Animal Housing

 

Wood chip pads were already part of the Irish, British and New Zealand waste management scene, but it wasn’t until Tom Basden – an extension specialist with West Virginia University – noticed many beef producers were having winter time pasture issues, that the system was introduced to the U.S.

In the mid-Atlantic, there are many small to medium farms (50 to 200 head) that are pasture-based, cow-calf operations. The cows go out to pasture spring through fall, but when they are brought back into the barnyard to be confined for the winter, environmental issues arise, leading to potential regulatory issues. But, if the farmers were to put the animals back in their pastures it would create damage to the fields.

“There were a number of issues, both from a production standpoint and from an environmental and regulation standpoint,” says Joshua Faulkner, farming and climate change co-ordinator at the University of Vermont. “Tom noticed that in Ireland, Scotland and the U.K., they were using what they call ‘wood chip out-wintering areas’ – which we’ve shortened to wood chip pads – for managing cattle in the winter time. Then after a little more research, we found these are actually used in New Zealand too. Instead of a concrete barnyard, they have a wood chip barnyard on small to medium size dairies.”

The West Virginia University Extension Service decided to build two wood chip pads, based on information gathered from Ireland. One was constructed on a private farm and the second at the West Virginia University animal science research farm. Later, when Faulkner left West Virginia University to take a position at the University of Vermont, he continued the work on the project, having three more wood chip pads installed, including one at a buffalo farm in New Hampshire.

The construction of all the sites was similar to the one constructed in Ohio County, West Virginia, which was approximately 80-feet by 80-feet and next to a feeding barn. It was excavated to a depth of roughly 20-inches with the subgrade having a 0.5 percent slope to the west. Broad parallel ridges crossing the width of the area were formed into the subgrade of roughly 10-foot intervals to encourage drainage into perforated drainage pipe, also placed at 10-foot intervals between the ridges.

The subgrade and drainage pipes were covered by a layer of drainage stone (maximum one foot in depth). The drainage system directed effluent away from the heavy-use area via gravity to a holding tank, which was buried to prevent freezing.  (In some of the other sites, the effluent to drained to grass filter strips.)

A mixture of regional hardwood species were chipped and placed on the drainage stone (about 10-inches thick) to provide a trafficable, durable, and well-drained surface.

“The first one we built was directly adjacent to a roofed winter feeding barn,” says Faulkner. “Then the second one is the biggest by far and it’s on the university research farm, which is a dairy farm, but it’s all dry cows and heifers.”

These first two pads have been in operation for about five years. The newer pads were built further north, and Faulkner and his team are still waiting to see the results after they have gone through a hard winter, with sub-freezing temperatures for weeks.

But there are plenty of findings being collected from the mid-Atlantic wood chip pads.

“The biggest advantages we’ve seen are those compared to concrete,” says Faulkner. “With these, we see about half of the runoff with wood chips compared to concrete because the wood chips tend to soak up the water. As the water evaporates, the chips become dry and sponge like and will soak up the next rainstorm and evaporate it. With concrete, everything runs off.”

Also, the effluent that drains off wood chip pads is weaker than the effluent that drains off concrete slabs.

“Most of the phosphorous and nitrogen seem to stay in the manure solids and stay in the wood chips, so you kind of capture it that way, and you get this really diluted wastewater.”

In some cases, the runoff is collected and then used on the fields later or directed to a grass filter strip.

“The phosphorous [in the waste water] doesn’t seem to be high enough that we have to worry about it building up in the soil like you would with stronger wastewater,” says Faulkner.  

He also sees the wood chip pads as a good possible fit for small dairies that already have storage structures for runoff in place.

The chips that have absorbed the nutrients are also a key piece of the system’s value.

“Our recommendation is that at the end of the winter, just after you’ve released cattle back on the pastures, when pastures are ready for grazing, you scrape off the top two or three inches of the wood chips. Those chips should have most of the manure,” says Faulkner. “The chips can then be composted through the summer and then spread and used as a fertilizer on your fields. Then top dress with another couple two or three inches of wood chips before you stock it again – in the fall before you go into your next winter season.”

There hasn’t been much testing on the quality of wood chip compost, but Faulkner says from what data he has seen it’s a fine source of fertilizer.

“It’s not like a straight manure because it does have the wood chips in it. So, it takes longer to compost. And, you also want to make sure it composts long enough that you’ve broken down the wood chips before application on your hay field.”

Faulkner and his team are already seeing keen interest by farmers in the wood chip pads, in part because of their resistance to concrete.

“Concrete is fairly permanent, and farmers are concerned about general cow comfort. The wood chip pads have been documented to lead to higher weight gain in beef cattle, and it just seems to be better for animal health and comfort.”

Faulkner has seen the cattle’s reaction firsthand.

“At the farm in Ohio County, WV, where we first installed, and the gates were open, so the cattle could leave the wood chip pad whenever they wanted. They would just be hanging out on there, lying down. It wasn’t muddy like the rest of the field. It wasn’t slick and wet. It was just really nice, well-drained, comfortable, and firm.”

There are other reasons the wood chip pad might be a good alternative to concrete. Besides animal comfort, muck doesn’t build on top and require continual scraping, like it does with concrete. Instead the manure works its way into the chips.

The wood chip pad is also much less expensive to install.

“Based upon the two West Virginia systems, we saw that a wood chip pad would cost about $163 a cow, and a concrete about $463 per cow,” says Faulkner. “You do have the cost of replacing wood chips every year to top dress it, but I think there’s reduced management cost because you’re not scraping the concrete every few days with a wood chip.”

Faulkner and his team also think there is a value in raising livestock outside. He says studies from the U.K. have shown that unless it’s bitter cold or extremely wet, cattle are perfectly adjusted to being out in the weather and the farmer can avoid air quality issues and potential respiratory problems.

Some farmers, however, are concerned that if they move from an all-pasture system to a wood chip pad system, they could be exposing themselves to environmental regulations that they are currently exempt from.

“That’s true,” says Faulkner. “Some farmers would rather damage their pastures than risk some sort of environmental consequence. And I understand that. But we feel like the wood chip pad is healthy for the animals and if it’s constructed, designed, and managed well there’s no risk.”

