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Weighing your manure hauling options

Jeramy Sanford for Progressive Dairy Published on 11 December 2020
Spreading manure

Weather conditions. Labor availability. Field fitness. When it comes to manure hauling, these factors (and more) play into the decision to haul your own manure or hire a custom hauler.

Review everything that plays into manure hauling when making your decision.

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Labor availability

Labor plays a major role in your decision. First, look at your farm’s available labor. Here are a few questions to ask as you evaluate:

  • Do you have enough labor to handle your manure hauling needs?

  • Is labor currently dedicated to manure hauling better used elsewhere on the farm?

  • Would another area of the farm improve if the task was reassigned?

  • Is manure hauling staff aware and comfortable with the hazards that come with applying manure? Can you provide ample training?

If the answers to those questions have you leaning toward a custom hauler, then it’s time to look at your options. Do you have custom haulers located in your area? If so, when could they fit you into their schedule?

Custom manure haulers often serve dual roles as custom harvesters. As a result, they may not be able to prioritize manure hauling until after harvest is complete. Ensure their timelines work for you, keeping in mind everything you need to accomplish after the manure is hauled, such as tillage and planting.

Application types and rates

Keep your nutrient management plan and types of manure application in mind as you make your decision.

If you plan to top-spread manure, account for tillage needs. A substantial amount of nitrogen can be lost within a few days of application. Incorporating the manure soon after hauling can optimize nutrient uptake. Other top-spreading concerns include odor and runoff.

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Some custom haulers can incorporate the manure as they spread it. This method reduces nutrient losses, odor and runoff potential, especially if the manure gets incorporated quickly. If you’re considering a custom hauler, ask them if they have applicator options.

Spreading manure

Application rates should fall in line with your nutrient management plan. Some custom haulers run flow meters to calculate the amount of manure and nutrients applied. Some manure hauling equipment can provide real-time nutrient readings. This newer technology allows you to spread at variable rates in real time. If a custom hauler has this capability, they’ll likely charge more for hauling.

Storage availability and accessibility

Manure storage also plays a role in your decision.

If you scrape and haul daily or weekly, you probably have short-term storage only. If you’re a larger farm and have a bigger storage facility, you probably have storage for about 180 days. Assess your needs to determine if you have enough storage before a custom hauler can get there.

Keep accessibility in mind. With your own equipment, you can probably access your manure storage and fields easily. A custom hauler likely has larger equipment, which could present a challenge. If you decide to hire a hauler, ensure they’d be able to access your storage and fields.

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Hauling cost

Putting a number on the cost of manure hauling when you’re doing it yourself can be a challenge. Looking at fuel usage is only one part of the equation.

Evaluate labor, time, liabilities, equipment depreciation, and wear and tear – both when it comes to looking at your own costs to haul or a custom hauler’s price.

When evaluating a custom hauler’s cost, 1 to 1.5 cents per gallon is a general benchmark. Not every custom hauler charges the same way; some may use an hourly rate versus a per-gallon rate.

As you weigh your manure hauling options, talk to other farmers who have used a local custom hauler. See what their experiences were like. Were they happy with the custom hauler’s manure responsibility? Did they take the necessary safety precautions?

Your local manure equipment dealer can also help you find a reliable manure hauling solution.  end mark

Jeramy Sanford is a global product manager with GEA. Email Jeramy Sanford

PHOTO 1: If you plan to top-spread manure, account for tillage needs. A substantial amount of nitrogen can be lost within a few days of application. Incorporating the manure soon after hauling can optimize nutrient uptake.

PHOTO 2: Some custom haulers can incorporate the manure as they spread it. This method reduces nutrient losses, odor and runoff potential, especially if the manure gets incorporated quickly. Photos courtesy of GEA.

Jeramy Sanford
  • Jeramy Sanford

  • Global product manager
  • GEA
  • Email Jeramy Sanford

Questions to ask a custom hauler

  • Do you have availability?

  • What type of equipment do you have?

  • Are you set up to give an accurate nutrient level reading?

  • What type of applications are you set up for?

  • What do you supply?

  • What do I need to supply?

  • What do you charge?

  • Are you willing to work out a payment plan?

  • Do you have references?

What a custom hauler wants to know

  • What is your storage system like?

  • Has your pit been agitated and completely emptied previously? How’s the quality from previous years’ hauling? Do you use a pit additive?

  • What’s your field setup and size?

  • Do you have a manure management plan? What is it?

  • If you don’t have a manure management plan, how many gallons per acre do you plan to spread?

  • Are there roads we should avoid traveling?

  • Do we need to be conscious of any neighbors?

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