Dairy cattle snooze on dried manure beds

Manitoba dairy producer implements new system to dry manure and use it for cattle bedding with impressive results

A new way to bed dairy cattle has producers looking at what’s beneath their feet to save money.

Recycled bedding solids, also known as dried manure, has been on the rise on the Prairies for the last few years.

Using manure as bedding may not be a producer’s first choice, but some are finding it to be effective and cost-saving.

Henry Holtmann, co-owner of Rosser Holstein Ltd. in Rosser, Man., implemented the system on his farm because he planned to bring together two herds that were housed at different locations.

The problem was that he would need to find something to do with the extra manure.

As well, he had seen the system successfully used in the United States.

“We had, you know, done a lot of visiting in the northeastern United States where a lot of these units were and, you know, we saw cows that were clean, very comfortable and it was recycling something that you had and we liked that,” said Holtmann.

He also worried that straw, which is in abundance at the moment in his area, could someday become harder to find.

He was denied funding through the Growing Forward program but went ahead anyway because he felt the project made sense financially.

It cost slightly more than $500,000, which included constructing the unit, building and pits.

Holtmann scrapes the barn three times a day and pumps the manure into a holding system, where it is constantly mixed.

The manure then goes into the separator, which is a screw press.

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The separator squeezes out the liquids, which are pumped to the lagoons. The solids are dropped into a container, which contains a rotating drum that turns slowly.

The solids will tumble in the drum for 30 to 36 hours with a constant temperature of 75 C before they are ready to use.

Holtmann said the system saves him $61,000 a year on bedding and $16,000 on the manure spreading bill.

Holtmann said cattle also lie down longer, have less abrasions and produce more milk.

He said the cows may be lying in manure, but they enjoy it and look good.

“People are always so amazed when they see the cows, how clean they are.”

Dwayne Rogness, a rural extension specialist with Lethbridge County in Alberta, has helped two farmers receive funding from the provincial government to install similar systems.

He said it’s a good option for farmers and from what he’s seen, the cows are clean and indifferent to the change of bedding.

Holtmann said research at the University of Manitoba is addressing the possibility that harmful substances might remain in the dried manure solids.

U.S. research has been positive, he added, but he wants to see Canadian studies on the subject.

Jennifer Neden, a nutrient management specialist with Alberta Agriculture who has helped producers obtain funding to install the system, said all but one of the 10 to 12 producers she has worked with have seen decreases in their somatic cell count.

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Holtmann said one problem with the system is that the lagoons now produce more odour.

A lack of solids in the lagoons means the crust that usually forms on top is gone and the odour can escape.

Neden said she has also heard of this problem from Alberta producers.

“One dairy producer said, ‘it’s almost as bad as hog manure,’ ” she said.

Funding is available from all three prairie provinces for this type of system.

In Saskatchewan, the manure storage enhancement best management practice under the Growing Forward 2’s farm stewardship program provides up to 30 percent of eligible costs to a maximum of $50,000.

In Alberta, producers can receive a 50-50 cost share grant with a cap of $50,000 under Growing Forward 2’s confined feeding operations stewardship program.

In Manitoba, producers can receive up to 65 percent of eligible costs to a cap of $375,000 under the Growing Assurance–Environment program.

Qualifications differ from province to province, so a producer’s best bet is to check out the province’s website for more information.

taryn.riemer@producer.com

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