In fact, during spring 2016 in Vermont, the state actually helped cost share and pay for the wood chip pad.

“Its was paid with environmental conservation funds and the only stipulation was that we needed to capture the wastewater – all the drainage water needed to into a small holding pond instead of sending it to a vegetated grass buffer strip,” says Faulkner. “It did raise the cost of the project, but they paid for most of it, so it worked out pretty well.”

Faulkner and his team are pleased with the ongoing support of the West Virginia and Vermont Extension Services, and will continue to look for funding to continue the studies.

“Top of the list will be an in-depth economic analysis and to also look at animal comfort, and try to quantify those,” says Faulkner. “But even without additional research dollars, we’re doing outreach, and workshops at our extension system, both in Vermont and West Virginia and just generate interest. And we will assist with design for any farmer who is interested.”

Faulkner would love to see many more wood chip pads being built around the country.

“I’d love to see farmers start to transition away from concrete as the only options, and start to consider these types of barnyards for winter ‘heavy use’ areas.”

 

 

 

Published in Beef

 

Forget about cleaning cattle pens. An Ohio feedlot owner has taken the approach of housing his herd in a well-ventilated barn on slatted concrete floors. Manure collects in pits below the cattle pens, with the partially enclosed barn offering the cattle shelter from the elements.

Rom Hastings – co-owner of Hastings Farms General Partnership, along with his wife, Jodi, and son, Cody – says he doesn’t need to clean the barn except to pump out the collection pits below the concrete slatted floor once a year. The movement of the cattle within the pens propels the manure through the slats.

“As far as a slatted floor and manure collection pit operation, that is kind of unique for this area,” says Hastings. “At the time that the barn was built, it was probably state-of-the-art in the county … the cattle sleep and stand on those concrete slabs and the slabs have never been scraped since the barn was built, no power washing, nothing.”

Nor is there is any bedding used in the barn pens, which Hastings says is what he appreciates most about the barn enclosure. There is no need to handle and haul bedding out of the facility with this management system. And because the barn is well-ventilated, there is no requirement for fans or fly control. Also, in terms of potential accumulation of frozen manure on the floor in cold weather, Hastings says it has to be zero degrees for several days before he notices any accumulation.

A technical review of slatted concrete flooring suppliers shows that today, there are a number of suppliers aiming their products primarily at the hog and dairy industries, however, there is little or no mention of the beef cattle industry. For its time, it appears that this manure management method adopted by the Hastings for raising beef cattle was definitely breaking new ground.

The barn enclosure was designed by Hastings’ father and the landlord who owned the farm back in the early 1980s, with the expressed purpose of having a facility big enough to house a fairly large herd but with the need for minimal effort to manage the manure. At the time, Hastings, his father, and the landlord were partners in the cattle business, with Rom purchasing the farm in the early 1990s, eventually setting up a partnership with his wife and son.

The building design came about from investigating other barn enclosures as well as working with experts at Ohio State University (OSU).

The structure cost about $1 million to build in the early 1980s. Hastings says to build the same structure today, depending on the approach and who builds it, he estimates that it could be built for about $1.5 million.

When people think of raising cattle, they often picture places like Alberta or Texas. But Hastings says the part of Ohio where he is located has a long history of cattle farming, although like so many other branches of agriculture, cattle businesses have had to get bigger to survive. Hastings Farms is probably the largest beef cattle endeavor left in their county, with many smaller operations having shut down.

The approach of raising cattle in an enclosure with a manure collection system below the floor is markedly different from places like Texas, where large cattle herds sometimes numbering in the thousands are typically raised in open pens in feedlots. The accumulated and packed manure is scraped out and usually land applied as needed. Hastings says his approach of providing an enclosure offers his cattle herd with protection both winter and summer in an area that really needs it. The Ashville, Ohio, area where the farm is located typically accumulates about 25 inches of snow per year. Ashville is about 15 miles south of the state capital of Columbus.

“In the summer time, the barn offers protection from the heat and in the winter time its protection from the elements,” he says.

Feeding the cattle is also easier. Storage silos were constructed right next to the enclosure and in addition to the cattle, the barn roof protects an alleyway that is wide enough to accommodate a tractor and mixer wagon used to fill the concrete feeding bunks daily.

Currently, Hastings Farms manages a cow-calf operation essentially for breeding stock consisting of two herds with 30 head of cattle per herd raised on pasture – one being on rotational grazing and one not. The maturing calves from this operation are raised in the barn enclosure. The farm also purchases 300 yearlings annually that it raises within the barn. They consist of about 90 percent Black Baldy cattle, the rest being some Herefords and cross Charolais. Each yearling comes in at about 800 lbs and they feed them to 1,350 lbs. The cow-calf herd on pasture are a Black Angus cross breed.

Hastings says he purchases the yearlings from beef cattle farmers who don’t have the land base to grow the food necessary to raise their cattle to full maturity. He does have that capability.

Hastings Farms also manages a large, no-till, cash crop business on 4,300 acres of corn and soybeans, and about 200 acres of winter wheat. Of that cropland, the farm owns 1,600 acres, with the rest rented. All the feed used in the cattle operation is grown on the farm, and the manure pumped from the barn collection pits is applied and rotated typically on a four-year rotation as organic fertilizer on Hastings cropland.

The all-wood barn structure which houses the yearlings and maturing calves from the breeding herd measures 60-feet wide by 300-feet long. It is enclosed on three sides with the south side of the barn left open. The north side is walled in and windows installed about five feet above ground. Where the north sidewall meets the roof, there is about an 18-inch space for good ventilation from the rising manure fumes. The roof is metal and insulated to control how much the enclosure heats up in summertime. Inside the barn, there are eight pens. Each pen, measuring 30-feet by 36-feet is capable of housing 40 head of cattle, meaning that there typically are about 320 head of cattle in the barn at a time. An alleyway runs along the front of the pens so that feeding equipment can drive into the barn to deposit feed into concrete bunks placed in front of each pen.

The cattle in the pens stand on concrete slats, with the manure they generate dropping into 10-foot deep pits below each pen. There are a total of four pits below the entire cattle pen space, with each pit collecting manure from two pens.

