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Laurelbrook Farm: Controlling smell through compost

Progressive Dairyman Editor Jenna Hurty Published on 15 May 2015

manure compost

When Bobby Jacquier’s grandfather Robert Jacquier first established Laurelbrook Farm in 1948 in East Canaan, Connecticut, the area was an excellent place for a budding dairy farm.

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Over the years, however, the operation has not only faced the challenges of an expanding business but an expanding local population and increased regulations as well. To meet these challenges, the Jacquiers have taken a somewhat unusual route: compost.

Laurelbrook Farm is a 1,100-cow dairy operated by Bobby Jacquier, his brother, Cricket, and their father, Peter. Bobby and his brother are the third generation to operate the dairy, and their children will be the fourth.

In the late 1980s, Laurelbrook and the seven other dairies in the Canaan Valley started a manure co-op in an effort to be proactive about environmental issues. All of the dairies involved had a river that ran through their property, and they knew they would be monitored closely.

Today, only four of the dairies in the co-op are still in operation, but this progressive thinking and problem solving has helped Laurelbrook Farm onto the forward-thinking path it follows today.

The Jacquiers are only able to spread manure on a few of the 2,600 acres that they farm. The acreage is spread out across four different satellite farms that they rent or own. Some of these farms are 25 to 30 miles from the dairy, making hauling manure to them uneconomical even if it was allowed.

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Additionally, some of their farms are high in phosphorus and other nutrients from years of manure application. Moving it off of the farm is therefore important to their nutrient management program.

Knowing they would have future generations wanting to join the dairy, they grew the dairy to the size it is now, making it large enough to employ the additional family members. With more cows comes more manure, which only increased the need for a well-managed manure program.

Composting their manure and selling it to homeowners, landscapers and nursery people was what enabled them to do this. Although the farm’s location adds challenges, it is not without its benefits.

“This area is a bedroom to New York City,” Bobby says. “There’s quite a bit of Wall Street money, so they like that organic, that natural [product]. If it’s a little better than what their neighbor’s yard looks like, then they’re happier.

They don’t care what the cost is. We really do pretty well being in the location that we are. It hinders the farming aspect a little bit because of our odors and stuff like that; we have to be careful and be sensitive to what the neighbors are doing, but that’s certainly helping us in that business.”

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Initially, the Jacquiers started by sending their manure through a separator to separate the solids and the liquids. Between 2008 and 2009, they built facilities for composting the manure indoors to contain any runoff from the manure. This zero-runoff facility is what enables them to be CAFO-compliant.

“We started with the manure separator, just trying to come up with the solids and that type of thing, and thought maybe we could turn some of that into some compost and play with that portion and get some nutrients off,” Cricket says.

“Then it’s kind of really grown from there into something much larger, obviously indoor composting and all that type of thing. Once we started looking at working with the composting and DEP and grants and the manure co-op, the whole idea of indoor composting in a zero-runoff facility was the attraction and kind of where we needed to go.”

Composting the manure is about a 10-week active process with five to six months of curing afterwards. There is about a 50 percent volume reduction from this process and a 100 percent pathogen and weed seed kill.

Before being sold, the compost is screened to eliminate any trash, wood or a syringe that accidently ended up in it. They produce both solid blend and compost mulch products, all of which are sold in bulk. In total, they produce 12,000 to 14,000 yards per year. Bobby says that it is sold as soon as it hits the ground with no advertising on their part.

To help them be more efficient at handling the compost and further diversify their operation, they bought a sand and gravel operation a couple of years ago. This provided them with the equipment necessary to efficiently screen and haul the compost.

As long as there is rock left to mine on that land, they have sand and gravel to sell to customers as well. Their long-term plan is to reclaim the ground once it has been mined and use it for another barn and additional cropland for the dairy.

They have considered installing a digester instead of composting since that would also eliminate the smell, which is their biggest challenge. However, the project is not feasible for them at this point simply because they cannot make the math work, since Connecticut does not currently offer any subsidies for it.

For now, composting the manure is their best option. Not only does it solve the issues of smell, help with their nutrient management program and give them another facet to their dairy operation, but it has been an excellent public relations opportunity as well.

Their neighbors know and see what they’re doing, and they appreciate their effort. Additionally, they often have people who would not normally set foot on a dairy coming to the farm to pick up compost. While they’re on the operation, they can see how well the Jacquiers care for their land and their animals. PD

Click here to read how Laurelbrook Farm raises calves to produce 100-pound milk average later in life.

PHOTO
For now, composting the manure is their best option. Not only does it solve the issues of smell, help with their nutrient management program and give them another facet to their dairy operation, but it has been an excellent public relations opportunity as well. Photos by Jenna Hurty.

jenna hurty

Jenna Hurty
Editor
Progressive Dairyman


Composting process

1. Alley scrapers center-dump all of the manure in the barn, which is then sent to the main collection pit.

2. Manure is run through a screw press separator to separate the liquids from the solids. The solids are collected and sent to the compost pit, and the liquids are centrifuged to clarify the water even further. This also removes even more of the phosphorus from the liquid waste.

Any solids separated out are also sent to the compost facility, while the liquid waste is then sent to the slurry storage manure tank and used as land-applied fertilizer to the cropland they are able to spread it on.

3. Waste corn silage, bedpack and any other organic waste are also added to the compost pile. They use sawdust bedding because not only can it be composted, but it also adds carbon, which improves the nutrient content of the compost. They also collect the cafeteria waste from two prep schools in the area and add that to the compost free of charge.

4. This is all dumped in the first of the four buildings used for this process.

5. The compost materials are mixed and moved to the next building, where they are put into windrows and aerated in the process.

6. Over the next eight to 10 weeks (variation based on time of year), the compost is turned 11 times. They keep the manure between 130ºF and 150ºF. The compost should not climb above 150ºF; otherwise, the good microbes will start to die off. The compost is moved from the second to the third building during this process.

7. Once this is done, the compost sits in the fourth building and cures for five to six months to finish it.

8. Before being sold, the compost is all run through a screen to ensure that it does not contain any garbage, wood or a stray syringe.

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