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Manure management: 10 questions before you invest

Jeramy Sanford Published on 29 August 2014
examining manure

When designing a new building or retrofitting an existing facility, there are boundless questions that have to be thought through and answered.

One of the many areas, and one that I would argue is the most crucial, is the manure management system.

Discussing manure management strategies from the start can prevent future issues that may cause problems down the road. Additionally, it can pay dividends to an operation’s long-term bottom line as manure management plays an integral role in the entire dairy operation. Consider the following questions prior to investing.

1. What material would you like to use as bedding?
The first thing that must be determined is what type of bedding material you’d like to use. Don’t feel stuck with the bedding material currently used; consider new bedding options and which materials provide the best cow comfort, economic balance and long-term benefits.

Selecting bedding is important as bedding has a direct impact on many aspects of manure management.

manure separator

2. Do you need a separation system?
Hand-in-hand with bedding choice is the option of solid separation. Decide if you’d like to separate your solids and the complexity of which those solids should be separated.

If the goal is to bed with sand, the separation system will be significantly different than if you choose to bed with manure solids.

A manure separation system is designed with specific goals: Are we trying to clean up water for flushing, produce a solid material suitable for bedding or wanting to concentrate nutrients in the solids?

Additionally, separating manure solids may help qualify for air quality or other best management practices for odour control.

3. Does it make sense to capture fibre solids?
In conjunction with determining if a separation system is a fit, consider if capturing fibre from the manure makes sense. Herd size will play a factor in this decision, as the larger the herd size, the more economical this investment is.

When it comes to capturing fibre, it is important to understand the terminology. Confusion arises from industry terms such as percent moisture, percent dry matter, percent solids and total dissolved solids. Percent solids will give you a good indication of how many solids may be removed from the manure.

Consider particle size of the solids you would like to collect. If you are using the solids as bedding, you want larger particles to create better bedding.

4. How much bedding will you need vs. what is available for capture?
Regardless of bedding material, a herd will typically utilize one-half cubic foot per cow per day of bedding. Consider potential for herd expansion, heifer and dry cow facilities, and overflow when calculating potential bedding material required for the facility.

5. How much water do you have available?
Water availability is a key component when determining the level of separation a dairy needs. In a typical operation, approximately 1 to 2 cubic feet of water per cow per day comes from the parlour washwater or other areas that can be utilized to flush manure and separate it.

Don’t forget about cow cooling, hoof baths and waterer cleaning. Keep in mind that sand separation will require more water than manure solid separation.

Different operations are willing to re-utilize water more than others. Spend a few minutes to ensure that all water sources are utilized as effectively and as many times as possible.

6. What are the current or impending regulations in your area?
Water continues to be a fairly unregulated resource in Canada, but that could change in the future. Consider any regulations that might be coming down the pipeline and how possible restrictions could impact your future water availability. Various regulations can greatly impact your water usage calculations.

If water quality is a concern for specific soil types, a dairy can put in a manure management system with advanced separation that can include a centrifuge with a polymer addition and further filtration steps that will allow a portion of the manure stream to become dischargeable.

Make sure to design the system to accept new technologies and regulations.

7. How will you apply manure to your field?
Take into consideration how and when you would like to apply manure to your fields. Calculate hauling distance, amount of hauling required, cost to haul the manure and availability of land to apply manure.

A manure management system should be an integral part of the cropping system to make maximum use of all the nutrients and benefits of manure.

There are many different methods to apply nutrients to the field. Are there technologies, like tank or drag hose injection, that would be a fit? Injecting manure has shown to reduce nitrogen loss, reducing purchased fertilizer cost.

Consider if opportunities exist to generate revenue by selling separated solids or custom-applying manure.

8. How, when and who will collect manure on the dairy?
Many options exist to collect manure on the dairy. Will you use alley scrapers, a flush system, skid loaders or vacuum tanks?

Alley scrapers and flush systems are beneficial because there is no operator required. If you’re looking at a flush system, consider how many cows you have or will have, maximum water needed and the storage required to hold the liquids that would be used for flushing.

Keep in mind when manure would need to be removed, bedding schedules, stall grooming and maintenance, and how these factors correlate with the cows’ schedule.

Labour is always a concern, and different manure management systems require different levels of management. The amount of labour needed ties back to bedding choice, too.

For example, if you elect to bed with sand and put in a sand reclamation lane, you’ll need someone to scoop the sand out of the sand recovery area and manage the stacking of the reclaimed sand on a daily basis.

9. What are the slope and site conditions of the land your farm is built on or will be built on?
The slope of the ground can play an important role in manure management. Depending on bedding choice, systems can be designed with the site slope to reduce labour and equipment surrounding manure management.

Special geologic conditions such as seasonal water table or bedrock may limit pit depths and will play a role in system design.

10. Are there climate considerations that must be made?
Depending on where your operation is located, considerations may need to be made for climate conditions throughout the year.

The climate may also impact barn design in addition to the manure management system. Cold weather freezes manure just like water, and sun exposure will dry material on screens and evaporate water from storage systems.

Extra bedding storage must be included for weather or road weight restrictions. In addition, load limits on the road may require some operations to stockpile heavy material such as sand or manure solids before the spring months arrive.

Before you invest
Make sure to ask the hard questions and determine what makes the most sense for your operation, today and in the future, before moving the first pile of dirt.

These considerations are just a handful of questions that need to be evaluated when investing in a manure management system. Bring a team of experts you trust to the table to help you make the optimal plan for your operation.

Ask yourself, your team and your industry partners the tough questions in the beginning in order to prevent potential issues in the future.  PD

PHOTOS
PHOTO 1: When determining if a separation system is a fit for your operation, consider if capturing fibre from the manure makes sense.

PHOTO 2: A manure separation system is designed with specific goals; are we trying to clean up water for flushing, produce a solid material suitable for bedding or wanting to concentrate nutrients in the solids? Photos courtesy of GEA Farm Technologies.

Jeramy Sanford
  • Jeramy Sanford
  • Field Manager and Manure Specialist
  • GEA Farm Technologies

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