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Manure

See what farms are using for nutrient management, from anaerobic digesters and storage to field application and emissions.

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What started out as a small, high interest conference, National Compost Dairy-Barn Conference, for dairymen quickly burgeoned into an international group with wide-ranging interest in composting in dairy barns. More than 150 attendees participated.

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A well-designed manure storage facility must also be well managed to prevent environmental concerns from developing. Probably the single most important requirement in operating and maintaining a manure storage facility is to ensure that the facility does not overflow or discharge. Discharges from manure storage facilities may violate local, state or federal regulations, result in large fines or penalties and, at the very least, represent a potential environmental hazard.

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For the management team at Top Deck Holsteins, the idea of putting in a digester with the help of Alliant Energy, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University Extension ended up being a no-brainer. It provided a way to reduce odors, and now waste heat from the system has been used to maintain the mesophilic temperatures of the digester while a heat loop to the milking parlor preheats water and heats the inside of the parlor in the winter. From the outset it seemed like a winning situation, and in every respect it was. What has happened since has become the icing on an ever-growing big brown cake to the side of the digester . . .

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It began just over 10 years ago as a way for local dairyman John Reitsma to deal with an excess of manure and nutrients his herd was producing. With its humble beginning in Jerome, Idaho, Magic Valley Compost has grown to become one of the largest composting companies in the nation. In 2004, the original company was bought out by a group of agriculture businessmen operating as Healthy Earth Enterprises, LLC. Its operations now work with sixteen dairies contributing to 39 compost yards throughout the Magic Valley in south-central Idaho.

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Earlier this year, I spent several hours with Rejean Houle, president of US Farm Systems, in Tulare, California. In addition to telling me about his system for separating manure solids for creating bedding, he answered a few questions I posed to him regarding manure management, bedding and nutrient disposal. Portions of my conversation with Rejean follow.

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Manure is an inevitable byproduct of the production of meat and milk destined for human consumption. Excessive excretion of manure and manure nutrients represents inefficiencies that increase feed costs, increase the environmental impact of dairy farming and increase costs associated with moving and storing manure. Profitability often can be enhanced when feeding and management practices are used that reduce manure production per unit of milk produced. Furthermore, good environmental stewardship will maintain the generally positive public image of dairy farming.

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