The concrete slats – manufactured by United Precast Industries located in Mount Vernon, Ohio – are replaceable, and fit together in segments. Each segment measures 4-feet by 10-feet and there are 216 concrete slabs in the entire structure. Hastings says they went about 28 years before having to replace some of the concrete slabs, and that was only because the edges on some of the slabs were starting to chip off, making it harder for the cattle to walk on. Since the barn was built, they have replaced about 25 slabs.

There is spacing on each concrete segment of about 1.5-inches for the manure to fall through. Although beef cattle are hooved and can sometimes become nervous about certain types of materials beneath their feet, which is why Texas gates are so effective, Rom says that the cattle in his barn don’t react nervously walking on the slatted concrete floor. However, he is careful about how mature the animals are before he houses them in the barn to avoid the potential of younger cattle catching their hooves in the openings.

“The slatted floor is flat,” says Hastings. “The only thing is that the cattle need to be 500 lbs or bigger to be housed in there. You don’t want any small, weak calves in this facility because the smaller animals tend to have more hoof damage.”

Once a year, Hastings uses a Houle agitating pump to mix and remove the manure from each pit and load it into a 5,300-gallon Houle tank for land application. There is no water added to the manure collected in the pits, which have a capacity to collect manure for an entire year before needing to be cleaned.

The pits are pumped out either in July or September, with the manure surface applied either on harvested hay or wheat crops. Hastings says luckily the farm is still allowed to surface apply the manure in his county without incorporation because his farmland is generally flat, with not a lot of concern about potential surface runoff. The entire process of pumping out the pits and land applying the manure only takes about 40 hours, or four 10-hour days.

The manure is land applied at 4,000 to 5,000 gallons per acre on a four-year rotation. The manure feeds about 100 acres per year.

“On farms where the manure is surface applied, I’d say that it cuts down my fertilizer costs by 30 percent or more,” says Hastings.

The organic fertilizer is supplemented with commercial fertilizer as needed, based on soil sampling conducted every 2.5 acres.

Over the 35-year history of the barn enclosure, it has proven its worth for manure management as well as providing a comfortable environment for the herd. Because the enclosure is properly ventilated, the cattle raised inside have experienced no health issues.

 

 

 

Published in Beef

October 7, 2016, Scarborough, ME – Scarborough Downs plans to close its horse barn by the end of October, citing an ongoing problem with water contamination caused by horse manure.

Mike Sweeney, spokesman for the harness racing facility, said that an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency showed “there was some seepage of nutrients from the manure into the groundwater in the area. We obviously do not want to be in non-compliance of EPA regulations.” READ MORE

Published in Other

April 4, 2016, Delphi, IN — Carroll County boasts the largest number of pig farms in Indiana, so the arrival of a new hog facility might not seem like news.

Wiechman Pig Co. is not a typical hog facility, however, and it does things a little differently than neighboring hog farmers. Furthermore, historically controversial issues of odor and waste disposal are not a factor. READ MORE

Published in Swine

 

The on-going spread of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is a major concern in pork production areas of Canada, the U.S. and beyond. It’s a very serious swine disease that can be transmitted up to six miles through airborne means, originating in manure, saliva, urine, blood, semen and milk. Only a small amount of virus is needed to infect a herd, and it mutates easily, making vaccination effectiveness inconsistent.

The PRRS virus can survive up to six days in warmer temperatures and for years in frozen form. It particularly loves cold and damp, which means fall and early winter are the most dangerous seasons for it to spread. Advanced filtration technology is used in hog barns to protect animals from being infected by airborne diseases, but protecting animals during transport is also crucial.

“The risk of exposure to infectious pathogens of high-value stock during transport from breeding facilities to commercial farms can be significant, particularly during passage through pig-dense areas known to have outbreaks of airborne diseases,” notes Bernardo Predicala (PhD).

Predicala, who manages the Engineering Research Program at the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon and is also an adjunct professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, has been working with colleagues to design, develop, and evaluate an air filtration system for a swine transport trailer. With his research assistants, Alvin Alvarado and Samantha Ekanayake, Predicala has fabricated, installed and evaluated a prototype filter system, with funding for the research partially provided by the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board, Alberta Pork, Manitoba Pork Council, and Ontario Pork. Funding was also provided by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture through the Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

To design their filtration system, the researchers first surveyed the individual main components of existing filtered trailer systems in North America and Europe. These include temperature control (for animal comfort), filtration capacity, ventilation and air distribution.

“We looked at various options available for each,” Predicala recalls. “There are at least two options for each component – for example, it’s possible to use either axial fans or centrifugal fans for ventilation – so there’s a large number of possible combinations and therefore a wide variety of possible designs.”

He notes that it’s hard to describe the differences and compare the strengths and weaknesses of each design as any particular setup would be attractive to specific clients, but the same features could be considered a weakness for
other clients.

“For example, a fully air conditioned trailer will be suitable for genetic companies that do long-range transport of high-value genetic stock,” he says, “but it will be too costly for producers who only need to do mainly short-haul transport of weanlings from their nursery units to their finisher barns.”

After gathering all the information they could from a literature review, as well as from companies and other research organizations, the team formed an advisory panel composed of swine veterinarians, engineers, researchers, and producers to evaluate the various available options. Evaluation criteria included robustness, air quality, airflow, heat issues, power requirement and cost.

The final design (composed of an axial fan, pre-filter combined with high-efficiency filter, air inlets, and air exhaust vents with shutter) was installed on a commercial swine goose-neck transport trailer, and testing then commenced to determine the effectiveness of the system in maintaining a pathogen-free environment. Both MERV 16 filters (with pre-filters) and antimicrobial fabric filter were tested. Air samples were collected upstream (inlet side) and downstream the filtration system (inside the trailer) using a three-piece sampling cassette with mixed cellulose filter and a vacuum pump.

Predicala says testing was the biggest challenge of the project. This was mainly because it involved devising a way to challenge the effectiveness of the installed filtration system by actually generating bioaerosols outside of the trailer, and then trying to detect if any of this bioaerosol made it into the trailer compartment.

“All this had to be done in a biosecure way – that is, without actually using microorganisms that can cause diseases – so a benign bacteriophage was employed,” he explains. “This bacteriophage mimics the behaviour of representative pathogens, and is often used as a surrogate for pathogenic microorganisms in filtration studies.”

