After initially and enthusiastically backing a request for the facility, commissioners reversed themselves when farmers complained that the location of the facility in their midst would keep them from selling their fruits and vegetables. READ MORE
March 9, 2017, Ada, OH – An inspector with the Ohio Department of Agriculture says there are two common mistakes farmers make when applying manure in crop fields.
Kevin Elder is chief of livestock environmental permitting at the Ohio Department of Agriculture. He says the most common mistakes are an accidental manure discharge in tile outlets and applying manure to frozen ground. READ MORE
February 24, 2017, Central Saanich, BC – Stanhope Dairy Farm Ltd. and the District of Central Saanich have agreed to a settlement, allowing the operation to continue its farming practices.
“We are satisfied with this being an outcome. I know that there are some residents who have different feelings on this. What I would say is that the municipality weighed all the information and came to this conclusion and I think that the conditions placed are ones that we’re going to continue to observe and make sure that the conditions are honoured,” said Central Saanich Mayor Ryan Windsor. READ MORE
February 24, 2017, Wellington, FL – Palm Beach County commissioners approved a land use change that would allow a horse manure recycling facility to operate between Belle Glade and Wellington, the epicenter of the county’s equestrian industry.
The land use change will be transmitted to state officials for review and come back to commissioners for final approval in March or April when Horizon Compost hopes to get approval of its zoning application for a facility that would be located on 32 acres eight miles east of Belle Glade and eight miles west of Wellington. READ MORE
February 21, 2017, Spallumcheen, BC – Conservation officers are investigating after a manure storage lagoon on a Spallumcheen farm overflowed.
The spill occurred in the same area where residents have been raising concerns about high levels of nitrates in their drinking water source, the Hullcar Aquifer. READ MORE
February 6, 2017, Champaign, IL — Illinois Manure Share, created by the University of Illinois, is a manure exchange program that brings gardeners and landscapers searching for organic materials for use in composting or application in contact with livestock owners.
The program, initially intended to help commercial farmers find markets for their manure, has evolved over time. Today, most of the manure providers are horse farms and many of the buyers are from the Chicago area. READ MORE
January 16, 2017, Baltimore, MD – Supporters say the Perdue AgriRecycle facility a few miles from the Maryland state line is one solution for chicken farmers on the Eastern Shore who need to get rid of manure.
Along with the chicken litter, the Perdue facility receives hundreds of thousands of state taxpayer dollars each year. A state program reimburses farmers, brokers and poultry companies for half of their costs to haul manure around Delmarva and beyond. Perdue is one of the largest beneficiaries. READ MORE
November 11, 2016 – A study conducted by researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, shows that the use of wood shavings and sawdust in dairy barns instead of straw bedding is especially good for cow claw health.
A comparison with other barn types demonstrated that cows kept in compost bedded barns exhibited a lower frequency and lesser severity of claw disorders. The results were published in The Veterinary Journal.
The comfort and wellbeing of the animals is an important consideration when dairy cows are kept in barns. The freedom afforded by loose housing systems such as freestall cubicle barns promotes the natural behaviour and health of the animals. The widespread switch from tie-stall housing to loose housing has seen a change in the type of claw lesions, but the frequency of claw disorders has been on the rise.
International studies have identified the compost bedded barn as the beneficial for claw health. Compost bedded barns use wood chips or sawdust as bedding instead of straw. The wood residue binds the excrement and daily aerating incorporates the manure and starts the composting process. This makes an even concrete floor important in the roaming area. Slatted flooring, in which manure and urine fall into a separate area beneath the floor, should only be installed in the feed alley. Fresh bedding should also be added daily following aeration.
A team of researchers from the University of Veterinary Medicine, led by Johann Burgstaller from the Clinical Unit of Ruminant Medicine, has for the first time compared the frequency of claw disorders and lameness in compost bedded barns and the more common freestall cubicle barns in Austria. The researchers investigated the frequency and severity of claw lesions in five compost bedded barns and five freestall barns.
“Lesions of low severity were categorized as grade 1, severe lesions as grade 3,” Burgstaller explained. “The results for the individual lesions were weighted and subsequently added together to calculate an index value for the claw health per barn. A high value indicates poor claw health; a low value indicates good claw health. This value, however, is also influenced by factors such as frequency of care, feeding and genetics.”
The compost bedded barns exhibited about one half the number claw disorders, such as foot rot or white line disease, as the freestall barns. Both the frequency and severity were lower. Lesions of grades 2 and 3 were seen only rarely. The compost bedding thus has a proven beneficial effect on claw health. Lameness, on the other hand, occurred at nearly the same frequency in both barn types. At about 18 percent, however, the average of the freestall and compost bedded barns was below the international and previous Austrian level of 25 percent.
Even if modern barn types give dairy cows more freedom to roam, the animals must still stand in manure and urine for longer periods of time. The excrement increases the floor humidity and has negative consequences for claw health. The result is claw lesions, such as foot rot or white line disease.
“Floor humidity softens the skin between the claws, which makes it susceptible to bacterial infections. The reduced horn quality can lead to lesions and, in serious cases, sole haemorrhages,” Burgstaller explains.
White line disease occurs when floor humidity attacks the sensitive junction between the sole and the wall of the claw. Sudden or rotating movements create pressure on the affected junction and the sole slowly separates from the wall. This type of claw disorder is one of the main causes of lameness.
Compost bedded barns that are aerated and refilled daily can counter claw damage over the long term. This requires more work and effort on the part of the farmers. But after one year of composting, they can use the bedding as fertilizer. According to Burgstaller, the situation for dairy cows living in freestall barns can also be improved with more frequent re-bedding to keep the area dry.
The main difference between the compost bedded barn and the freestall barn is that the former has just one large area for roaming.
“There are no cubicles. This is more in keeping with the pronounced social behaviour of cattle,” Burgstaller says.
A dairy herd is organized hierarchically. If a cow is forced to leave its place for an animal of a higher rank, it can get up quickly and move out of the way without any obstacles. The stable and nonslip surface also allows weaker animals to get up or lie down safely, which is an enormous advantage in cases of milk fever.
The article “Claw health and prevalence of lameness in cows from compost bedded and cubicle freestall dairy barns in Austria” by J. Burgstaller, J. Raith, S. Kuchling, V. Mandl, A. Hund and J. Kofler was published in The Veterinary Journal.
November 1, 2016, Glenwood, MN – Dorrich Dairy, just south of Glenwood, has a new manure composting system that converts manure into bedding for the cows. They are the first farm in the state to install such a system, and it is generating a lot of interest.
On a recent tour for international visitors, Greg Vold explained that last year, they purchased 80 semi-loads of bedding for their cows. READ MORE
October 5, 2016, Toyota City, Japan – Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) and contact lens manufacturer Menicon Co., Ltd. (Menicon) have jointly developed a new liquid livestock manure composting product that will join the resQ45 series of TMC-Menicon jointly developed manure composting systems.
The product, called the New-Tokubetsu-Kyuko Liquid (new special express liquid enzyme), will be sold by Toyota Roof Garden Co., Ltd. It will be distributed through Toyota Tsusho Corporation's (Toyota Tsucho) livestock feed sales channels.
In Japan, where around 80 million tons of livestock manure are generated annually, concerns about the adverse impact of manure on the environment, including its offensive odor, water pollution, and greenhouse-gas generation, have created widespread awareness for the need to find ways to properly process, and to effectively utilize manure. In January 2013, Toyota and Menicon launched a jointly developed powder livestock manure composting product called the New-Tokubetsu-Kyuko, which had significantly shortened the composting period from around one month to around two weeks, while substantially reducing the generation of malodorous ammonia gas by between 50 and 90 percent (in the case of poultry waste). However, since the dispersion of powder composting agents is both a time- and labor-intensive process for large farms with major composting requirements, TMC and Menicon recognized the need to develop a liquid product that can be dispersed more easily by existing liquid dispensers.
Using these liquid dispensers, the newly developed New-Tokubetsu-Kyuko Liquid can be dispersed in a manner that is more reliable and uniform as compared to powder. This helps to improve dispersion efficiency and helps to facilitate the creation of better quality compost. As a result, TMC and Menicon believe this new product will help to reduce onerous work on livestock farms, while also providing positive environmental benefits at the same time. Furthermore, since a 100 grams bottle of the new liquid product is able to substitute for an 8 kg bag of powder, this development also helps to significantly reduce the space needed for storage.
June 2016 marked the tenth anniversary of the launch of the resQ45 series of manure composting systems, which were developed to help improve the livestock manure composting process. In addition to New-Tokubetsu-Kyuko Liquid, other main products in this series include the Buta resQ for pig manure and the Moo resQ for cows. Total sales of the resQ45 product lineup reached 200,000 bags in April, and annual sales are forecasted to hit 50,000 bags this year.
