I have always liked the idea of composting, both in a small and large scale, but
have some misgivings about its value on a farming operation.
Given a dairy farm, in which all feed is grown in a forage,corn small grains
rotation, the first question is whether it is better to compost or not to.
If it is important to feed the soil, why not feed it raw manure and
bedding, and let the biological activity happen in situ? I have heard arguments
that would support this such as that the decomposition of organic matter in the
soil helps soil structure because decomposition creates gel like substances that
help bind the soil aggregates.
If the soil biology needs energy, why not give it raw manure and bedding
instead of composting which burns so much of the energy and sends it up into
the atmosphere in the form of heat?
How much damage does the raw manure do to the environment that a pile (or
windrow) of manure does not do?
Questions on the composting process itself:
Any ideas on the slow versus fast composting process controversy? ( some
argue that accelerated composting--lots of turning and aeration, encourages only
bacterial activity, to the detriment of fungal activity.)
If preventing leaching is one of my goals (I want to compost to protect
ground and surface waters), would it suffice to cover the piles with the special
blankets and forget about turning so often? Pressumably the pile would be less
soggy, not being rained on, and would be in a slow composting mode rather than
an accelerated mode. Gas diffusion through the pile would still happen, though
at a much slower rate.
One of my goals in asking these questions is to figure out whether or not
investing in a machine to turn compost is warranted. Is the machine an
indispensable part of a composting operation?
Questions about composting as part of a grazing focused operation.
On the farm that I am involved in, we are trying to move towards intensive
grazing, although we still have our cows in the barn during the winter. If I
were to move further in the direction that some graziers are moving, such as
"out wintering" and seasonal production, then the accumulation of manure that
needs to be handled is lower, making a composting operation less of a critical
part of an environmentally sound system.
However, If one of the big advantages of "out wintering" is that we do not
spread manure, are we not creating a pollution problem in the areas where the
cattle find shelter during the winter, or wherever they hang out? With frozen
soil, there is very little biology that can quickly incorporate manure, and the
potential for a thaw washing everything away is as great as when the manure is
spread in the fields throughout the winter.
Some of you are going to tell me that I should use pigs to do the turning. I
would love to do that, if I could
fence them in without loosing them,
still prevent leaching
have a reasonable way of collecting the manure after it is turned by the
(Should I build a concrete pad for the pigs?)
How many pigs to I need to process the daily manure from fifty head of
cattle for at least four months of the year?
I would really appreciate some insights into these questions.
Finally, for those of you who came this far in reading, one of my motives for
asking these questions, is that I am trying to figure out whether it is
appropriate to request the help of taxpayers through a cost share agreement with
Soil Conservation Service for the capital involved. I know that the
organization I work for would not buy a $15,000 composting setup, but if I could
make a case for cost sharing it, they might see these dollars as money raised,
and support it half way. I tried to leave the politics out, but it always seems
to get in the way.
9697 State Route 534
Middlefield, OH 44062