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CowPots: Creating a value-added product out of manure

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty Published on 05 May 2015

Almost seven years ago, Progressive Dairyman told its readers about a new, biodegradable pot being produced by Freund’s Farm in East Canaan, Connecticut. They called them CowPots.

CowPots spread to 27 states within the first three years of their marketing campaign and was featured on Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, the Larry King Show, the Today Show, NBC News, CBS News and several radio stations. Today, the pots have made it all across the U.S., as well as into Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom.

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Since Matt Freund and his family launched them in 2006, he has continued to play around with the size and shape of the pot. Today, CowPots come in 12 different shapes and sizes, ranging from a 3-inch, six-cell flat to a 17-inch round pot. Quality is a priority, and pots that are not up to par are either used in their greenhouse or added to the cows’ bedding.

In spite of the pots’ success, they remain secondary to their 275-cow dairy. Dairy farming is their occupation, and producing milk is their focus. They are, however, adamant that they want to digest. Their current digester was built in 1997 and is not only one of the oldest, but one of the only digesters in the state. The U-shaped digester holds 67,000 gallons and is connected to an 800,000-gallon lagoon.

Matt says that everything they do with their digester could be duplicated on any other dairy farm in the world. The manure is not treated in any special way for the pots.

However, Matt’s daughter Amanda Freund points out that while they may handle the manure similarly to other dairies, they react to some problems differently. One example of this took place last summer when they ran short on manure.

“One of the items that we face as a result of having CowPots production on our farm, which we respond and react to it a little differently than another dairy farm would, is the bedding,” Amanda says.

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“During the winter, our cows are in the barn. During the summer, our cows are on pasture, so the amount of manure that’s being left in the barn varies a lot by season. When we can, we’re bedding with composted manure because then it’s a full 100-percent recycled product, and what we’re getting as an end result for CowPots is much more consistent. Using sand or straw or newspaper – those actually become a lot more complicated, not just for maintenance of this digester, but because we’ve got a value-added product that we need to maintain quality on. We at one point during the summer were running short on manure because we were producing CowPots 24 hours a day. We actually substituted with grass that we had harvested from out field, and we were ending up with really big fibers in our CowsPots and that’s a problem.”

As a result of changing their bedding to grass, they had six people sanding the pots, which was a major labor cost.

But, as Matt says, this is all still a learning process for them.

“We are learning as we go, and when that sort of thing happens, we do come back and talk to the team, and you say, ‘This has been a real problem for us. Can we do something different?’” Matt says. “But we don’t go outside the realm of what would be acceptable on most dairies. We’re not looking for a special anything; we just need something that’s fairly consistent.”

Originally a kitchen experiment using his wife’s toaster oven, Matt’s vision has progressed considerably since 2006 and he isn’t done yet. He plans to continue expanding the business and experimenting with new pot sizes, although maybe he’ll use the factory this time instead of his wife’s kitchen. PD

Read Progressive Dairyman's 2008 article on CowPots.

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