DEWITTVILLE - Farmers are a resourceful people.
Even something as offputting and unpleasant to deal with as cow manure can have a practical use on a dairy farm - and if that is the case, those dairy farmers will find it.
Recently at Country Ayre Farm in Dewittville, GEA Farm Technologies Inc. hosted a demonstration of a state-of-the-art manure-separation system by Quebec-based company Houle. The machine is designed to extract liquid material from the waste and leave the farm with a solid product that can be reused in a variety of ways.
P-J photo by Dave Emke
Manure that has been repurposed as green bedding material falls from a conveyor belt onto a pile at Country Ayre Farm in Dewittville during a recent demonstration of a manure-separation system by Quebec-based company Houle. Houle is a division of GEA Farm Technologies.
Richard Kimball, one of the members of the Country Ayre's LLC and host for the event, said his farm plans to use repurposed manure as bedding for the cows. Each of the 600 milking cows on Kimball's farm will produce nearly three cubic feet of manure on a daily basis, estimated Don Bunke, North America sales manager for GEA Farm Technologies - Houle.
''With this equipment, we're taking what is normally looked at as a problem on a dairy - manure - and looking at it as a resource,'' Bunke said. ''For instance, it can be used as bedding on that same dairy, or it can be taken offsite - used as compost at nurseries, places like that. They can use this extracted fiber.''
The demonstration was organized by Southern Tier Dairy Service, which contacted the Quebec-based company and made arrangements for it to come to Dewittville and meet with local farmers.
Brian Carlson, dairy equipment sales representative, said that manure-separation machines are still a rarity in this area. However, he said, it is an idea that is gaining popularity among larger dairy operations.
''The nice thing is, it doesn't even smell like manure anymore,'' he said of the bedding. ''Some dairy farmers are actually selling the excess of this for mulch, and what a great concept - some extra income.''
SOLID FROM LIQUID
The process works, Bunke explained, by feeding manure into the separation machine instead of into a manure spreader.
A twin-piston pump controls the volume of manure that enters the machine at any one time, Bunke said, maintaining a constant flow. It feeds a horizontal separator, which takes the high water content out the manure and moves the bulk of the solid content onward.
A cascading roller-press system completes the process. An upper roller squeezes the fiber against the lower roller, which is a screen that allows the remaining liquid to be pressed out and into the storage pit.
In the end, approximately 30 to 35 percent of the manure that was dumped into the machine comes off the conveyor belt as dry-matter product that can be reused. The rest is nutrient-rich liquid that eventually ends up being used as fertilizer.
''We will produce about one cubic foot of this fiber per cow, per day,'' Bunke said.
The machine runs on extremely low horsepower, Bunke said, and focuses upon steady and gradual compression of the manure.
''It's not about how fast you do it - it's about how dry you get it,'' he said.
Once the farm has a manure-separation system up and operating, the need to spread manure every day will be eliminated. Instead, the solid fiber will be used as bedding and the liquid waste will be drained into a lined lagoon.
''Not having to spread in the winter will be good for us,'' Kimball said. ''It's pretty hard to get out there in the winter.''
Kimball said that Country Ayre Farm currently spends upward of $1,500 a month in bedding for the cows - a combination of gypsum, sawdust and lime - and the new ''green'' bedding will be both better for the cows and better for their farm's bottom line.
''Bedding can be very hard to get, and we just went up $400 a load with the fuel,'' Kimball said. ''This will give us a more consistent supply of bedding.''
Kimball said the project on the farm to install the five million-gallon lagoon was funded in part by the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of the National Resources Conservation Services. He said the state of New York also provided a grant for the project.
The project to dig the lagoon was begun in November, he said, and the lining was finished about two months ago. When it is put into use, the liquid waste inside will need to be drained about once every six months.
The concentrated nutrients that exist within the liquid runoff of the manure will be good for the soil that it will be spread upon, Kimball said.
''We'll spread in the fall, put rye on and incorporate it,'' he said. ''The rye will suck up the nutrients, and then you put the rye back in the ground in the spring after it's captured the nutrients - that'll decay and release the nutrients that way.''
Kimball said that any solid material that is not used for bedding could be used for fertilizer as well, on fields that need more organic matter.
As farmers continue to look for alternative ways to bed their cows, Bunke said, some have turned to methods such as sand. However, he said, an option such as manure is difficult to beat.
''They are realizing that there are alternatives, and that's what we are trying to establish,'' Bunke said. ''This is already here, and it regenerates itself - the longer you do it, the more of it you have.''
Kimball said that as farms look for more and more ways to save money, it makes sense to be mindful of methods that make use of renewable resources.
''It's all about recycling everything we can,'' he said.