December 29, 2009
Down on the Farm, an Endless Cycle of Waste
By HENRY FOUNTAIN
GUSTINE, Tex. — Day and night, a huge contraption prowls the grounds at Frank Volleman’s dairy in Central Texas. It has a 3,000-gallon tank, a heavy-duty vacuum pump and hoses and, underneath, adjustable blades that scrape the surface as it passes along.
In function it is something like a Zamboni, but one that has crossed over to the dark side. This is no hockey rink, and it’s not loose ice being scraped up. It’s cow manure.
Lots of cow manure. A typical lactating Holstein produces about 150 pounds of waste — by weight, about two-thirds wet feces, one-third urine — each day. Mr. Volleman has 3,000 lactating Holsteins and another 1,000 that are temporarily “dry.” Do the math: his Wildcat Dairy produces about 200 million pounds of manure every year.
Proper handling of this material is one of the most important tasks faced by a dairy operator, or by a cattle feedlot owner, hog producer or other farmer with large numbers of livestock. Manure has to be handled in an environmentally acceptable way and at an acceptable cost. In most cases, that means using it, fresh or composted, as fertilizer. “It’s a great resource, if used properly,” said Saqib Mukhtar, an associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Texas A & M University and an expert on what is politely called manure management. Read More
Most people don’t realize how much effort is put in to correctly handling the valuable nutrients that are obtained from livestock. It seems many get the impression that farmers and ranchers haphazardly handle the manure. The fact of the matter is that the system’s being used have been designed by engineers and approved by various government agencies. Along with that, the operators have every incentive to make sure everything is being done right. If you haven’t been around a nutrient handling system, I would encourage you to do so. It really helps you understand the full relationship of plants, livestock and food.