Manure gets new life as cow bedding at one Manitoba farm

Henry Holtmann at his Rosser-based dairy farm

One Manitoba dairy farmer is giving up on straw and turning manure into bedding for his cows instead.

Rosser, Manitoba's Henry Holtmann is testing a new system that composts manure solids so they can be reused as bedding for his dairy cows. It may not sound appealing, but the end result is showing promise.

Odour-free, compost-like bedding

To be converted into bedding, the solids must be removed from the liquid manure and allowed to heat in a Bedding Recovery Unit drum for 30 hours to neutralize the bacteria and weed seeds. The result is an odour free, compost-like bedding that is relatively dry and easy to work with.

"We toured many farms in the northeastern United States and saw a number of them using this system," says Holtmann. "We were very interested in it as the straw that we previously used for bedding can be difficult to find in the quantities we need."

As an increasing number of farmers switch their crops to soybeans, dairy and beef farmers in Manitoba may need to search harder to find straw for bedding if they don't grow enough themselves. Holtmann plans to continue researching to ensure this system is safe and viable for his business. He points out that just because it works in the United States doesn't mean it will work in Canada as our climate and environment are very different.

"We are watching closely to make sure that this new bedding isn't transferring harmful bacteria or creating any negative effects," says Holtmann. "We're studying the product and have found that composting the manure has caused the negative bacteria to be replaced by positive bacteria. Now we're working to isolate that and asking questions like, what if we let it heat longer? Is this something that I could potentially sell to other farmers one day? Is this system safe for widespread use? What are the best management practices for this system?"

So far, the new bedding seems to be working very well. Holtmann has been using it for his herd for almost a year and it has been positive for both the workers and the cows.

"The cows look clean and comfortable," Holtmann says. "They seem to lay down more and we know comfortable and happy cows produce more milk. It is also easy for our employees to work with."

Supporting innovation on Manitoba farms

Holtmann received funding from Growing Forward 2's Growing Innovation - On-Farm to cover part of the cost of his research. Growing Forward 2 is a federal-provincial-territorial initiative to advance the agricultural industry.

"Growing Forward 2 funding helped us leverage the research in areas I wouldn't have considered," says Holtmann. "Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development staff were able to put me in contact with the right people at the University of Manitoba and we're on our way to publishing our findings."

Those people are Nazim Cicek and Eshan Khafipour. Cicek is a professor of biosystems engineering and Khafipour is an assistant professor in the department of animal science and in the department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases. Both are studying whether Holtmann's bedding is a safe and practical alternative to straw bedding.

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