September 26, 2016, New Dundee, Ont – Mary Ann Doré had the best of intentions when she designed and built a new dairy barn in 2011.
Doré, who farms with husband Joe and her brother, Graham Johnston, near New Dundee, Ont., wanted the barn to be sustainable, and she hoped to set high standards for cow comfort. READ MORE
September 12, 2016, Lee, IL – Nutrients in surface waters that head toward the Gulf of Mexico are a big issue.
Twelve Midwestern states, including Illinois, are in the process of developing or implementing nutrient reduction strategies. Every livestock farm in the state – even very small ones – needs to know how it can do its part. READ MORE
September 2, 2016, Annapolis, MD – The Maryland Department of Agriculture has awarded more than $1.7 million in grants for two animal waste management technology projects in Somerset and Anne Arundel counties.
The grants are part of the state’s ongoing commitment to manage animal manure, protect natural resources, and pursue renewable energy sources.
A $1.4 million Animal Waste Technology grant was awarded to Clean Bay Renewables of Maryland to construct and operate a manure-to-energy plant in Somerset County. The plant will generate electricity by processing 80 tons per day of poultry litter as feedstock. The system has the capacity to produce two megawatts of electricity per hour. The plant will use a thermophilic anaerobic digester to convert organic matter into biogas (a mix of methane and carbon dioxide) and simpler chemical compounds in an oxygen-free environment. Importantly, the system captures and separates nitrogen and phosphorous contained in the byproduct, creating a marketable product that farmers can use to fertilize their crops, comply with Maryland’s Phosphorus Management Tool regulations, and protect local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay from excess nutrients. The poultry litter feedstock for the plant will be supplied by a Somerset County manure broker. Clean Bay Renewables has received approval to build the manure-to-energy plant from PJM, the utility grid operator serving Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and 11 other states, and has the support of the Somerset County Economic Development Commission. The state’s $1.4 million grant will supplement $15 million in investments already secured by Clean Bay Renewables.
Veteran Compost of Harford County and O2 Compost of Washington State were awarded a $350,300 grant from the Animal Waste Technology Fund to develop a compost demonstration project and public education/training facility for livestock farmers in Anne Arundel County. The project – which is aimed primarily at horse operations – will demonstrate Aerated Static Pile (ASP) composting technology systems at three levels: small scale (one to four horses or livestock equivalents); medium scale: (five to 20 horses); and large scale: (20 to 40 horses). All three compost systems will be solar powered to demonstrate off‐grid sustainability. The small and large systems will include storage tanks to retain roof water for use in the composting process. Public education and outreach is a major component of the project and will include formal classes and hands‐on workshops, public tours for students in kindergarten through college, and alliances with government agencies and non-profit environmental organizations. In addition, a Compost Cooperative website will be developed to bring together producers and end users of the finished compost products.
MDA issued a request for proposals in December 2015 and received 13 bids that were reviewed by a five-member technical review subcommittee. The subcommittee represented diverse skill sets and backgrounds, and its members were chosen from the 20-member advisory committee for the Animal Waste Technology Fund.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Animal Waste Technology Fund provides grants to companies that demonstrate innovative technologies on farms and alternative strategies for managing animal manure. These technologies may generate energy from animal manure, reduce on-farm waste streams, or repurpose manure by creating marketable fertilizer and other products and by-products. To date, the program has issued $5.4 million in grants. For more information on additional grant projects, visit http://mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/Pages/innovative_technology.aspx.
Using a grant from the Alberta government, Marty Winchell purchased a used cement mixer, outfitting it to be used as a compost system for animal mortalities on his farm. Contributed photo.
The Winchell family farm in Alberta is relatively small – around 300 laying hens, 70 sheep, as well as a number of pigs and cattle. But not long ago, the 120-acre farm raised around 12,500 layer breeders as well as 4,200 egg laying ducks for the Filipino and Vietnamese market. When Marty Winchell went back to full time work in 2011 as the agriculture program supervisor for Clearwater County, the poultry population had to be substantially cut back.
Faced with depopulation, the Winchells first looked at selling the layers. Unfortunately, there was no market for the chickens.
“I ended up paying people 20 cents a bird to pick them up, and then another 25 cents to 30 cents a bird to get rid of them. It was quite expensive,” says Winchell.