Results
Statistically, the two types of filters did not show a significantly different performance, but Predicala says that in terms of actual percentage reduction of bioaerosols, the fabric bag filters performed better than the MERV 16 filters. However, MERV 16 filters are much less expensive than fabric bag filters. In Predicala’s view, “there would be situations wherein MERV 16 filters are sufficient [e.g. short-haul trips, low risk of airborne infection along the route, relatively low potential losses], but for situations where higher risk is involved and the loss potential is large [e.g., transporting high-value breeding stock through routes with high pig density], fabric bag filters would be more suitable.”

With regard to the trailer filtration system in general, the research team recommends the installation of an environmental controller for better regulation of the temperature inside the trailer (for animal comfort), and also having a temperature-monitoring/carbon dioxide detection system with alarm function detectable in the truck cab.

“You also want to avoid high fan static pressure,” Predicala adds, “because it leads to more work by the fan motor to deliver the needed airflow, and consequently uses more power.”

One way to reduce fan static pressure is to provide larger openings for the air to flow through such as the inlet, the filter area as well as the exhaust vents.

Predicala and his team have not yet determined how often filters should be replaced, but he says the main parameter for this is the static pressure drop across the filter. If the filter gets too clogged up, it causes high static pressure for the fan, so the filter must be replaced before pressure drop reaches a pre-determined level. This could be anywhere from several months to a year, depending on whether the trailer is driven mostly on clean highways or dusty roads.

The filtration system Predicala and his colleagues have developed may also be used in dairy and beef cattle transport trailers.

“At least in terms of the aspect that deals with controlling the thermal environment in the trailer,” he notes.

 

 

 

Published in Swine

March 9, 2016, Petersburg, IA – Tim Krapfl, owner of Krapfl Ag Commodities in Petersburg, Ia, knows all about weather, from frosty winters to scorching summers. And, like all cattlemen, he also knows about manure.

To protect his 300 head of Holstein feeder cattle from the weather, while also keeping manure runoff in check, Krapfl invested in a large, open-air structure: a Beef Master Systems building made by ClearSpan Fabric Structures. READ MORE

Published in Beef

January 19, 2015 – In order to clean the air of pollutants, biotechnology expert Raul Pineda Olmedo, from the National University of Mexico (UNAM), designed a biofilter that uses microorganisms living in the shell of the peanut.

The research from the department of Environmental Technology noted that microorganisms grow naturally on peanut shell, which can be used to clean the air. Furthermore, in Mexico this material is generated in large amounts and is considered a worthless agricultural residue.

The idea is a prototype filter with peanut shells, which cultivates the microorganisms to degrade toxic pollutants into carbon dioxide and water, thereby achieving clean air.

"The peanut shell is special for these applications because it is naturally hollow and has an area of ​​contact with air, which favors the development of microorganisms," said Pineda Olmedo.

He also said it has been observed that this organic material can be applied to biotechnology as biological filters similar to those used by cars, but instead of stopping dust it can degrade the contaminants.

The prototype is similar to a bell or kitchen extractor, but it not only absorbs and stores polluting vapors, it degrades and purifies the air.

The design consists of a filter made with peanut shells containing microorganisms, which purify the air. For optimum development it should be in a temperature-controlled environment.

Olmedo Pineda explained that the filter takes on average 28 days to synthesize microorganisms such as Fusarium and Brevibacterium. Bacteria and fungi take the carbon from pollution to reproduce and breath.

In Mexico this technology has not been exploited extensively. The researcher currently seeks to commercialize the innovation, which is a solution applicable to everyday life.

Published in Air quality

Nobis Dairy Farms helped develop a sand separation system that helped other dairy farms. Photo by Contributed

The cows were immediately more comfortable and healthy when Michigan-based, Nobis Dairy Farms switched to sand bedding in their milking barns in 1974. However, handling and recycling the sand-laden manure – that was another story and took a while longer.

By working with sand separation equipment manufacturer McLanahan Corporation and Michigan State University, the dairy helped to develop a proven sand and manure separation technology that has now made it considerably easier for other dairy farms to recycle sand bedding while reaping the benefits.

For their leadership in this area of manure management and other measures taken by the dairy to minimize their impact on the environment, Nobis Dairy Farms was awarded the 2015 Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability distinction by the Innovation Center for US Dairy.

About Nobis
The dairy farm is located north of Lansing, near St. Johns, Mich., and is owned by Ken and Larry Nobis. The dairy manages a total of 1,060 milking and dry cows, with seven barns on the home site. Five are free stall barns using sand bedding. The dairy also has replacement stock housed in different locations within four miles of home.

Larry says the herd is at a comfortable size right now and they have no immediate expansion plans, given the current, worldwide oversupply of milk. They are leaving it up to Ken’s son, Kerry, who is the dairy’s herdsman and next generation dairy farmer in the Nobis family, to decide how large the herd might grow in future. Both Larry and Ken are still very active in the dairy and Ken is the president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association.

They have used sand bedding in all their free stall barns since 1974, but it was not until 2009 that they actually began recycling the sand. Previously it was simply land apply along with the manure for disposal and for the nutrient value offered by the manure mixed into it. They use chopped soybean straw for bedding in their heifer facilities.

The entire farm operation involves both operating a dairy and growing feed and cash crops on 3,000 acres. As a percentage, Larry says adding the sand to their cropland prior to installing their sand recycling system was not significant. They were careful with how much they land applied per acre with regular soil testing. Although it did not seem to have an adverse effect on their cropland, he adds that he would not recommend this practice over a long period of time. Now, the sand is recycled, which has made their manure management system a lot easier to handle.

The past
Prior to making the switch to sand bedding, the dairy was using organic material and sawdust. Larry says using the organic bedding was causing the dairy some problems with two areas of concern on any dairy farm, which are elevated somatic cell count in the milk and mastitis in the cows.

“It wasn’t anything serious but we’d heard reports of sand being used in other places, and that sounded really good,” Larry says. “So we put some sand in the free stalls, and we couldn’t believe how comfortable the cows were.”

He adds that because it is an inorganic material, using sand bedding helped to keep the somatic cell count in check and it really reduced mastitis incidents.

