protocols—like removing their clothing when they reach the site and changing into coveralls and shoes to avoid carrying diseases into the barns.
But some of the adjustments haven’t been too hard to make, like getting used to a more comfortable climate. “We’re not out in those 20- and 30-below-zero temperature days anymore,” says Larson. “The pigs are kept at a comfortable 62 to 65 degrees.”
|Last summer, Dakota Country Swine contracted out the manure application. Jerry’s Pumping of Villard, Minnesota was hired to handle the application using a drag hose system. Between 1,200 and 1,400 gallons a minute were injected into the fields.|
A particular challenge for Larson has been learning and being able to operate the company’s computer system. “Everything is computerized. Our alarm system is handled through a centralized location. It calls us on a cell phone. So we’re aware if anything is happening—power, water pressure, temperature changes, and security.
“I order the entire feed supply, handle all the bookwork and schedule all the trucking, both receiving and shipping, through the computer.
Right now we’re working on getting our alarm system online. That way I can go online at home and check to see what the problem is. If it’s human error, I can straighten it out from home. Or if it’s something else, I’ll be able to tell what the problem is and where it’s at.”
E-mail is also a key to building efficiency. “We’re constantly e-mailing back and forth with Elite Swine. We weigh each pig before it leaves. Because all our results are on the computer, within 24 to 36 hours we can see how our pigs have yielded. That way we know if we have a problem with the way we adjusted our scales and then we can make any changes needed.”
The fears about the impact of Dakota Country Swine on the community are much reduced these days. In fact, the farm is actually turning out to be a revenue generator in more ways than one.
Besides the new jobs it has created, Dakota Country Swine requires 1.2 million gallons of fresh water piped in each month.
“Before we were here, the new water treatment plant in Cando was only running at 25 percent of capacity and was operating at a deficit. That’s changed,” says Larson. The treatment facility is now running at 50 percent and is operating in the black.
The local power company is seeing a boost in business as well. The power company and Dakota Country Swine have entered into a mutually beneficial agreement. If the power company can shut juice off to the farm for a few peak hours during the winter and summer the farm can have a better energy rate. During those downtimes, Dakota Country Swine turns on their two 2225 kW Katolight generators, with 330 HR John Deere motors. It’s a situation where everyone wins.
At this point, Dakota Country Swine is a success story, an operation that has lain to rest the concerns of its critics. It is working well and becoming more efficient. And the six-man team that works the farm is dedicated to its success. “We live here because we like it here. We want it to work,” says Larson. “And if it makes money for the owners, it makes money for us.”