The same thing happened with the depopulation of the ducks.
“There was no market for spent fowl in the duck world here in Alberta,” he says. “Certainly nothing that wasn’t without risk.”
Winchell decided to compost the ducks himself. He built a trough using two rows of square straws bales. He filled the trough with the mortality and then covered it with three to four feet of manure. Although it worked, it wasn’t the optimum solution.
“Every time you turn compost with any animals in it, you often expose bones and there was also odor,” Winchell says. “And although the odor dissipates quickly, we’re in close proximity of town.”
The odor can also bring in predators, which Winchell doesn’t want to expose his sheep to.
Another environmental consideration is that the farm is on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River, a river that provides water for the city of Edmonton. For that reason, they are extra cautious about any composting practices.
“We’re just trying to do the right thing,” he says.
Winchell can’t tell you when he came up with the idea of using a cement mixer to compost mortality, because he says he feels like he has always been on the lookout for one. It was definitely before the mortalities, when he was dealing with composting cracked eggs and similar materials.
“Cracked eggs are probably one of the biggest attractives I have on my farm. And, I also wanted to compost with less work,” says Winchell. “I knew that composters they sell at the hardware store weren’t large enough. I guess I was just looking for a practical way to size it up, and when I did that, it looked like a cement mixer.”
He wasn’t the only one who thought it was a good idea. Bear Smart, an Alberta provincial program, gave him a $1,000 grant to try out his innovative idea.
It took some time to get it all in place. Not only did Winchell have to find an inexpensive, used mixer, but also find a way to get it to the farm.
“With the grant, I bought a cement mixer with a bad hydraulic drive and no truck,” he says. “It cost me $1,000 to transport it here and around $800 for a new hydraulic drive, plus I had to buy some hoses. I figure I’ve got about $2,000 of my own money in it.
“If the average person were to go and buy one, they’d probably just need hoses to attach it to a tractor or a skid steer,” he adds. “I didn’t know what I was doing, so when I picked it up, it didn’t actually have the hydraulic pump, or the drive on it, so I had to find one of those and that was difficult to locate because of the age of the cement mixer.”
In the end though, the idea was sound, and the composter worked just as he had anticipated.
One of the big benefits of using a mixer as a composter is that when it turns one way it stirs the material, and when it turns the other direction the material exits.
It’s also easy and quick to use.
“It takes about 30 seconds to hook the hoses up to my skid steer,” Winchell says. “I turn it, and I’m done.”
The first thing he composted with the mixer was 300 birds. Within a month – and only spinning it three or four times – the birds were completely composted.
“I felt like it worked really well,” he says. “I would turn it in the evening and could see the steam coming out and that it was heating.”
Winchell says he could be more scientific about the process, but for now if there is any odor he adds more carbon, like a bale of straw or a bucket of shavings. And if it’s not heating, he adds water.
Over the last year, the Winchells have put into the mixer anything that they don’t feel comfortable putting in a windrow or exposed to the water. They have composted a llama, mortality from lambing, wiener pigs, as well as other waste like broken eggs – all the while adding shavings, straw and water.
“Truthfully, after over a year, I still haven’t emptied the mixer,” Winchell says.
The cement mixer holds around five yards of compost. But it’s definitely the smaller variety. Many of the newer cement mixers hold around eight cubic yards.
Winchell doesn’t have any intention of spreading the compost from the mixer on his land.
“I was at one seminar where Environment Canada indicated that if you had compost with a dead cow with BSE, spreading it on your land and then allowing cows to eat off that could be dangerous. They weren’t sure how prions moved, and were very reluctant for animal compost to be put back on pastureland. Because there are sheep in our compost, and sheep can have scrapie (not that I’ve ever had that on my farm) I will not be using this compost on anything that is used for food production for animals or humans.”
When Winchell does empty the mixer, he will be using the compost for other projects, like bank stabilization.
The Winchells do, however, still have a lot of manure left from the farm when it was larger, and continue to compost with windrows and sell that compost to neighbors.
“I usually turn it once in the spring, once in the fall. Because we live close to the river, we don’t do a lot of spreading of manure on the land. We’re trying to be responsible landowners and not put nitrates in the river. I suspect I will be spreading some compost on the property in the next couple years though.”
Winchell believes the mixer would be an ideal tool for smaller farms, not just because it’s effective, but also because it’s inexpensive and simple to use.
