Waste produces softer cattle bedding

Computer system maintains consistency | Separating solids from liquids helps dairy farmers reduce costs and labour

A growing number of dairy farms are investing in manure handling equipment that separates liquids from solids with the goal of reducing costs.

Ed Vandenburg, who has a 90-cow operation near Lethbridge, installed a fan separator system this summer that has now been running for just over a week in his new dairy barn.

He showed the system Oct. 3 to a group participating in a County of Lethbridge sustainable agriculture tour.

Manure is pumped out of the barn to an adjacent room equipped with an overhead fan separator that extracts roughly 60 percent of the liquid. The “juice” runs into the lagoon system and the solids are used for cattle bedding back in the barn.

A computer system maintains consistent moisture levels in the dry material.

“Basically, these solid liquid separators, they’re a bonus for sure, because now Ed can be out there spreading probably half as much (manure) as he was last year,” said rural extension specialist Dwayne Rogness with the County of Lethbridge.

“These guys are taking the solid manure and they’re putting it right in the bedding, so alleviating any cost for straw, for wood chips and whatnot. That’s pretty expensive.”

Vandenburg said it’s still early days for his system but he has already noticed his cows seem to like the new bedding.

“It is a little bit wetter but it’s so much softer. The cows seem to like lying in it. They are lying down a lot more.”

With sawdust at $1,600 to $1,700 per load, and with inconsistent quality, Vandenburg said he sees substantial savings from using a resource that can be recycled almost indefinitely.

Any excess dry matter can be spread on farmland or sold to other dairy producers, he said.

“I challenge you folks to grab a handful and have a look at it, because it’s amazing. It’s not what you think it would be, that’s for sure. You might want to wash your hands before eating, though,” said Rogness.

Vandenburg was able to access funds through the Growing Forward stewardship program, available to him after he completed an Environmental Farm Plan.

The machine part of the system cost about $60,000 and installation and related equipment about $10,000.

Gerrit and David Haarman of Couleeview Farms near Picture Butte, Alta., also applied for Growing Forward funding after installing their Bedding Master composter and separator unit.

Gerrit estimated the cost at $160,000 for the main unit and another $8,000 for pumps, pipes and conveyors.

The Haarmans’ system, which adds a composting element to the process, had only been up and running for a few hours as of last week.

The composting process heats the solids up to 145 F, which kills bacteria. The resulting product will be used for bedding and any excess may be sold to other producers.

“The literature says one cow produces enough bedding for two cows but I guess that varies from farm to farm,” said Gerrit Haarman.

Cost savings are the main goal, he added.

“It’s so we don’t have to purchase shavings. It’s expensive and inconsistent. That’s what we’ve had lately, is you get a load of nice fine dry stuff and the next load isn’t.

“A dream is to be able to pump the liquid portion through the irrigation system. We’re not there yet but that’s coming and that will reduce all the costs.”

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