Manure manipulation: Variety of strategies available

Gloria Hafemeister

 Wisconsin Dells — “Manure is going to be our license to farm in the next generation. How we handle it will be even more important,” said Amber Radatz, co-director of the UW-Discovery Farms program.

How farmers handle manure is a big concern throughout the dairy state.

As she summed up the presentations of the day at the completion of the annual Discovery Farms conference in Wisconsin Dells, Radatz pointed to the vast on-farm research  taking place around the state and mentioned the importance of looking at individual farming situations, topography, soil type and management practices.

Manure management strategies were shared by three dairy farmers with experience in unique handling, manipulation and application strategies. No matter the scale or setup, each stressed the importance of having a plan for manure when taking the farm into the future.

Mark Diederich described Lake Breeze Dairy consisting of 7,200 cows on two sites. The dairy began when five family farms came together 13 years ago to consolidate their businesses as a means of modernizing and taking advantage of technology that improved cow comfort, manure handling, production and efficiency.

The farm had a digester in the earlier years but after a fire, they returned to using recycled sand. The sand is settled out of the liquid manure after it is flushed out of the barn to a center flume in the middle of the barn. The slurry goes through sand lanes that are 120 feet long and 12 feet wide with a one-fourth-inch slope. These lanes collect 85 percent of the sand.

The farm uses a polymer to bind the fine particles in the solids together and separate them from the liquid. That makes the sand cleaner for reusing.

“Since using a polymer, we have less solids and the water," Diederich said, "but the tradeoff is that we have more problems with the water freezing in the alley when it is too clean (less than 1 percent solids).”

The system costs 5-7 cents per cow per day to operate, but the farm purchases considerably less sand for bedding.

Lake Breeze Dairy does not grow any crops. Nutrients go to area farms, and they purchase feed from area farms as well.

Full-circle approach

Lee Kinnard’s family farm has 6,500 cows on two sites.

“We are intensive crop farmers," he said. "We look at the full-circle approach to manure management.”

Kinnard knows half of the nutrients in the piles of feed on the farm leave the farm as meat or milk and the other half is in the manure.

“We look at how we can farm from the community standpoint, the cow and profitability,” he said.  “We are huge believers in our own nutrient management plan and getting manure on every acre of the farm.”

One thing they do is segregate water off the feed pads so it is not mingled with the manure slurry. The plan is to be able to irrigate it directly on the fields to capture the nutrients and have less water to be hauled with the manure.

The Kinnards separate and wash the sand they use for bedding so they can reuse it again. They take the cleaned sand to 10 percent moisture, and they are in the process of installing a drier to take even more moisture out.

The Kinnards have been cover cropping for 30 years and believe this living crop helps hold nutrients in place. They study soil health and are striving to maintain their no-till system by utilizing a manure application system that does not disturb the ground.


Dennis Christoph described how he handles manure from the 150 animals on his Luxemburg farm.  His 80-cow herd is housed in a tie-stall barn, and dry cows and heifers are on a bedded pack.

He uses 300 bales of straw a year for bedding on the farm.

“The straw is what makes composting work,” he said.

Christoph scrapes all the semi-solid material into a pit.  From there it goes to a compost site in long windrows. The mixture stays on the evaporation lanes where they gradually shrink in size. Once shrunk down, he pushes windrows together, and they further compost.

When the temperature of the pile is adequate, he does not turn the mixture. When it is too hot or cold, he turns the mixture to encourage composting.

Christoph spreads the finished product on his fields and sells some of it around his area.

“I’ve been composting for seven years because I wanted to get away from daily haul,” he said.  “I didn’t want to go the liquid route, and this is more cost effective to get going.

“After we got into this, we saw a savings just in not having to run a tractor every day, especially in winter.”

Christoph said he enjoyed further savings by not buying any commercial fertilizer since he started using the compost. He has had excellent yields and has not made any sacrifices with the system.

Asked what each of the farmers had learned over the last five or 10 years, Diederichs said they have learned a lot about what to do and what not to do with manure and how to control timing of application.

Kinnard said he has gone to a grid system for managing nutrients, and he is working at using this system to establish a variable rate of application of manure.

Christoph says he has learned, and continues to learn, about cover crops and about using less tillage in his farming system.