“If you were looking for one, I would check out industrial auctions. They aren’t expensive, because nobody wants a cement truck. You can probably buy the truck and the cement mixer for a couple grand, then drive it home, take the cement mixer off, and then sell the truck for more than what you paid for the combination.”
And he adds, “There’s not a lot that can go wrong with them. They will probably last for a very long time.”
He can see the mixer as a great composter for small farm animals.
“You can compost something completely in six to eight weeks, so there’s no reason why a broiler operation couldn’t use something like this,” he says. “Because you don’t have a lot of mortality until the last couple weeks, and if you’re placing every six-and-a-half to eight weeks, you should be able to get a batch through.”
The Winchell family (wife, Cindy, sons Oliver and Henry and daughters Grethe and Josie) isn’t shy about showing off the new composter. During the Clearwater County West County Ag Tour, 120 people came to look at the composter in action. Also, a number of articles have been written on the innovative mixer and Winchell has received some emails.
This May, the Winchells had 275 students out to the farm.
“The Grade 4 curriculum in Alberta is animal waste and plant waste and composting. So, we incorporated the cement mixer into the Grade 4 curriculum in Clearwater County and had 275 students come through my place and look at it – in addition to seeing sheep being shorn and talk on bees and whatever else.
“We’ve been a part of that program for five years. I’ve talked to them about compost before because I’ve always been composting, but this is the first year I’ve shown them the compost.”
He says his family gets involved because it’s important to educate.
“Often agriculture is vilified in social media and in the media. Education is something that I think we need to do a lot more of in order to make sure people realize that farmers are the first stewards of the land. We make our living off the land, so why would we do things that are not constructive?
We need to educate people that manure is a byproduct, but it’s also a resource.”
August 17, 2016, Raleigh, NC – A compost barn for North Carolina State University’s Chicken Education Unit, which contained manure from the chicken and turkey coops, caught fire recently.
No animals were harmed and no one was in the building at the time, though the compost barn sustained significant structural damage and will have to be torn down, according to Bill Stevenson, NC State University fire marshall. READ MORE
An overhead view of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada facility where researchers are studying composting and stockpiling manure. Photo by Contributed photo
In North America, antibiotics are routinely administered to livestock for treating cases of disease and in some jurisdictions, they are given at sub-therapeutic levels to prevent disease, improve feed efficiency and promote growth. Manure can contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and it’s well known that some manure management practices destroy these bacteria, but does one stand out? Does stockpiling do a better job than composting, and are there other factors that should be considered in your decision to use one method over the other?
Tim McAllister can provide insight. McAllister is a principal research scientist in ruminant microbiology and nutrition at the Lethbridge Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). Recent studies he’s led on these issues were supported by AAFC’s Sustainable Agriculture Environmental Systems initiative and the Beef Cattle Research Council’s ‘Beef Cluster Funding.’ McAllister’s team included Shanwei Xu, Alanna Smith, Shaun Cook, Andrew F. Olson, Francis J. Larney and Rahat Zaheer (all at AAFC Lethbridge), Srinivas Sura and Allan J. Cessna (AAFC Saskatoon) and George Wang (University of Lethbridge). Cessna and Larney were lead scientists. Among other contributions, Xu drafted the manuscript and oversaw the lab analysis, Sura participated in study design, Zaheer helped track antibiotic resistance genes; Wang, Smith and Cook all provided laboratory analysis and Olson led the field studies.
But before we get to their results on stockpiling versus composting, let’s go over some facts you should know about antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
“It’s found in all soil,” McAllister explains. “Antibiotic resistance has always existed. Antibiotics are produced by many bacteria to protect themselves from other bacteria, and those bacteria need to be resistant to their own antibiotics or they will harm themselves. The populations they are defending themselves against also become resistant over time. These bacteria are found in the soil, inside animals such as cattle and in many other environments.”
So, whether or not antibiotics are added to an animal’s diet, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be found in that animal’s digestive tract and in its manure. Resistance is a fact, and it’s only a matter of when it develops, in which bacteria and under what circumstances. McAllister understands that while “it’s still a common perception that the prevalence and magnitude of antimicrobial resistance in our environment is related to feeding antimicrobials to beef cattle, we’ve actually found that in several cases, manure from cattle that were not administered antimicrobials contained higher numbers of resistance genes than manure from animals fed antimicrobials.”
