Manure Manager

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Fine tuning an operation


Brothers Ed and Tom Maljaars went into business together in 2004. They bought a working, 80-acre dairy in Rosedale, B.C., and moved their families out to homes on the property.

Brothers Ed and Tom Maljaars went into business together in 2004. They bought a working, 80-acre dairy in Rosedale, B.C., and moved their families out to homes on the property.

Since the two brothers had worked on dairies all their lives – Tom on the family dairy and Ed on other dairies as well – they had enough experience to know what they wanted to do, and they got right to work.

Over the next seven years, they increased the cows they milked from 115 to 145, added substantially to the barn and liquid storage unit, incorporated a state-of-the-art composter and also built a new milk parlor. 

The barn

The brothers began in 2006 by adding on an additional 215 feet to the barn. Under the addition, they built a manure pit 20 feet by 120 feet and 10 feet deep. They also put alley scrapers along all four alleys, so everything from the barn could be scraped into the pit.

Before buying the Bedding Master, they had to pump out of the pit into the Slurrystore once every three weeks, plus spend a lot of time agitating.

The liquids

At around the same time, the Maljaars’ took their Slurrystore from 400,000 gallons to 600,000 gallons.

“There was already a Slurrystore on the site and we added two rings,” says Tom. “Each ring is 4.5 feet, so we raised it nine feet. We don’t spread during the winter and by early spring it’s pretty full.”

In the spring, the brothers hire Cascade Custom Pumping, who use a mile-long dragline to spread the material on the farm’s grass and cornfields.

The difference between 2011 and 2006 is that the Slurrystore contains mostly liquid and the solids have been removed with the incorporation of a composter.

Bedding Master composter

In 2010, the Maljaars’ purchased a Bedding Master from Pacific Dairy Center – one of the first ones of its size in the valley.

“They come in three sizes, and we got the smallest,” says Tom. “Between the heifers and cows, there are around 270 animals at the dairy and the system can handle that number easily.”

The process is fairly simple. PDC installed an Agi pump with two 10-horsepower motors in the manure pit by the barn. Manure is pumped from the barn to an EYS screw press separator at the same time the manure is agitated in the pit to keep it an even mix. The solids that come out of the separator are approximately 35 percent dry matter, which is required for effective composting. While the liquids move on to the Slurrystore, the solids feed into the Bedding Master, a large drum that is six feet in diameter and 16 feet long.

The separator is programmed to be on for 10 minutes and off for 20 minutes. Tom says they can set any time they want, but at this setting, the level in the manure pit stays about the same, which is approximately four feet. “It is ideal to only have so much fed into the Bedding Master at a time,” says Tom.

The drum turns continually and it takes about 24 hours for the composted solids to come out the other end. During the process, the solids have heated up to around 135 degrees, killing the pathogens and any bacteria.

“That material moves up a conveyer and onto a pile,” says Tom. “From there, we have a tractor with a sawdust blower on the back. We scoop the material up and just blow it back into the stalls.”

Not only is it enough bedding for the farm says Tom, “but there’s another dairy farm in the valley that’s buying the product off of us too. 

Dry, odor-free bedding

Whenever you’re working with cows, there are odors, but the compost is fairly odor-free. “It still has a smell, but it’s not like a manure smell any more,” says Tom. “And the final product looks a little bit like peat moss.”

Depending on the time of year and the outdoor temperature, the bedding material can range from a bit damp to bone dry. While normally the moisture content is around 35 percent, Tom says, “During the hot summer, once you blow it in the stall, it’s extremely dry. But when you get humid weather, it’s a little bit damp. Either way, it doesn’t really affect the cows at all.” 

The Maljaars like the product as bedding in part because they don’t have to worry about as much waste or having to purchase sawdust or shavings. “We like that we can just pile it up in the stall. You don’t have to worry about wasting it because it just floats right back into the system again and makes some more,” says Tom.

Healthier cows

One of the biggest reasons for getting the composter was to improve the health of their cows. Ed and Tom had read that farmers were experiencing a lower somatic cell count (SCC). Ed also went and looked at a composter in Lynden, Wash. He was impressed since there were no bacteria in the compost being used as bedding in the stalls, so there are no more bacteria to transfer to the cows. And fewer sick cows meant improved production and lower treatment costs.

“We took their word for it that the numbers would go down, and now we can honestly say that, yeah, it did happen. It hasn’t been eliminated, we still get some cows that get mastitis, but it’s definitely better,” says Tom. “Our average count has basically cut in half since we started this new system, which is really important for a dairy.”

Quick setup

The entire system, which includes the Bedding Master, the building to house it, and pumps, came to about $250,000.

Tom says once they went forward, it didn’t take very long to get it up and running. The majority of the time was spent building the structure to hold the composter. The open 16-foot by 80-foot building had to be large enough not only to house the Bedding Master but also to store the product.

Once the building was complete, it only took about a week to bring in the composter, install it and fire it up.

The Bedding Master comes with a safety fence around it. This is a good safety measure as the drum continually turns, so you do not want to get too close to any moving parts. And since both their families live on the farm, safety was especially important.

Would they do anything different if they could do it again? Tom says, “We might raise the Bedding Master up another foot in the air. The actual drum is maybe a foot off the ground, and if you’d put it up about a foot more, you’d be able to clean up underneath it a little easier.  But it’s not a big deal.”

Manure management plans

With the system in place, Ed and Tom can spread liquid from the Slurrystore on their land and the 35 acres they rent next door without worry. “We are within our limits now because all the solids have been taken out of there,” says Tom. “And it saves on fertilizer, especially in the summertime because all the nutrients are still in the water. You can put a good layer down and it’s almost like you’re irrigating at the same time.”

The system also gives them room to grow up to 160 cows, which the brothers are considering doing over the next few years. “We don’t really plan to go any bigger than that though,” says Tom.

Partnership

After seven years of hard work and making smart investments, the brothers are pleased with how the farm has come together. In addition to the equipment, they have four men to help them milk, giving each of the brothers a day off each week.
“One day off a week is important,” says Tom. “You need to get away from the place for a bit. Even though you live right on the farm, you can still focus on other things.”

The brothers have a great working relationship and have found a nice meld of duties. “There are a lot of things that we do together, like milking cows, feeding and field work,” says Tom. “But he kind of handles herd health and I take care of all the bill payments.”

It’s been a productive time and they don’t foresee any more big projects on the immediate horizon. “We’ve done most of our things we’ve wanted to do,” says Tom.