Breaking It Down

Avatar:
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0

For large barns, manure disposal can be a real problem. With encroaching development and restrictive zoning rules, where should all that waste go? Crazy Horse Stables of Brodhead, Wisc., solved this problem in an environmentally friendly manner and plans to make money with the end product.

RESEARCH FIRST

A family-owned and -operated boarding and breeding facility with 40 to 60 horses at any given time, Crazy Horse Stables had a growing manure problem. With encroaching development, and a river running through the property, spreading manure on the stable’s 150 acres of land was no longer a viable option. Explains family member Viane Staniszewski, “In the past few years we have been faced with less farmland to spread the raw manure on, and stockpiling during the summer months had become unwieldy. So we began investigating environmentally sound composting methods.”

Staniszewski and her family spent two years researching different options. They attended a Horse Manure Management Workshop sponsored by The University of Illinois Will County Extension Office and began ruling out methods that would not work for them. Two such processes were composting bins and dryers. For 60 horses, the number of bins required was substantial, as was the storage area. Dryers also need a lot of space and are labor-intensive, particularly for such a large herd.

While writing up a business plan, the owners decided they would make an investment in equipment for manure disposal, and this led to their decision to enter the composting business. Notes Staniszewski, “We wanted to insure our end product was environmentally sound and complementary with current and future sustainable agricultural techniques. We did not want to go into the business of making a low-end product just to get rid of our manure because the capital investment is too large. Because of the volume of raw manure along with our decision to make a high quality compost, we decided windrow composting [a process for biodegrading organic material aerobically] would best fit our objectives.”

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

A clear understanding of how windrow composting works and the labor involved will help determine if it is right for your business. At Crazy Horse Stables, the raw manure is stockpiled and then removed once a month to make windrows. “The windrows are 150 feet long and approximately 4 feet wide and consist of raw manure, carbon material and clay,” Staniszewski explains. “The depth of manure is approximately 4 to 5 feet.

“On top of the manure we apply carbon material composed of hay, straw, sawdust, fodder, leaves, etc. On top of the carbon material we apply red clay. The clay serves as a nitrogen fixer in the mixture. Then we aerate [mix together to expose to air] the row and add water. The water level needs to be monitored very closely because the mixture must be damp but not wringing wet.

“In weeks one, three, and five we add the three-step inoculants. The row heats to a temperature of more than 140 degrees for 5 to 10 days, thereby killing any weed seeds. The row needs to be aerated every day for the first week, and after that once or twice per week as needed. The composting process is complete 9 to 10 weeks after the process is begun.

“The end product has no heat or carbon dioxide and is very stable. It looks like dry coffee grounds with an earthy smell. We only actively process our windrows from March to the end of October. During the winter months we stockpile and build windrows, but no active composting takes place.”

Staniszewski admits that composting has increased the time spent on manure management. But, she notes, this must be weighed against the future profits as well as the environment benefits. “Even though our direct labor efforts have increased,” says Staniszewski, “we believe the long-term benefits to our environment and the potential to generate additional revenues through sound manure management outweigh this labor expenditure.”

EVALUATING THE SITE

Staniszewski contacted Midwest Bio-Systems of Tampico, Ill., once the farm had decided which composting method it wanted to use. What drew the owners of Crazy Horse Stables to this business was not just the equipment it sold, but the fact that it provided educational and marketing consulting, too. Staniszewski knew the farm would need help getting started as well as learn how best to advertise to local landscapers once the compost was available.

In the spring of 2005, employees from the company visited Crazy Horse Stables to evaluate the farm. Explains Staniszewski, “They assisted us in purchasing the correct equipment, setting up our operation by laying out our site needs, educating us on how to perform daily measurement of C02 and temperature, and providing instruction on turning and inoculation of the windrows. They also provided solid business case information to calculate our breakeven point and calculate the volume of raw to processed humified compost, along with information on pricing.”

START-UP COSTS

Initial investment in windrow composting encompasses an aerator and water wagon as well as a tractor. The aerator activates the composting; the water tank applies moisture and inoculants at the proper intervals. Crazy Horse Stables also purchased a 105 hp tractor with a specialized creeper gear train to be able to aerate at the slow speeds recommended by Midwest Bio-Systems. The cost of the specialized aeration equipment and water wagon for the farm was approximately $33,000.

In addition, Crazy Horse purchased approximately $6,000 of accessories (C02 monitor, thermometer, special waterproof/water-shedding covers, and inoculants). Staniszewski notes that the stable also uses a medium-sized skidloader and dumpbox in the day-to-day operations of the composting business, which it already owned, and was therefore not included in the start-up estimates above.

Before you write off windrow composting as too expensive, consider applying for a grant. Staniszewski spent time surfing the web and found a site for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources with a link to their grant process. The Wisconsin DNR was requesting applications for Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling Demonstration Grants. The goal was to fund waste reduction, reuse and recycling pilot projects. The program provided much needed financial support for Crazy Horse Stables.

THE PAYOFF?

As with any new venture, it can take several years to realize a profit. In its first year of operation, Crazy Horse Stables processed approximately 80 yards of humified compost and sold just two yards. But because the most popular time of year to purchase humified compost is in the spring, and Crazy Horse had no product available until mid-summer, the sale of two yards was a positive sign. With a recent mailing to all landscapers and garden shops within a 50-mile radius, interest is quickly growing in the product, and Crazy Horse expects to reach breakeven by year three.

Initiating a windrow composting operation is a serious investment. However, if done correctly, it can eliminate your manure problem, help the environment, and within a few years, earn your farm some extra cash.