The good news is that it’s not likely that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the soil, either naturally occurring or placed there through the spread of manure, pose a significant risk to human health. For that, McAllister says they would have to exchange DNA with other bacteria that could cause human infections, and that would be difficult since most human pathogens don’t survive outside the human environment, or survive for long.
“So there would have to be pathogens present, DNA exchange and then humans would have to be directly exposed to the altered pathogens,” he says. “That’s not terribly likely.”
Composting manure involves turning long piles (windrows) at least three times over the composting period with the objective of the temperature uniformly staying at, or higher than, 131 Fahrenheit (55 Celsius) for as long a period as possible (at least 15 days desirable). Turning of compost also breaks up aggregates, increases porosity, redistributes moisture and promotes the microbial decomposition of organic matter. Stockpiling has been described as ‘passive composting,’ with manure being placed in large pyramidal piles on the ground or on a concrete pad. Stockpiled manure is not mechanically turned or mixed, leading to regions of anaerobic decomposition. Stockpiling cannot achieve the high temperatures associated with composting and results in a shorter period of internal pile heating.
McAllister’s team found that in terms of their ability to kill off pathogens and degrade antibiotic resistant genes, composting provides better results. McAllister believes farmers should definitely do one or the other.
“Stockpiling…doesn’t require any equipment other than a loader, which every farmer already has,” he notes. “So stockpiling is a no-brainer for manure management. Letting manure sit at least a month should be standard practice. It also has the economic advantage of lowering the volume of manure that needs to be delivered to the field.”
Composting has more costs, he says, but can be worthwhile.
“There are investments needed in capital equipment costs, and in ongoing time and labour, but if you have a market nearby, a big city where you can sell composted manure for a good price, you can potentially make an ongoing profit.” [See sidebar for more]
Composting or stockpiling aside, another matter of individual choice is deciding whether to spread your manure on your fields. Spreading it certainly won’t add to the prevalence of antibiotic resistance that is already found in the soil, but McAllister says it doesn’t always make sense financially.
“You are adding organic matter when you spread your manure, but manure is high in phosphorus, so likely you will have to add N anyway in a separate spreading to balance out the N-P ratio,” he explains. “So, sometimes it’s easier for farmers to just use chemical fertilizer instead of manure. It’s each producer’s decision.”
And if you are wondering about what’s occurring with antibiotics added to animal feed that could impact human health, McAllister can also provide an update on that.
“Some antibiotics are already considered not safe to include in feed and regulations are in place and followed to prevent this practice, but we need more studies on the antibiotics that are presently approved,” he says. “It’s not in the best interest of animals to take away those antibiotics that help them get better from an infection or protect their health. The important thing to remember – and we haven’t published too much about this – is that we’re finding that the populations of bacteria that live in the environment are different than those that live in an animal. And there are certainly many manure management and food safety practices that we can use to reduce risk to human health, and many [of these practices] are already part of best management practices.”
Markets for composted manure
Composting on a large scale can be profitable for farmers but is a full-time job, says Van Doan, agri-resource engineer at Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
“Most beef farmers are farmers first…[they compost] for the volume reduction and odor reduction. Plus, if they land-apply the composted manure, they find it’s improving their soil tilth.”
Overton Environmental Enterprises compost site manager Gerry Dubé agrees. The Winnipeg-based firm composts by-products from several large companies (such as a potato processor and the Winnipeg horse racing track) and sells it to the public, and also helps several farmers compost their own manure, from those who want to sell manure to those who want to use it on their fields to reduce or eliminate fertilizer and chemical use.
“We are trying to convince farmers that composting and spreading composted manure creates a vibrant soil biology and also sequesters carbon,” says Dubé. “They need a better understanding of the whole process and they also need an incentive from the federal government to help them transition from using large amounts of fertilizer and herbicides to this more-environmentally friendly type of farming. The incentive would fit well with the desires of the federal government to reduce carbon going into the atmosphere.”
August 12, 2016, Grand Island, NE – For years, JBS has struggled with the handling of waste material from its meatpacking plant in Grand Island. The paunch and waste have been used as fertilizer on area farm fields.
However, the application has often been met with complaints about odors, flies and spillage onto roads. Now, the company has proposed a 90-day test that looks promising. READ MORE
Bison Compost LLC produced 1.5 million pounds of compost last year from feedlot manure collected from the North Prairie Bison Ranch in North Dakota. Photo by Contributed photo
The American bison is making a comeback and a North Dakota-based, start-up company called Bison Compost LLC is hoping this translates into growing sales for their teabag and bulk compost products. Their manure supplier and business partner, North Prairie Bison Ranch (NPBR), hopes it leads to reduced manure disposal costs.