“Using sand for bedding, it’s wonderful for the cows. It’s like they are having a day at the beach every day,” Larry says, “but it did make handling manure very miserable and offered us a lot of challenges.” For the first couple of decades when the dairy used sand bedding, he adds that there wasn’t a lot by way of equipment to allow them to recycle sand-laden manure. However, they felt that someone would eventually come up with a solution.

“And they did,” Larry says. “There are several different pieces of equipment and technology out there where you can separate and recycle the sand, so that you handle the manure as manure.”

But it wasn’t so easy in the 1980s. He says the challenges started to mount as the herd started growing in size. They installed a cement storage pit that provided them with four months storage capacity for their sand-laden manure, but as it is apt to do, the sand sunk to the bottom and did a number on several pumps designed to pump manure and not abrasive sand.

“We’d wear out manure pump after manure pump and we’d be welding them all the time. Then there was the sand settling out in tankers before they had circulating features,” Larry says. “It was a mess and very trying.”

By the end of 1980s, they realized that something had to improve with handling the sand-laden manure, and it started with a meeting that involved their manure disposal contractor and researchers at Michigan State University. By this time, more dairies were using sand bedding and they were experiencing the same problems as Nobis Dairy Farms.

The challenge
They challenged Michigan State University to help find a solution, and this is when equipment manufacturer McClanahan Corporation entered into the picture. They were able to make modifications to equipment they were already supplying to the mining industry to separate the sand from manure.

“We’re very comfortable with our McClanahan system and it has worked very well for us,” Larry says.

He says it fit well within their established farm operations, it stockpiles just enough sand for just-in-time reuse, and the system seems to minimize odor from the farm. He estimates that the dairy is saving $80,000 to $100,000 per year being able to recycle its sand, and when all the benefits are factored in, the system will probably pay for itself in about five years.

Another financial benefit is having access to this separated out, organic fertilizer resource, although they haven’t calculated the exact benefit versus having to purchase synthetic fertilizer.

“I do know that our fertilizer costs are minimal compared to a cash crop operation,” Larry says.

The system
A Bobcat with a rubber scraper attachment cleans the free stall barn alleys three times a day, dumping the sand-laden manure into a reception pit. A Houle piston pump sucks the material collected in the reception pit for processing through the McClanahan sand separator. While this system has been around for some time, Larry says the reason they delayed installing one at the dairy was because of how much fresh water the separator required.

“We weren’t interested in making a lot of fresh water dirty, but they came up with a closed loop system,” he says.

This system is able to recycle what he called the “clean” dirty water. The manure solids have been removed from the water by processing the manure stream through the sand separator and then through a Daritech rotary screen solid manure separator that removes and piles the manure solids.

The dairy collects this water from the separator, as well as grey water from general dairy operations and water runoff from their feed storage area into a 14 million gallon lagoon. This water is recycled either through the sand separation system, used for irrigation, or land applied as organic fertilizer.

The sand separation system consists of recycled water added to a slow moving and long auger, with the clean sand dropping from the top end of the auger and the solid organic material as well as the water extracted from the bottom end. The sand is stacked for about two weeks and then reused as bedding. The manure solids are separated from the liquid stream, collected and land applied as organic fertilizer, while the water is transported to the storage lagoon, with a portion recycled through the sand separator.

About seven million gallons of liquid is collected from the manure, but a total of 20 million gallons are actually collected by the dairy, when considering all the water channeled and collected in the lagoon from various sources on the farm. A considerable amount of that nutrient-rich liquid is land applied as an organic fertilizer on cropland using a drag hose system. Nobis Dairy Farms carefully manages its crop rotation to maximize its use of the nutrients added to the soil. For example, they will harvest a wheat crop, follow up with a manure application, then plant a forage crop like forage oats, resulting in a double crop from that same field while mining valuable nutrients like nitrogen placed in the soil from the manure. Then they will follow up the next year with a corn crop and also recover corn silage. They soil test every year to ensure that they are not experiencing any increase in their phosphorus levels.

“So far, this method is working very well,” Larry says.

Because the liquid waste stream is diluted, they can apply about 40,000 gallons per acre over an entire year, and typically they will land apply between 500 to 600 acres one year and then the same acreage across the road the next year. Given the amount of land they plant and their manure management method, Larry says the dairy could probably support as many as 3,000 cows.

The solids are land applied using two Knight spreaders as well as a Meyers Manufacturing spreader equipped with vertical beaters and a GPS system for precise application, mounted on a truck.

Conservation
In addition to paying attention to their overall manure management system to minimize environmental impact, Nobis Dairy Farms has also voluntarily established 50 to 100 foot grass buffer strips along their drainage ditches, representing about 70 acres of land that they harvest for feed. This practice mines any nutrients that have gathered in the ground so they don’t seep into the drainage system.

Practices like their manure management method, minimizing odor, and concern for the environment with the extensive use of buffer strips has garnered attention for Nobis Dairy Farms as a leading environmental steward in the U.S. dairy industry.

 

 

 

Published in Dairy

August 17, 2015 – The value of housing for dairy cows is a frequent topic of discussion. Some believe a low cost, low input production system (like blue sky housing), will lead to a more favorable bottom line than a system that invests in an expensive housing structure.

An opposing philosophy is that investing in a barn for cows will solve many herd management problems and result in increased profitability.

“The introduction of bedded pack compost barns to our industry is a game changer,” said Ted Probert, dairy specialist with University of Missouri Extension. READ MORE

Published in Dairy

 

There are many benefits to living on a rural acreage or small farm.  The opportunity to raise livestock as a food source is one of those advantages.

One of the challenges to this practice is what to do with the accumulated manure produced by the animals. If the animals are raised in a pasture-based or grazing system, then natural distribution of the manure nutrient takes place. Otherwise, manure accumulated in coops or pens needs to be removed and appropriately handled.  

To give an example, an average sized (four pound) laying hen will excrete about 0.26 pounds of manure per day (MWPS). If you have 50 laying hens, you will accumulate more than 4,700 pounds or 2.37 tons of chicken manure annually if the chickens spend all their time in the coop. As another example, a horse (1,100 pounds) will excrete about 50 pounds of manure per day, or nine tons of manure per year.  If the horse is housed in a stable where bedding is used, then you will also have to account for the soiled bedding in your calculations of material that need to be handled. As you can see, even with just a few animals, manure can quickly accumulate.  

