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Simple odor solution

April 4, 2008  by Diane Mettler

Oklahoma farmer Vic Little is constantly looking for other ways to further reduce the odor of his hog farm, and has discovered a solution that has turned out to be simple and inexpensive—piping which acts as a buffer system in the lagoon.
    Oklahoma farmer Vic Little is
constantly looking for other ways to further reduce the odor of his hog
farm, and has discovered a solution that has turned out to be simple
and inexpensive—piping which acts as a buffer system in the lagoon.

    Ten years ago, the population around Laverne, Oklahoma was declining. Families were leaving as people looked for better jobs elsewhere. Vic Little wanted to see things turned around. He was looking for an opportunity to return to the family farm that had been in operation for nearly a century. But unless agricultural jobs could be created that provided a living wage, it wouldn’t be possible.

    There were others like Little who wanted to see the town of Laverne survive, and businesses flourish. Little, along with 40 other business and civic leaders, ranchers, farmers and other citizens made a trip to Nevada, Missouri to visit Murphy Farms (now Murphy-Brown, LLC) to see if the company would expand and build in Laverne.

    “We pulled it off,” says Little. Murphy-Brown decided to expand its hog operation in the community. Today the company employs roughly 250 people in the area. Laverne’s population has started to level out, people are staying and new businesses have sprung up.


    “It’s been great. We’re small town America,” says Little. “General Motors or IBM aren’t moving out here. We needed something to keep the people here—and a reason for people to come back.”

    Little and his wife Melva made the most of the opportunity, and established Quail Run Farms Inc. In 1997, they built a barn that would handle a 3,400-head contract nursery with Murphy-Brown. It went into operation in 1998. Little’s brother built an identical barn, which also went into operation in 1998. And Melva was hired on at Murphy-Brown as their human resources/training director.

simple 1Vic and Melva Little established Quail Run Farms in Laverne, Oklahoma in 1997. Today, the farm runs two 3,400-head contract nurseries.

    After a few years, Little bought out his brother and today runs two 3,400-head nurseries. Alongside him is 16-year-old son Kirby, who’s a sophomore in high school, active in sports and a sentinel in the local FFA chapter. “I couldn’t do it without him,” says Little. “He’s been in the barns from day one and can run the operation as well as I can.”   

    Hogs aren’t new to the Little family. “We’ve always raised pigs,” says Little. “When I was a kid growing up we used to run about 40 head of registered sows. But nothing like now, though.”

    The two barns, which each house 3,400 pigs, are roughly 40 feet by 260 feet. Both nurseries use natural ventilation. There are no fans, but instead six curtains per barn that are computer controlled with a Ventium system. The computer monitors six sensors that measure humidity, air movement and temperature, and the curtains (and heaters in the winter) are automatically adjusted.

    Since the barns were built, there have been few changes, except for floors, which were replaced with Farm Weld plastic floors. “Keeps in heat and they don’t deteriorate,” says Little.

    Both barns are heated with natural gas in the winter. The prices have risen steadily since the Littles began operations seven years ago. “When we went into operation in 1998, fuel prices were basically $2 a thousand cubic feet. Now, they’re at $11 a thousand cubic feet. That’s a considerable jump.” Luckily in northwest Oklahoma, it gets cold, but the most severe weather lasts for only about three months.

    Both barns are built over a shallow cement pit—approximately 30 inches deep—that collect the waste. They have a pull-plug system, which Vic empties approximately every seven weeks into a separate lagoon directly outside the barn. The system is gravity fed and a submerged eight-inch pipe from the barn to the lagoon helps keep down odor.

    The lagoons are clay lined and compacted, meeting all the state laws and engineering requirements. Little went beyond the regulations by lining the lagoons with four-inch and six-inch rock to prevent potential erosion.

    Each lagoon will hold 6.6 acre feet, but Vic is not worried about them filling any time soon. “Here in Oklahoma we’re mostly hot, dry and windy. We built the lagoons so that we could take water out of them if we need to, but more times than not Mother Nature takes care of that.”