After almost being hunted to extinction, the American bison, or buffalo, has become big business for some Great Plains ranches, and was recently named the National Mammal of the United States.
NPBR manages a 3000-head custom feedlot near Leeds, ND, where they raise the animals exclusively for a single customer. The feedlot is owned by Dennis Sexhus, his son, Sanford, and Keith Kakela.
Bison Compost LLC was formed in 2013 and has three partners: NPBR, Tom and Judy Duenow, and Shelley Mathison-Holmes. Although the Duenows live in Elk River, Minn., and Mathison-Holmes in Winston-Salem, NC, all have roots and past associations with the Leeds area, which is how they found each other to formalize the partnership. The company markets its products under the names ‘Buffalo Earth’ and ‘No. 2 Brew Compost Tea’ for plants.
While he has yet to sit down and crunch the numbers to calculate if composting is delivering a net financial benefit to the bison ranch, Sexhus says they have reduced their number of Frontier hydraulic-push manure spreaders from three to one because the composting process reduces their manure volume by about two-thirds.
Sexhus says NPBR’s main motivations for taking the composting route were to reduce volume, derive a potential extra income from compost sales, and to help out the environment by switching to compost from land applying raw manure. At present, he says all their raw manure is being composted, but only a portion is being sold. The rest is land applied as organic fertilizer for their cash crops until such time as the compost business builds up its distributor network to take all the compost.
“Manure management is a cost for us and is a fairly expensive part of the feedlot business to properly dispose of the manure,” says Sexhus. “We were motivated by trying to turn what was really a liability for us into an asset.”
However, he has a realistic view of the costs associated with converting raw manure into compost.
“I believe that we are benefiting, but making compost isn’t free,” Sexhus says. “This business is fairly new and our goal is to grow it into a viable business. I do know that there are savings, but there are also costs associated with it.”
Prior to the composting venture, the ranch typically stockpiled and land applied its raw manure. It is a combination of animal waste with grass, hay, straw or corn stover.
In addition to substantially reducing raw manure volume, compost also has a lot less odor, and is largely free of weed seeds, pathogens, and fly eggs. These are some of the main selling points of compost, not to mention its benefits as an organic plant food where it increases fertility, water-holding capacity, bulk density and biological properties.
Describing the manufacture of the bison compost as a “warm weather” endeavor, Sexhus says the accumulated manure from the pens is stockpiled and then put into windrows on a designated, 10-acre, drainage-controlled, composting site provided by the bison ranch next to the feedlot.
Tom Duenow says his career as a food business manager brought him considerable experience in recycling, so the idea of recycling manure into compost had some appeal to him. Also, his wife, Judy, had a strong connection to the North Prairie area of North Dakota, having grown up within a couple of miles of the NPBR feedlot. Her family had close family connections with the bison ranch’s owners. Judy also had experience as a business partner with Dennis Sexhus, raising bison in the 1990s before selling out when prices went south.
“I started a conversation with Dennis about the possibility of composting and we just rolled it back and forth for a year or two,” says Duenow. “In 2013, we decided to create a partnership and start composting the bison manure.”
Mathison-Holmes spends a lot of time in North Dakota and is a strong advocate for women becoming more involved in business. Her family comes from Fargo. She was interested in becoming involved in a recycling business that created value-added end products like compost. In fact, she started a venture in manufacturing and marketing bison compost but lost her source of manure. So she reached out to the Duenows and became part of the Bison Compost partnership.
The owners did not have a lot of experience manufacturing premium quality compost, so they turned to the U.S. Composting Council and the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension service for technical assistance. They credit individuals like NDSU livestock environmental specialist Mary Berg with providing great and ongoing assistance in helping to launch their business venture.
Using an excavator, dozer, and front-end loader from the ranch, the feedlot manure is piled into 200-foot-long windrows on the composting site that are 12-feet wide and 8-feet tall. The site has enough room for 15 windrows as well as room for expansion. Temperature is the critical benchmark measured when manufacturing compost and it is measured frequently. The piles are allowed to heat up to 160 Fahrenheit three times. Each time it reaches that temperature, a Vermeer CT612 compost turner – owned by Bison Compost – turns the piles. After turning, the piles cool down then heat up again. The heat is generated by the microbes within the windrows doing their job of converting the manure into compost.
