>I would like some input on composting.
>I have always liked the idea of composting, both in a small and large scale,
>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
>that would support this such as that the decomposition of organic matter in
>soil helps soil structure because decomposition creates gel like substances
>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
>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
>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
>blankets and forget about turning so often? Pressumably the pile would be
>soggy, not being rained on, and would be in a slow composting mode rather
>an accelerated mode. Gas diffusion through the pile would still happen,
>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
>were to move further in the direction that some graziers are moving, such as
>"out wintering" and seasonal production, then the accumulation of manure
>needs to be handled is lower, making a composting operation less of a
>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
>cattle find shelter during the winter, or wherever they hang out? With
>soil, there is very little biology that can quickly incorporate manure, and
>potential for a thaw washing everything away is as great as when the manure
>spread in the fields throughout the winter.
>Some of you are going to tell me that I should use pigs to do the turning.
>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
>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
>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
>make a case for cost sharing it, they might see these dollars as money
>and support it half way. I tried to leave the politics out, but it always
>to get in the way.
We'll have to get together sometime in person. Florida is a nice place to
visit this time of year.
Composting has many disadvantages. Unfortunately there are mechanical
problems with incorporating raw manure directly into the soil. In your
(present) latitude, the manure spreader is operational through much of the
winter. The problem is that if you did not get a heavy snow early in the
season, the ground will be frozen (good for running the tractor on it,
though) and you will get runnoff to streams etc., if you aren't careful.
Composting is a solution.
I guess with significant numbers of livestock, I'd stand back and look at the
issue from a broader perspective. You have to hold the manure somehow. You
can spend time and labor and money just holding it, composting it, or using
it to produce products. You could go for mushroom production, for example.
In your latitude, again, one can always use energy such as from a methane
digestor. (This also provides a certain amount of holding capacity to allow
slurry application to mowings when the ground is able to accept them.) There
are even schemes for aerobic composting that use the heat in various ways,
e.g. those in the book: The Methods of Jean Pain.
I don't think that it is practical to speculate on what is the best method of
fully benefiting from this valuable resource without visiting the specific
farm in question, discussing sensitive questions like how much money is
available for capital investment, looking at markets (for mushrooms, etc.).
In general, for the typical midwestern farms I've seen, I'd go for a methane
digestion system if the capital is available. If these are mixed farms at
all, more of the feed is grown as corn and soybeans than as grass, typically,
and holding the slurry to apply at correct times on corn would be very
There is a very famous guy, Dick something (sorry, my memory is not great
nowadays), who lives in Boon, Iowa, USA, who has put in a large pit to accept
the septage of the neighboring town. He found such a holding pit profitable
and he can make withdrawals as needed. I'd suspect that a methane digestor
is more profitable, though it needs care. I have certain prejudices in that
regard, prefering a modular approach of a number of smaller systems, maybe
built over the years as the first one pays off, to permit the maintenance
that these require. It is not like turning on the transcontinental gas line.
There is fuss and it is another crop that has its quirky issues to deal
with. With modular systems, one can be taken off line for cleaning of
material that forms a crust that prevents methane bubbles from rising, to
bleed out in small quantities if the batch has gone toxic for some reason,
"Conventinal" composting seems to offer the least return for the space an
work, but I am sure it has its place.
I guess to answer your question short of a trip I need to know the numbers of
stock you are running, the land base, soil type, topography, crops, if you
are invested in grains vs. hay, for example as feeds, local water quality
issues, capital available, etc. If this is a hypothetical question then the
hypothetical answer is send it to the moon on a rocket and start a new farm
For Mother Earth, Dan Hemenway, Yankee Permaculture Publications (since
1982), Elfin Permaculture workshops, lectures, Permaculture Design Courses,
consulting and permaculture designs (since 1981), and now correspondence
permaculture training by email. Copyright, 1996, Dan & Cynthia Hemenway, P.O.
Box 2052, Ocala FL 34478 USA YankeePerm@aol.com
We don't have time to rush.