The two biggest challenges in manure management on small farms are 1) ease of handling of manure and access to storage and 2) appropriate use, application or disposal of the manure. The easier it is to handle the manure and clean the pens and coops, the more frequently it will get done and prevent accumulation of manure from getting out of hand. It is important when deciding to have animals on your acreage or small farm that you have access to equipment that fits your size of operation and also to have a way to deal with accumulated manure.

Based on the number of animals you have, access to a pitchfork and wheelbarrow may suffice. If you have a larger number of animals, it may be wise to consider a small garden tractor with a loader/bucket for mechanical cleaning of pens and stalls. Areas that accumulate manure and bedding should be cleaned frequently to provide animal comfort, and to prevent too much manure from accumulating.

Once manure is removed from the animal production area you have two choices, you can store the manure or you can land-apply the manure. The capacity to safely and effectively store manure in Iowa is a necessity as weather conditions are unsuitable at certain time of the year to appropriately land-apply the manure. Our goals should be to return the manure nutrient source to cropland, thereby completing the nutrient cycle of crops feeding animals and animals fertilizing our crops. So when the need to store manure exists, please keep these principles in mind: store manure until application is suitable for crop production; use storage as a way to better match your time resources and labor supply; store manure in a manner to protect nearby water sources; manage storage to prevent flies, odors and vermin; locate storage near manure sources; and size storage for easy access with manure handling equipment.  

Much like large livestock farms, land-application of manure should be the primary goal to return nutrients to the cropping systems. Since this is not always possible on a small farm or acreage, you should give due consideration to the distribution, use or disposal of the manure prior to bringing animals onto the small farm. As mentioned previously, the primary goal is to use the manure nutrients in the cropping cycle. This may mean your home garden or pasture acres or it may mean working with neighboring crop farmers. Regardless of where the manure is land-applied, you should have your manure analyzed for nutrient content and use soil tests to determine the application rate based on the crops you plan to grow. When considering using fresh manure in the home garden, you should apply and incorporate the manure at least three months before the crop will be harvested, four months if growing root crops or leafy material the comes in contact with the soil.

If it is not possible to use the manure in your home garden or elsewhere on your acreage, you can consider these options:

  • Work with neighboring crop farmer to distribute on local fields,
  • Work with neighbors for use on their gardens, or
  • Inquire at local waste transfer station or trash service as to the availability of waste disposal.

The last consideration when handling, storing or land-applying manure on small farms or acreages is to make sure the manure does not adversely impact the environment. Managing runoff from animal production systems on small farms is just as important as on large farms. Be cognizant of local water sources and leachate coming off your manure storage or animal production systems, land-apply manure when weather and soil conditions are appropriate and do not increase the risk of runoff. Be aware of local regulations that apply to all manure sources.

Additional materials can be accessed on the eXtension website, extension.org. For manure management information in Iowa, visit the Iowa Manure Management Action Group (IMMAG) website.


Angie Rieck-Hinz is a field agronomist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

 

 

 

 

Published in Beef

 

From a cow comfort and cow health perspective, nothing beats sand for bedding. From a management perspective, however, sand has many significant challenges.

First, it is more expensive than sawdust, straw or composted manure. Second, it has no nutrient value so spreading it on the land is not an option. Besides, it is hard on manure spreading equipment and, later, harvesting equipment.

Many farmers use long settling channels to separate the sand from the manure. Not only does that require lots of land near the barn, but it is also difficult to reclaim the sand.

In recent years, several systems have been developed to separate sand from manure. Most use a lot of water and are therefore best suited to flush barns. So what can farmers with non-flush barns who still want to use sand do?

When Nelson Dinn, farm manager of the University of British Columbia Dairy Education and Research Centre in Agassiz, B.C., looked for a sand separation system to handle the slurry from the 400 animals on the farm, he had four requirements:

  • it needed to minimize use of fresh water
  • it needed to have a small footprint
  • it had to be cost-effective
  • it had to have no negative impact on cow health

After looking at systems across North America, he found the answer just across the border in Lynden, Wash: a Daritech Sand Cannon manure separator system.

The system is very water-efficient, primarily using the liquid from the slurry to operate, says Dinn, the only water added to the system is that used to wash the parlor.

“We want to store nutrients, not water,” he says, noting the only time they added extra water was one day when a fierce wind “dried out the manure too much.”

The key to the system is a poly holding tank with three exit lines, two along the side at differing heights and one at the bottom. The liquid from the solids-liquid separator and the sand cannon are pumped into the tank, then removed through the exit lines after being given time to settle. The cleanest and clearest liquid accesses the highest exit line and is sent to an exterior holding tank. The liquid at the bottom, which contains any residue the separator has failed to remove, is re-circulated through the system. The liquid from the middle of the tank, which is free of residues but still dirty, is used to operate the sand cannon.

“The computer-controlled system only puts through as much new liquid slurry as is taken out of the holding tank,” Dinn explains.

To keep a solids-liquid separation system operating, the fiber screens in the separator need to be cleaned regularly. While most systems use water to do that, the Daritech system uses water once every six cleanings. The other five cleanings are done with bursts of air.

Except for the external fluid holding tank, the entire system is housed in a structure smaller than an average silage bunker. That includes the sand cannon, the holding tank, the solids-liquid separator, holding areas for the sand and solid manure, the computer control system and a small settling channel to remove the fine sand.

“The sand cannon works best with coarser sand so we still use a settling channel to remove the fine sand. Because most of the sand has already been removed we only need a tiny settling channel,” Dinn says, adding the amount of fine sand in the system is steadily being reduced over time.

“After just three months of use, we are getting almost 80 percent sand recovery and I expect that to be over 90 percent in the next few months,” he states.

There are several cost benefits to the system. Removing all the sand before the solids are applied on the fields is “easier on farm equipment,” reducing maintenance and replacement costs. But the biggest benefit is the cost savings resulting from not having to bring in a lot of fresh sand.

“A 1,000-cow dairy in New York using the system has been able to reduce their annual sand requirements to just two truckloads,” Dinn notes.

