Dairy farmers are cooking up something new—with their cow’s poo. Unpleasant to the nose, but a resource rich in crop nutrients, producers are seeking innovative methods to process manure and protect the environment. Eager to spread the word, Michigan State University Extension and the Clinton County Conservation District hosted Michigan Innovations in Agriculture’s 2015 tour to bring farmers in contact with new technologies and innovative practices.
The What’s New With Poo tour trekked across mid-Michigan on August 18 to four innovative dairy farms. The four MMPA member farms—Double Eagle Dairy, Nobis Dairy, Dutch Meadow Farms and Vanderploeg Holsteins—welcomed fellow livestock farmers to their operations to showcase their practices.
“There are innovative practices being used locally and it’s important for all livestock farmers to see firsthand the practices being used by other farmers and to start thinking about what practices they could utilize on their operation to make better use of manure nutrients and help protect the environment. Each of these farms is an indication of farmers trying to make their farm more sustainable,” MSU Extension Senior Educator Jerry May acknowledges.
Innovation at Double Eagle Dairy
Nestled in the center of the Lower Peninsula, in a town aptly named Middleton, Double Eagle Dairy touts a 3,500 cow dairy and a 72 stall rotary parlor. After undergoing an expansion in 2005, the operation is now in the process of completing a sand separation and manure processing center. The system maximizes sand recycling, separates manure solids and nutrient components and minimizes manure application costs. And all the while, this newly implemented system is reducing environmental risk.
With a large herd and lactating cows producing around 150 pounds of manure per day, there’s no shortage of manure at Double Eagle Dairy. Approximately every 40 minutes, a truck equipped with a vacuum collects manure and brings it to be processed by the system. First, the manure is moved across a channel by two augers allowing the sand to settle out and move into the center’s sand separator and washers. Once the sand is cleaned, it is ready to be recycled back into the cow’s freestalls.
The remaining liquid manure is moved through a series of presses and filters designed to separate out the larger manure solids. These separated solids are conveyed to a stacking slab behind the processing center where they are stored until they can be land applied. During the tour in mid-August the rest of the processing center was still under construction. Once the center is complete, chemical polymers, fine screen filters and a reverse osmosis system will remove the remaining solid particles and nutrients resulting in nearly clean water for irrigation.
Separating manure constituents allows dairy farms to reap multiple benefits from a resource they are already managing. The system allows for farm expansion, environmental protection, monetary savings, optimized reuse of nutrients and water recovery.
The Wellers at Double Eagle Dairy aren’t the only ones maximizing their manure. A few miles south at Dutch Meadows Dairy, Tony Jandernoa is working to incorporate cover crops into a cropping system with manure as the main source of nutrients.
Another farm, Vanderploeg Holsteins, processes their manure by first separating liquids and solids. Once the solids are isolated, they are moved through two drums and then stored in a hoop structure and later recycle back as bedding. And Nobis Dairy has built up an array of sustainable practices including the implementation of harvestable buffers. Around the property, over 60 acres of harvestable grass buffers have been established along the ditches that traverse the farm. These buffers help retain nutrients, control erosion and protect surface water all while providing a feed resource for the farm’s dairy herd.
“We’re fortune in the Gratiot county and Clinton county areas to have these four farms currently using rather unique practices. When we can show farmers what others are doing, we can get them to start thinking about what they can do on their farm. Every farm will be somewhat different, but there is a solution for everyone.”
Michigan Innovations in Agriculture is a partnership between the Clinton and Gratiot County MSU Extension offices and the Clinton County Conservation District. Michigan Innovations in Agriculture is intended to be a resource of timely information for farmers. Extensive educational information about the What’s New With Poo tour is available on their website.
This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger.