Ramping up manure management
By Paul MacDonald
By Paul MacDonald
The Lake Breeze Dairy in Wisconsin
is ramping up operations, expanding to 3,200 cows, and seeking
community input on its manure management system, which includes a
digester from GHD Engineering.
|Brian Gerrits (left) and
Mark Diederichs of Wisconsin’s Lake Breeze Dairy. With the expansion of
the dairy, there was an increase in the amount of manure being
generated by cows on the operation. The anaerobic digester they are
installing will not only handle the manure, but is also expected to
produce about 4.8 million kW annually.
The Lake Breeze Dairy in Wisconsin is ramping up operations, expanding to 3,200 cows, and seeking community input on its manure management system, which includes a digester from GHD Engineering.
When it came time to expand their operation, the owners of Lake Breeze Dairy in Wisconsin sought input from a number of different sources including consultants, suppliers—and people in their own community. “We try to be proactive with everything we do,” says Brian Gerrits, a member of one of the four families that own Lake Breeze Dairy, in eastern Wisconsin.
In 2004, the dairy had some minor odor issues, and part of their response was to form a committee to tackle possible solutions, a committee that included five local people from the nearby town of Malone. “We invited them to the farm, had regularly scheduled meetings, informed them about what the source of the odor was, what the dairy’s options were, and what we at Lake Breeze were planning to do to eliminate the problem.”
The options included putting covers on the lagoon and aeration. Lake Breeze also took committee members to the nearby Holsum dairy, a 3,200-cow operation, which has a digester system. “The community people stood next to the lagoons there, and could see that there was very little odor coming off them,” explains Gerrits. “They said to us ‘This is what you guys have got to have.’”
“We sat down and talked with them, involved them in the decision-making process and it sure worked well,” adds Mark Diederichs, another of the owners of the dairy operation.
A year and a bit later finds Lake Breeze dairy in the middle of expanding its operation to 3,200 cows (from 1,500 cows), and installing a digester from GHD Engineering that by the end of the year will be generating power into the grid, selling it as green power to local utility, Wisconsin Electric Power Co. GHD Engineering has a large number of digester systems in place, including one on the nearby Holsum Dairy. An added bonus is the company is based in nearby Chilton, Wisconsin.
With the GHD system, methane biogas is collected from the first two stages of the anaerobic digester vessel and used for fuel in combined heat and power gensets. These gensets are commercially available, natural gas-fueled reciprocating engines modified to burn biogas. In the case of Lake Breeze, they will have a Caterpillar genset, supplied by Martin Machinery.
The digester effluent is pumped from the effluent pit at the end of the vessel to a manure solids separator. The mechanical manure separator separates the influent digested waste stream into solid and liquid fractions.
Solids are dewatered to approximately a 35 percent solid material. The separated solids will be utilized at Lake Breeze for bedding replacement, resulting in significant cost savings over the current sand system.
The liquid from the manure separator, now with the majority of the large solids removed, gravity flows into the farm’s storage lagoon. They have two smaller lagoons of three million gallons, a 23-million gallon main lagoon, and an additional 23-million gallon lagoon is being built as part of phase two. There will be two Houle agitators in the pre-separation reception tanks and two five-horsepower Integrity aerators on the tower fill pond.
Handling the separation work are two Accent Manufacturing ISS 36 rotary screen separators, which will thicken the manure for the digester. The separators will be charged with two Babco 16-inch shredder pumps. A further two Babco pumps are charging the digester.
The anaerobic digester is expected to meet the foreseeable needs of the dairy and, as mentioned, was met with community approval.
The hoops Lake Breeze had to go through when it first established the farm, with 1,500 cows, in 2001, prepared them well for taking on phase two. “We didn’t have any problems with DNR or county permits or things like that, but we did run into some problems with the permit from the town. Neighbors were concerned about the way we were going to handle things, including managing the manure. It was pretty hyped up,” says Diederichs.
“There was a lot of fear about the unknown. But once we were here and people could see that it was going to be a well-run operation, most people thought the dairy was a good thing.”
He notes that there are two main reasons why a digester solution works for Lake Breeze. “Our main reason for the digester is odor control. As we researched all the different systems of odor control, it was the system that had the paybacks. Other solutions were strictly a cost. The digester gives us income from electricity generation and it’s going to give us a source of bedding material.”
Reason number two is that they will also be able to generate income from the sales of excess bedding material. Though these are major advantages, the decision was still not an easy one. “The biggest discussion we had as a group with the original barns was to put sand in there, and now with the digester we are going to use separated solids. We struggled with that because the impact is huge if there was a reduction in milk production or our somatic cell counts went up.”
They did some intense investigation of systems, getting positive feedback, including good news on somatic cell counts. They brought separated solids into one of their pens, and tried it out for five months. Diederichs put in a lot of time customizing a four-foot Rhino tiller, on a Gehl skid steer, for grooming the material.
|Mark Diederichs put in
a lot of time customizing a four-foot Rhino tiller on a Gehl skid steer, which is being used to groom material and will soon be at work
in their new barns.
The grooming keeps the material aerated and dry, preventing the growth of bacteria. “The key is managing the material in the right way,” he explains.
“With sand, we were adding new product every Monday and grooming it three times a week. With manure solids, we’re putting it in three times a week and grooming it daily and grooming it deeper.”
How the cows accepted the material was, of course, key. “If we put too much in, or too little, the cows don’t like it. The sand was a little more forgiving that way. But it seems to be working out fine now, and the custom groomer really makes the difference.”