He believes those savings gives the system a payback of “less than eight years.”

Dinn says reusing the sand has not had any negative impacts on cow health at UBC nor at any of the other sites he visited. He notes one of the Michigan farms he visited while checking out the system was recently included in Hoard’s Dairyman’s list of dairy farms with the lowest somatic cell count in the United States.

Although the technological complexity might put off some farmers, Dinn notes the system is run off a single, simple PLC (programmable logic control) panel. The PLC panel can be accessed remotely, meaning support staff can “tweak” it without a site visit.  

Although not a factor in Dinn’s decision to go with the Daritech sand cannon separation system, there is an added benefit.

A few years ago, UBC scientists developed a nutrient recovery system to remove phosphorus (struvite) from liquid manure. They recently built a pilot plant at Agassiz and say the liquid produced by the system is ideally suited for the recovery system.

“The clearer the liquid, the better it flows through our recovery system, explains UBC Department of Civil Engineering associate professor Jim Atwater, who is coordinating the struvite recovery project.

Farmers are anxiously awaiting results of that project as many fields in B.C.’s Fraser Valley are showing high levels of phosphorous. Some areas in Europe already place a limit on manure applications based on their phosphorus content and the same could happen here in future.

As a next step, Atwater says the liquid output from his system, now minus its phosphorus, could feed an anaerobic digester.

“Separated liquid manure run through a struvite recovery system generates the best input for an AD and might even eliminate the need to add outside feedstuffs,” he says.

 

 

 

Published in Dairy

February 12, 2015, Des Moines, IA – A vast majority of Iowa counties, 88, voted to use the master matrix to evaluate construction permit applications submitted to the DNR and proposed locations for animal confinements.

Animal producers in these counties must meet higher standards than other confinement producers who also need a construction permit. They must earn points on the master matrix by choosing a site and using practices that reduce impacts on air, water and the community.

The following counties will not use the matrix in 2015 and January of 2016: Decatur, Des Moines, Iowa, Keokuk, Lee, Mahaska, Osceola, Plymouth, Wapello, Warren and Washington. All other counties will use the matrix during the next 12 months.

Counties that adopt the master matrix can provide more input to producers on site selection, the proposed structures and proposed facility management. Participating counties can also join in DNR visits to a proposed confinement site.

While all counties may submit comments to the DNR during the review process for permit applications, counties that adopt the master matrix can also appeal approval of a preliminary permit to the state Environmental Protection Commission.

The deadline for enrolling in the program is Jan. 31 of each year.

Producers and citizens can obtain more information and view a map of participating counties by looking for preconstruction requirements for permitted confinements at www.iowadnr.gov/afo. Or, look at   www.iowadnr.gov/Environment/LandStewardship/AnimalFeedingOperations/Confinements/ConstructionRequirements/Permitted/MasterMatrix.aspx.

The matrix affects only producers who must get a construction permit for a confinement. Generally, these include proposed construction, expansion or modification of confinement feeding operations with more than 2,500 finishing hogs, 1,000 beef cattle or 715 mature dairy cows. Confinements are totally roofed facilities.

Published in Swine

February 12, 2015, Easton, MD — The University of Maryland Extension has created a one-day workshop for new poultry farmers in Delmarva that will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, March 5, at the University of Maryland’s Somerset County Extension Office in Princess Anne.

The topics that will be addressed are farm management, site management and maintenance, best management practices, mortality, manure handling, litter management, windbreaks/vegetative environmental buffers, finances and record keeping, concentrated animal feeding operation regulations, nutrient management, comprehensive nutrient management plans, inspections and emergency preparedness.

A certificate of completion will be awarded to each participant.

The registration cost of $30 includes a continental breakfast, lunch and materials. Participants are asked to register by Friday, Feb. 27, by contacting Sheila Oscar at 410-742-1178 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Shelia Shorter at 410-758-0166 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Published in Poultry

February 9, 2015, Winnipeg, Man – Manitoba’s provincial government is taking baby steps toward relaxing its province-wide hog barn building moratorium.

Manitoba agriculture minister Ron Kostyshyn told the recent Keystone Agricultural Producers annual convention that his department and Manitoba Conservation are discussing “pilot projects” in which the requirement for any new hog barn to include an anaerobic manure digester would be relaxed. READ MORE

Published in Swine

July 21, 2014, Winnipeg, Man – The Manitoba government is playing politics when it comes to hog barns, says the Manitoba Pork Council.

Reacting to a letter from Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh and published in the Manitoba Co-operator, council chairman Karl Kynoch said he was extremely disappointed by the minister’s position on hog barn expansion and alternative manure-handling technologies. READ MORE

Published in Swine

June 24, 2014 – Over the years, considerable modifications have been made to feedlot facility designs to optimize cattle performance, improve cattle comfort and also ensure safe and effective working conditions for feedlot personnel.

Additionally, increased awareness and changes in regulatory climate towards greater environmental protection measures has strongly influenced the development of new facility designs. Environmental concerns are largely centered on preventing or eliminating excessive nutrient or waste discharges to state or federal waters. READ MORE

 

 

Published in News

November 26, 2012, Wooster, OH – The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) will host a workshop on compost bedded pack dairy barns on Dec. 5. The same program will be offered in Tennessee on Dec. 12 and in Kentucky on Dec. 13.

A compost bedded pack dairy barn is an alternative dairy system with solid manure handling options, said Lingying Zhao, an associate professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering at Ohio State University and one of the event’s organizers and speakers.

“There’s increased interest in the compost bedded pack system because of its potential for positive impacts on milk production and cow health and its ability to handle manure as a dry material,” Zhao said.

Possible benefits of the system also include less environmental risk from the animals’ manure and lower costs to handle it, she said.

Speaking at the workshop will be experts from Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, including OARDC and Ohio State University Extension, which are the college’s research and outreach arms, respectively; the University of Kentucky; the University of Tennessee; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Featured will be recent research findings related to building design and management, milk production and quality, cow behavior and health, compost and bedding quality, indoor air quality, ventilation, economics, and NRCS standards and cost-share programs.

Also on the program will be a panel discussion by dairy farmers who have used compost bedded pack systems and will share their experiences.

