Livestock water recycling system breaks down manure and produces water that can be used for on-farm jobs
Imagine pouring thousands of litres of soupy manure through a series of filters and generating clean, clear water.
It is the premise of Livestock Water Recycling, a Calgary company that has sold its patented units to dairy and hog farms in Canada and the United States.
Milking parlour technology has advanced over the years, but manure management has not kept up, says Ross Thurston, the company’s chief executive officer.
There is plenty of manure on the average livestock operation, and government regulations stipulate how it must be removed, stored and eventually returned to the land.
A 2013 Alberta Agriculture study that focused on dairy farms discovered that an individual cow may produce as little as 2,000 litres to more than 80,000 litres of manure a year.
It is eventually removed from barns, sent to a lagoon and spread on farmland.
There is plenty of bulk in manure to add organic material to the soil, but phosphorus and nitrogen may not be applied at the right amounts.
Under current practices, manure leaves the barn and sits in storage for several months. This allows the ammonia to “degas” from the manure, which loses up to 70 percent of the manure’s nitrogen value.
As well, some operations are running out of land while others want a more environmentally friendly solution.
Land shortages and water pollution are a greater issue for American dairies, where more than 2,000 cows per dairy are common. American farms have fewer options when it comes to getting rid of waste. They also need more water.
“They run into operational issues because the cows don’t stop making manure,” Thurston said.
Some units have been sold in Canada, but most of the business has been with large dairies in New York, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin. These states are confronted with the problem of runoff into the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and smaller lakes and streams.
The company has been working on waste-water treatment since 1990, but it was not until about 2005 that thoughts turned to manure.
“There are lots of devices out there for an astronomical cost. We had to make something that was customer friendly,” Thurston said.
Plumbers, engineers and welders custom build each unit in a southeast Calgary industrial area.
“The system is a standard. The process we developed is different every time because each manure has its own type of solids and its own type of electrolytes,” he said.
“We set up our chemistry around those things.”
The system requires 6,000 to 10,000 sq. feet of space and eliminates the need for new lagoons.
“It eliminates the need for 2,000 acres of land,” Thurston said.
“If you are going to have a big dairy in the U.S., you have to own or control the land that you are going to take your manure to.”
The entire unit, which includes filters, pipes and a hopper to receive manure, can be producing clean water within two hours of installation.
The filters separate solid components, including phosphorus and nitrogen, which won’t run off into water bodies when applied to fields.
In the first step, the effluent from the barn is pumped into an equalization tank and then pumped into the system, where it is filtered through a series of self cleaning membranes, where finer and finer particles are removed at each stage.
Pathogens cannot pass through the membranes, and elements such as ammonia are converted to ammonium so that the salt stays in the fertilizer rather than volatilize from the land.
“That is a big problem with manure value,” Thurston said.
“You lose all your nitrogen that is the ammonia form because it comes off when you apply it. We capture it.”
The process also reduces odour which will improve neighbour relations and create a more pleasant work environment for employees.
“We have the capacity to deal with the organics, we can deal with the salt levels that are in manure,” he said.
“That is a critical feature of what we have developed here.”
Seventy-five percent of the separated material comes back as clean water, which can be used to wash barns and animals or go into irrigation systems.
The system is computerized and can be operated off site with an iPad.
This is particularly useful for remote problem solving, he added.
For more information on how the system works, see livestockwaterrecycling.com/page/the-system.