What do cows do all day? Cows spend a great deal of their time eating (or grazing) and drinking, pretty much. So much, in fact, that each of these animals consumes anywhere between 25-50 pounds of dry matter while drinking up 10-30 gallons of water each and every single day.
All of that consumption has to go somewhere, which is why cows generate up to 65 pounds of manure per day. Multiply that by however many cows you have on your farm, and you’ll have a massive waste problem if you do not manage that manure properly.
But what can a farmer do with all that manure? Can they just haul it off to a garbage dump along with the rest of the trash?
No, absolutely not. There are two reasons why that’s a bad idea. Firstly, manure is a valuable resource, and throwing it away would be a massive waste. Second, mismanaging manure by simply throwing it in the trash is incredibly damaging to the environment.
To harness that value without polluting the environment, farmers must identify the best ways to manage cow manure.
Why is manure valuable?
Cow manure is a valuable resource because it’s full of nutrients that are very useful as fertilizer. Nutrients like phosphorus, nitrogen, and plenty of others will help plants grow and even aid in soil repair. Cow manure also helps living organisms like algae, insect larvae, worms, and others grow very easily.
What happens when cow manure is mismanaged?
In a way, cow manure is a double-edged sword. While it does offer a wide range of benefits for the soil, plants, and some types of living creatures, it can also cause a lot of damage in excess. Large amounts of cow manure can pollute the environment and groundwater by providing it with excess amounts of things like phosphorus, nitrogen, and carbon.
Manure is an excellent way for living organisms to grow, but that also includes bad ones like pathogens, pests, and vermin.
On top of all that, excess cow manure can also have a strong impact on the surrounding air quality. That can be a major problem if you have people living near the farm or even down-wind from the areas where cows graze.
To avoid this, it’s important that we identify the best ways to manage cow manure.
Four of the Best Ways To Manage Cow Manure
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the best ways to manage cow manure. Instead, farmers will typically use a combination of several methods depending on what suits their situation the best.
In any case, here are some effective ways of managing cow manure.
Spread it around the land
No method of managing cow manure is ‘easy,’ but this one might be the simplest. The idea is to use the cows themselves to spread their manure around the land instead of focusing it on just one area.
There are two ways to accomplish this.
The first way is to use a manure spreader and tractor. Using that machinery will get the job done quickly. Unfortunately, it’ll also cost much more money.
A more natural way to do it is to relocate where you feed the cows constantly. By doing this, cows will graze at different locations on the farm and distribute their own manure at the same time. No need for any machinery other than whatever you use to spread the cow feed.
Some would refer to this method as On-Pasture Manure Management. It’s an effective way of fertilizing the land without having to relocate the manure yourself.
There is one catch, though. You can only spread raw manure on land where animals may feed, not on gardens growing vegetables for human consumption. That will ensure that any pathogens that might be in the manure to stay away from food that people will eventually eat.
Quite often, farmers will find themselves with far more manure than they can spread. To still make use of that manure, farmers can also stockpile or store that manure for later use.
Stockpiling manure isn’t just about piling it up on one corner of the farm. Firstly, rainwater will drain a lot of the nutrients in the manure, making it less useful later on. Plus, rainwater can also find its way into the groundwater, making it unsafe for human consumption later on.
To store and stockpile cow manure, farmers will need to locate it wherever the soil is compacted and sealed. That way, it’ll be much tougher for water to seep into the ground.
Finding compacted soil is relatively easy. Just look for wherever your cows spend most of their time standing. Over time, their combined weight would’ve compacted the soil beneath them, making for a useful place to stockpile their manure.
Some farmers take it a step further by investing in long-term solutions for stockpiling cow manure. They raise purpose-built sheds or similar structures to store manure, complete with a roof and the necessary drainage. The roof protects the manure from rainwater, while drainage ensures that any runoff goes through grass which can filter it naturally.
Farmers are usually familiar with the concept of composting. But just in case you’re not, here’s what it is: composting is when you take organic matter (like cow manure) and speed up its decomposition, so it breaks down and becomes compost.
There are several steps to the process, including hot, warm, and cool composting. On top of that, the equipment you’ll need can vary from using a tractor to turn the manure over or just doing it with manual labor.
The end-goal is to get compost that’s balanced in terms of nutrients and its pH levels. Plus, composting reduces the odor and pathogen content of cow manure.
Once cow manure has turned into compost, the material is then safe for use with gardens. You can use it as fertilizer to grow fruits and vegetables for human consumption since composted manure is much safer than raw manure.
Converting it to biogas or biofuel
With the world’s increasing demand for renewable energies comes a great opportunity for farmers. That opportunity comes in the form of taking raw manure and processing it into biogas or biofuel.
On the farmer’s end, the process is pretty straightforward. They’ll take their excess manure and stockpile it in an enclosure that’s free from oxygen. There, the manure will eventually start to generate methane gas which farmers can then separate and store as a form of energy.
With the right equipment, farmers could use that methane to generate electricity for use on the farm, in their homes, or even sent off to process into Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). In CNG form, you can use it as fuel for trucks or convert it into bioplastics, a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly form of the plastic we use daily.
Seeing as how all of that came from cow manure as its raw material, it’s not hard to see that the process is infinitely sustainable!