    Spreading from the lagoon onto their 100 acres is a rare occurrence at Quail Run Farms. Little has only spread once. Instead, he recycles. The water in the lagoon is pumped back to the barns through a submerged four-inch flexible PVC pipe. Little adds fresh water only when needed.

    “It’s your basic anaerobic lagoon,” he says. “Waste comes in. The solids sink. The bacteria gets to work on the solids. Water’s on the top and we pump that into the barns and into the pits.”   

    Little was involved with the Oklahoma Pork Council to study ammonia levels in the building. They looked at whether commercial additives would help lower ammonia. They concluded that treatments may have helped, but they also found Little’s barns already had low ammonia levels. “The study showed that our barn—where we used recycled lagoon water to recharge pits—had just as low an ammonia level as the building where they used fresh water,” says Little. “Recycling water is a way for us to save on the amount of water we use.”

simple 3Vic Little’s simple solution to living in a windy area: two-inch plastic pipe that divides the lagoon into thirds (right). It helps to reduce wind-generated waves, agitation and odor.

    Like most farmers, Little is concerned about odor. The submerged pipes help, but he’s constantly looking for other ways to cut down the odor to keep his neighbors happy. One challenge has been the wind. It whipped up the lagoons and caused waves, agitation and odor. The solution he discovered turned out to be simple and inexpensive.

    “I took two-inch plastic pipe and I divided my lagoon into thirds,” he explains. “I anchored the pipes from the side with rope, then stretched the two-inch pipe across and let it float on the surface. It acts like a buffer system. There’s two of them in each lagoon and there are hardly any waves out there anymore.”

    Little has tried additives to cut down odor, but they haven’t turned out to be cost effective. More effective has been managing the effect of the odor. “We’ve got the best neighbors in the world,” he says. He plans to keep it that way and tries never to empty the pits when the wind is blowing toward the neighbors.
Little has also planted a 300-foot shelterbelt. “I had a forester come to the farm and help plan it out. In 2001 we planted two rows of trees along the north side.

     One row is red cedar and the other is lace bark elm. Eventually—if nothing happens to the trees and they all live and grow like they’re supposed to—they’ll get tall enough where any wind that comes across the lagoon will hit them. It will disburse the air currents coming across the lagoon. And that will help a lot with odor.”

    Unfortunately, trees don’t grow fast in this part of the country. Even though the trees were five- to six-foot tall when he planted them, it’s probably going to be 10 to 15 years before he sees results. 

    The shelterbelt, however, is already helping create more habitat for birds. Quail and pheasant are common on the farm as well as deer that are found eating alongside the barn. This is good news to a family of avid hunters.

simple 2Quail Run Farms is in the Conservation Reserve Program. Through the program, the farm has adopted soil conservation practices, including planting grass — Old World Bluestem — around the lagoon to reduce erosion.

    The Littles have the entire farm in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Through the program they have adopted soil conservation practices, including planting grass around the lagoon—Old World Bluestem—to lessen erosion. But those practices are also improving the bird habitat.

    Little has also taken it upon himself to learn more. He participated in the On-Farm Assessment and Environmental Review (OFAER) program and took the training to be an OFAER assessor. “For biosecurity reasons I couldn’t be an assessor, because I have my own pigs.

    But the reason I did it was because I wanted to get the education on everything that I could do to help with odor and those types of concerns,” he explains. “They taught us how to assess farms and what to look for. They talked about how to keep your barn clean and keep your grass mowed— all sorts of little things.”

    Little’s hard work and environmental efforts were noticed in 2003 when Quail Run Farms received the National Environmental Stewardship Award—one of only four national environmental steward winners awarded each year by the National Pork Board. “It was a big honor,” he says.

    But Little and his family have always taken environmental stewardship seriously. The Little family is one of the original Ditch Valley families—a group of farmers who 100 years ago dug a ditch from the Cimarron River that traveled through all properties to allow flood irrigation. Although irrigation has changed a bit since the digging, the ditch is still the community’s water source for irrigation.

    Vic and Melva would like to see the land farmed for many years to come. They represent the fifth generation on the land. Their children Kirby, Andrea and Ashley, and two grandchildren, could be the sixth and seventh generation to continue Quail Run Farm’s legacy.


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