“I like to say that it is kind of a natural pasteurization process,” says Duenow, adding this is how and when the toxins, fly eggs and weed seeds are destroyed.
After turning three times and the heat stabilizes at a lower temperature, the compost piles cure for four weeks. The entire process takes between two and three months.
The black compost is screened to 3/8-inch consistency through a screener supplied by PowerScreen – located in Rogers, Minn. – before being sold in bulk or loaded in small quantities into teabags. Because of the seasonality of compost production, the company rents the screener once it has a large amount of compost accumulated. Timing the production of compost to stockpile for the entire year is an important part of the planning and marketing process as no compost is produced during the winter yet there may be demand for compost from plant enthusiasts.
What Mathison-Holmes brought to the business was the concept of a unique ‘teabag’ compost gardening product. This is a small amount of compost packaged in a teabag. It is dipped in water for about 24 hours and during this steeping process, the compost nutrients are released and ready to use as organic plant fertilizer.
While Bison Compost LLC is still in its infancy, Duenow says the owners have already learned some important marketing lessons. Perhaps the most important is the decision to sell their bagger and focus on selling large quantities of the bulk product to other companies who then bag it under the Buffalo Earth name. Part of the challenge they face is being situated in North Dakota, which is quite some distance to market with a limited labor pool. That’s why for now, the company has focused on marketing its compost in bulk both locally and over longer distances as well as marketing it in smaller, more manageable quantities as the No. 2 Compost Tea product.
In addition to giving the environment a hand-up by converting the raw manure to compost, Bison Compost is also providing much needed employment for a local organization that works with handicapped individuals. They have the contract to package the No. 2 Compost Tea product.
The Duenows and Mathison-Holmes continue to work hard on the marketing front to attract interest outside their local area, and so far, their marketing strategy has worked out quite well. They have sold a large volume of compost to a landscape products company in Minot, ND, which is blending it to create potting mix and garden mix for its customers. Bison Compost also has nursery and garden distributors established in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Northern Iowa, as well as a distributorship established for six states around New York.
Last year, the company produced about 1.5 million pounds of compost. Duenow says they generated about $30,000 in sales and they hope to double that amount this year as well as make good progress on establishing a national market particularly for the teabag product. Their target audience is nursery owners, gardeners, individuals involved in soil remediation and reclamation, as well as gardening enthusiasts.
While there is no difference in the process of manufacturing compost from bison manure or cattle manure, Duenow says they are hoping to leverage their sales to some extent on the growing profile of the American bison itself. They are also hitching their wagon to the green movement, promoting their product as a natural alternative to commercial fertilizer, from a source where the animals are raised without hormones or antibiotics.
To support the start-up, Bison Compost received a $135,000 grant from the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission, and Duenow says a considerable amount is being used in their ongoing marketing efforts.
“Our name and our product are really gaining more and more interest,” he adds. “It is so much fun to go to shows like Pride of North Dakota and have people come back again and buy our product.”
July 15, 2016, Fairfield County, OH – After years of hauling liquid manure from their Fairfield County beef operation, Robert and Andy Wolfinger decided they needed to do something different to spread their nutrients over more ground.
“We talked to our agronomist and he had a friend who had started composting. We went to see him and see what we had to do to get in the business. We had the manure and we had trouble getting enough places to haul it every year close enough to home,” Robert Wolfinger said. READ MORE
June 7, 2016, Dundee, OH — Welcome to the manure fortress, said Tim Sigrist, stretching his arms to show off three acres of composting manure. What started as trial and error and homemade contraptions, continues to be trial and error and homemade contraptions, but has become a successful business venture for the Sigrist family.
Bull Country Compost, in Tuscarawas County, sold 44,000 bags of compost in 2015, which is a significant jump from the 10,000 to 12,000 bags they sold their first year back in the early 1990s. READ MORE
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Wisconsin Farm Technology Days 2017Tue Jul 11, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Manure Science Review 2017Wed Aug 02, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Iowa Manure Calibration & Distribution Field DayFri Aug 04, 2017 @ 1:00PM - 05:00PM
Empire Farm Days 2017Tue Aug 08, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
Dakotafest 2017Tue Aug 15, 2017 @ 8:00AM - 05:00PM
AgSource Laboratories Anniversary Celebration Open HouseWed Aug 16, 2017 @ 2:00PM - 05:00PM