So our dairy cows eat about 120 pounds of feed every day. What goes up must come down and what goes in must come out. Manure that is, fertilizer, brown gold, soil elixir.
Whatever you want to call what comes out of the hind end of a dairy cow, as dairy farmers we deal with it everyday. Manure happens. A few weeks ago on the farm we had the perfect opportunity for me to share with you guys how we deal with manure, but I was out of town. Thankfully Hubs grabbed the camera and took lots of photos for me, knowing that I would want pictures of tons of poop so I could put them on the internet. I am not sure what that says about me or our relationship but frankly I think these crappy photos are a sign of true love.
So this is our manure pit. What’s a manure pit, you ask? Well a manure pit is a place that stores the manure on our farm until we can deal with it. A manure pit is where a dairy farmer gets their poop in a group. It looks a lot like a small pond, as you can see. That being said, I do not want to take a swim in it and neither do you. How our manure pit works is that all of the manure, water and excess sand bedding from our barns is scraped into an chamber under the barn every morning and night while the cows are out of the barn for milking. The chamber has an auger in it and the auger pushes the the manure out into our pit and that’s where it sits. As the materials in the pit sit, the sand that we use for bedding naturally settles to the bottom of the pit and the water combines with whatever rainwater is in the pit. This spring with all the rain we had our manure pit got very, very full before we could deal with the manure in it.
So how do you deal with a pond full of poo? It starts with a lot of checking of the weather forecast. Manure is smelly and kind of gross but it is also fertilizer that’s full of nutrients that our soil needs. Gardeners like to fertilize their flowers and vegetables to make their plants grow larger and stronger and farmers do the same thing except our garden is a few hundred acres and we don’t have to run to the garden center for bags of fertilizer. We have our own fertilizer producing machines, lounging around the barn. So what does that have to do with the weather? Have you ever heard the term “Up shit creek without a paddle”? We don’t want that kind of situation on our hands. When we spread our manure onto our fields it’s super important that we don’t do it anywhere where rain could wash the manure off the fields and into our waterways. Our farm sits near the Crawfish river so we are extra diligent to make sure the poo stays where it’s supposed to. On top of that the tractors that we use to spread the manure are heavy, if the ground is too wet, they will sink in the mud and get stuck. So in order to get the pit cleared out we need good weather and we need our buddies the “Manure Haulers” to come for a visit.
Some farms own their own equipment to deal with large amounts of manure. It doesn’t make sense for us to do that so instead we hire a company that comes with their stuff to help us deal with our stuff. This photo is the pump that will suck up the manure, like a shop vac from hades and pump it to the tractors in the field.
But before the pump can do it’s work we have to agitate our manure pit. Now when I say agitate it I don’t mean stand on the bank and poke it with a stick. This part of the process is the smelly part. In order for the manure to pass through the pump we have to stir the sand, manure and liquid up. If we didn’t the pump would only suck off the liquid and leave all the nutrient rich manure behind. The pump gets everything incorporated into a slurry and ready to be spread, kind of like the worst margarita maker known to man.
Once the manure slurry is ready it will go through the pump and into these huge hoses that run out to our fields where they are attached to the tractors. The field we were spreading on was pretty close to the manure pit but sometimes the fields are much farther away. The company that we use to spread our manure owns four miles worth of hoses. FOUR MILES!!!! that’s a lot of hose!
Once the manure is pumped out to the the tractor waiting in the field it is pumped directly into the ground. The tractor drives along the field with an attachment behind it that opens up the ground and the manure goes right in. This also helps keep the smell down for our neighbors and makes manure runoff from rain pretty much impossible. How do we know how much manure to apply to a field? We work with a crop scout who helps advise us on what our soil needs to grow the best crops. The government requires us to keep records of which fields have had manure applied, when it was applied and how much was applied so that they can ensure accountability if there was an issue with the water in our area.
After the manure hauling crew is done there is still some sand left in the bottom of the pit that wasn’t able to be sucked up by the pump. Once a year we clean out the sand from the bottom of the pit with a backhoe and it gets also gets spread on our fields but in a different way.
On Sunday I spent several hours in our skid loader putting buckets of old sand into our manure spreader and hauling it out into the field to be spread.
So that’s scoop on how farmers deal with cow poop. One day I will write a post on how farmers deal with bull shit, but that’s a totally different topic!
And if that’s not enough about poop, check out Will Gilmer’s little ditty about manure!