While the plan from the get-go was to eventually expand the Lake Breeze Dairy, it came sooner than any of the owners expected. “When we first built here, our hope was within five years we could expand,” says Gerrits. “It happened a lot faster because things have gone so well. Everything was in order, and it was time to take the next step.” And, not incidentally, they had a viable solution to handle the manure. An estimated 23 million gallons of manure is generated annually at the current level, which will be increasing to 46 million gallons after the move to 3,200 cows.
In terms of digester system logistics, GHD designed the digester system and provided direction on the trades—electrical, plumbing—to take care of the construction. “They assisted on a lot of things related to the digester,” says Diederichs. “We worked closely with them, and R C Ludke from Braun Electric, as a team.”
Ludke—whom Gerrits describes as a “manure guru”—was especially helpful on the detailed manure management infrastructure side. Braun Electric supplied the separation and associated pump equipment. Overseeing the overall construction job was general contractor Keller Inc.
Diederichs notes that with the digester, they are adding 300 horsepower of pumps and separators, and that all has to be maintained property. “The digester is like a living, breathing thing and you really have to watch what is going on in there. If that system goes down, you’re not producing electricity and you’re not selling electricity. And you’re not going to have the solids to go under your cows. It’s critical that it’s managed right.”
The digester is expected to produce about 4.8 million kW annually. Lake Breeze received a $500,000 grant from the USDA towards the digester.
|Lake Breeze Dairy has
a very creative solution for water storage: rail cars. The operation
has three 70-foot long elevated rail cars at the end of barns, each
holding 30,000 gallons of water.
While the initial community concerns about Lake Breeze Dairy have now been allayed, the fact that there were local concerns is understandable considering the dairy’s location. The 117-acre dairy is only about two miles east of Lake Winnebago, a major recreational area for the region. Even the owners of Lake Breeze thought the site of the dairy might create some challenges when they first proposed it. “But we got direction from the DNR that we should not do anything different here than we would if we were 20 miles from the lake. We have to be a bit more cautious because of the slope of the land and we are closer to the lake, but we follow the same rules,” says Diederichs. “We know we have to be very careful, but we would do that regardless of where the dairy was.”
Gerrits notes that Lake Breeze Dairy takes the approach of being good stewards of the land. The dairy’s owners, being local residents, have a vested interest in being respectful of the environment. “I have a boat and I’m out on that lake weekends—I don’t want any manure in that lake either,” says Gerrits.
“That’s a message that we need to get out,’ he adds. “Farmers should not be looked on as polluters. We’re doing everything we can to keep things clean.”
Part of that whole process includes keeping detailed records of manure hauling and application, using computer spreadsheet programs.
The manure application itself is done by custom contract applicator, Chad Tasch. Tasch uses a drag hose system from Hydro Engineering and a combination of J-Star/Bodco and customdesigned tanks from Braun Electric to carry out the application.
System features rail cars
for water storage
One of Lake Breeze Dairy’s owners, Doug Thiel, who is an
“entrepreneur,” probably had the most input into the design of the
flush system that is in place in the first phase of the dairy. Thiel
worked with Al Krings from engineering firm Robert E Lee and
Associates, and Joe Harner of Kansas State University. “Doug talked
with Joel quite a bit because they have quite a few flush barns down
around that area. That’s really where the design for the rail cars came
from,” says Brian Gerrits of Lake Breeze Dairy
Rail cars on a dairy? In a very innovative twist, there are three
70-foot long elevated rail cars at the end of the barns, serving as the
storage tanks for the flush system. Each holds 30,000 gallons of water
which is pumped out of the collection lagoons, and released into the
One tanker is at the end of the smaller barn, and one tanker is at
each of the ends of the 1,106-foot long barn. Helping to maintain the
water pressure is the position of the rail cars: 12 feet aboveground.
Moving water to the towers is a Myers 20-horsepower submersible pump.
Both Diederichs and Gerrits say that “countless hours” were invested in planning the manure management system of the farm and the overall phase one barn design, which features a flush system using sand bedding. “We wanted something cow friendly.” But there were concerns about whether a flush/sand system would work, specifically related to the length of the main barn—1,106 feet—whether the sand could be moved that far, and the climate.
But it has, say the Lake Breeze folks, worked like a charm. “I was surprised that we were able to flush every day,” says Gerrits. “The flush system never went down, even in the coldest weather. We had to go in and scrape a couple of alleys once in a while to help it along.” low teens, but it can get down to 20 below Fahrenheit. They thought that with such cold temperatures, the water system might freeze and they would have to scrape. They designed a flush flume with a 40-horsepower Myers pump built into the barns. So if they had to, they could scrape, with the manure/water mix going down the flume with the help of the pump.
They will still have options with the barns in phase two, however. There will be pop-up valves, versus the direct inlets in the barns in phase one. “When we did the piping under the barn floor, we put a T in it with a cap for a pop-up. If we ever go back to sand, or if there is a system down the road that involves sand, we just cut the concrete, put a pop-up in and get the same flow we’re getting with the flush systems.” They also designed in a two percent slope, the same as in the phase one barns.
Phase two of Lake Breeze marks the full build-out of the site, but there may be other dairies in the works for the ownership group. “Once we’re established here with phase two, we’re going to research building dairy facilities somewhere else, hopefully in the state of Wisconsin,” says Gerrits.
Both Gerrits and Diederichs come from dairy backgrounds, as does the rest of the Lake Breeze ownership group, and this is intentional. Everyone is able to bring dairy expertise to the table, and they also understand that the industry can be cyclical.