The farmers on the Dec. 5 panel will be Richard Indoe of Richman Farms, Lodi, OH; Alan Kozak, Clover Patch Dairy, Millersburg, OH; and Nathan Goodell, Goodell Family Farms, Mantua, OH.

“The workshop will help dairy producers make knowledge-based decisions when considering adoption of the compost bedded pack system for profitable and sustainable dairy operations,” said Zhao, who has joint appointments with OARDC and OSU Extension.

Dairy producers, professional consultants, NRCS engineers, Extension educators and anyone else interested in alternative dairy housing options are welcome to attend, she said.

The program goes from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in OARDC’s Fisher Auditorium, 1680 Madison Ave., in Wooster in northeast Ohio.

An optional tour of the compost bedded pack system at Indoe's operation will be offered at 3 p.m.

Registration for the workshop costs $25 by Nov. 26 and $30 after that date and includes lunch.

For more information, download the workshop flier at http://go.osu.edu/QR2, call 614-292-6625 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The flier includes a registration form and the complete list of topics and speakers.

To register, participants should download, fill out and mail in the registration form along with their payment; or should send their name, address, contact information and payment to Amanda Douridas, Ohio State University, 590 Woody Hayes Drive, Columbus, OH 43210. Checks should be made payable to OSU/FABE.

Participants at the Ohio location are eligible for three Ohio Professional Engineers continuing professional development hours and two Ohio Department of Agriculture certified livestock manager credits.

Published in Dairy

November 13, 2012, Hanover, Germany – At EuroTier 2012, a European trade show dedicated to agriculture, DeLaval’s barn system controller (BSC) was awarded the EuroTier silver medal for innovation.

“Sustainability, user-friendliness and optimal animal welfare have been the three primary objectives throughout our product development phase,” said Emmanuel Geoffroy, business development manager portfolio effluent housing systems at DeLaval. “This medal recognizes the importance of these objectives but it also demonstrates that DeLaval, as a company, is committed to improving cow comfort and animal welfare by delivering complete and integrated solutions.”

The BSC integrates barn environment and cow comfort to ensure healthy, productive cows and maximum milk yield. It’s an integrated control system to handle all barn applications in one unit. Barn environment technologies – like panels, curtains, circulating fans, illumination, cow cooling, alley cleaning, gutter cleaning, manure separation and manure transfer – are all handled in an integrated system.

Published in Dairy

October 19, 2012, Ames, IA – Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is hosting two Iowa manure management and runoff control demonstration field days at the end of October. The purpose of these field days is to review low-cost options for managing runoff water and manure from small to medium size beef and dairy feedlot operations.

Recent compliance enforcement from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency has put the focus on runoff from small to medium size feedlots.

“Small and medium size open feedlots can potentially discharge significant amounts of nutrients to streams,” said Shawn Shouse, agricultural engineer specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “The nutrients can cause water quality problems in streams and present a loss of valuable fertilizer nutrients for the farm.”

Oct. 29 Wall Lake field day

The first field day will be on Monday, Oct. 29, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Bob Ziegmann farm located near Wall Lake. This field day will feature a system designed to keep manure runoff out of the road ditch and distribute it in a crop field instead. The Ziegmann feedlot is located at 3740 B Ave., Wall Lake. To get to the feedlot from Wall Lake, go south 5 miles on M64 and then 2.5 miles west on B Avenue.

Oct. 31 Andover field day

The second field day will be on Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the Ray and Andrew Naeve feedlot located west of Andover. This field day will look at two different kinds of manure handling systems. One is an earthen basin located below one feedlot that provides protection to a nearby stream. The other is a concrete settling basin adjacent to a feedlot that captures manure runoff and settles the manure solids with the effluent discharged to cropland.

The Naeve feedlot is located at 4166 135th St., Clinton. To reach the feedlot, go 0.5 mile north of the intersection of County Highway E50 and Z50 on County Highway Z50 (through Andover) to 135th Street. Turn left (west) on 135th Street and go 1.6 miles to the first place on north side of road. Lunch will be served by the Clinton County Cattlemen’s Association.

Both field days will be held rain or shine. In addition to the manure control systems, the field days will also include information on regulations for small and medium sized feedlots, nutrient content of feedlot manure and use in cropping systems, manure stockpiling regulations, and financial and technical assistance opportunities for feedlot owners.

Published in Beef

A dairy farm in the Edmonton, Alta., area is doing its part to help improve the operation’s environmental footprint and was recently nominated for national recognition for doing so.


Lakeside Dairy, a 170-cow farm near Legal, Alta., is taking clean drywall that would normally go to landfill and putting it to use on their farm through bedding and composting.  


According to Alberta Environment, about one pound of drywall waste is produced for every square foot of new house built in Alberta. From a 2,000-square-foot house, that means that about a ton of drywall waste will be shipped to landfill. The 30,000 houses forecasted to be built in Alberta in 2012 alone translate to the weight of a cruise ship. The effects of drywall in landfills include the production of hydrogen sulfide gas.


Lakeside Dairy has been able to demonstrate the benefits of mixing the clean, ground drywall with wood shavings to use as cow bedding. The bedding is composted with manure and chicken litter from a neighboring farm, additional drywall, and then used as a fertilizer for the fields. All the drywall is brought in from local housing construction sites.


The sulfate in the drywall decreases the pH of the manure, reducing ammonia and greenhouse gases by up to 90 percent or as much as 3,000 tons of CO2-equivalent annually. When the mixture is spread on the land, it adds sulfate and calcium, and retains nitrogen. 


Ultimately, Lakeside’s use of recycled gypsum helps to divert more than 1,200 tons of drywall scrap from landfill annually, providing a local urban company with a business opportunity in drywall recycling. 


About 80 percent of the farm’s fertilizer needs are met through their compost.  


“Sustainability is successful on our farm because it is profitable. The practices with the largest impact do not require large capital investment and generate financial and labor savings that are immediate and provide opportunities in the future,” says Jeff Nonay, president of Lakeside Dairy. 


Lakeside was one of four finalists from across Canada for the national Dairy Farm Sustainability Award. This award evaluates environmental sustainability, financial viability, social benefits, and the reproducibility of practices on other farms.

Published in Dairy
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