Manure: A high tech farm product

John Oncken
A big tanker injecting liquid manure direct into the soil.

“What are you going to be doing this week.” a friend asked. “Are you going to visit farms? “Possibly.” I replied “but I’m for sure going to the North American Manure Expo at the UW Arlington research farm.”

‘Ha, ha, ha,” my friend laughed. “Are you serious? What are you going to do, clean a barn and shovel manure into a spreader?” Another friend had the same reaction to my plans to attend the Manure Expo - thinking I was joking.

It’ was obvious that these “far away from the farm” friends knew nothing about cow manure other than that it came from cows and had to be hauled away.

Of course, the North American Manure Expo is far from a joke - it’s a big annual event sponsored by the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin, that draws vendors and visitors from many states and even foreign countries.

Some of the over 1,000 attendees at the 2017 North American Manure Expo.

A major issue

The subject of livestock manure is much discussed - just ask livestock farmers who value manure as a fertilizer and major asset but must contend with the issue of handling it. Or attend a hearing held when a dairy farm wants to be established or expanded and listen to those folks who oppose such. You’d think that smelling manure would make you sick and touching it would cause instant calamity.

Take it from a former cow milker — while a boy on a small Dane county dairy farm — who while milking cows often got slapped across the open mouth by a manure-coated cow’s tail. A messy experience, yes. A harmful or sickening experience, no, except for the cow who was on the receiving end of many choice cuss words.

A manure carrier and spreader from days gone by when dairy herds and barns were small.


Times have changed: From the days when barn gutters were cleaned with a fork, shovel and a Jamesway manure carrier on the overhead track and dumped into a John Deere spreader with about a 50 bushel capacity during spring, summer and fall and stored on a barnyard pile over winter; to today’s manure storage lagoons or daily spread by huge spreaders with 700 - 900 bushel capacity.

The North American Manure Expo came into being after the UW - Extension was approached by custom manure applicators requesting a show that provided a side-by-side comparison of agitation and application equipment to help determine which best meets individual needs. The first Manure Expo was held near Prairie Du Sac, WI, in August 2001.

Manure spreaders are big now as herds got bigger.

A success

The first event proved to be a huge success and manure applicators from Minnesota and Wisconsin asked for a second show. In 2003, the second show was an even bigger success and it has been held annually since and has been hosted by Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

The Expo attracts a professional audience including: dairy, livestock and poultry producers and professionals; handlers of both liquid and solid manures;crop consultants and nutrient management specialists; compost managers; custom operators and Extension and agency personnel.

Well over a thousand visitors gathered August 22-23 in fields at the Arlington Research Station to view the 30 in-tent exhibits and 42 outdoor displays as well as attend 24 educational seminars and view the field demonstrations.

The Professional Nutrient Applicators Association of Wisconsin dates back to 2001 when custom applicators from Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota formed an organization to promote application of manure in accordance with the latest standards, and to do so in an environmentally friendly way.

Assisting big dairies

Note: Professional manure applicators came into being when dairy farms began expanding and storing manure in lagoons. In order to assist farmers in spreading that manure, entrepreneurs began providing pumping and spreading services on a custom basis.

Member companies work with governing agencies and have three levels of certification to ensure all employees have a working knowledge of manure spills, nutrient management regulations, common sense application and manure handling and road safety. In addition, the companies must meet equipment, safety and application standards.

Field demonstrations in modern manure handling included: liquid manure application with semi tankers equipped with direct in-soil injection; long distance drag lines also with soil injection and dry manure spreading.

The 80 bushel tractor-drawn John Deere manure spreader of my days on the farm has been replaced by the huge 700-900 bushel spreaders that can distribute manure over a 100-foot wide swath. The pumps and hose that can transfer liquid manure two or more miles to a tractor drawn injector system are a marvel and are rather commonly used.


A rather new word in farm manure handling is “composting,” a process in which oxygen-consuming bacteria and fungi feed on the mixed organic wastes (separated solids or packed bedding) in a pile or windrow and then convert the waste to compost. The result is a high fertility product that can often be spread where broadcast or liquid manure cannot be applied. Farm composting is still in its formative stage but some dairy farmers are developing useable systems. One is Jeff Endres of Endres Berryridge Farm near Waunakee, who hosted a tour offered at Manure Expo.

Manure movement by drag line has become popular. This reel of hose will go a long way.

Valuable fertilizer

Manure is not a waste product on farms, it is a valuable and economical source of fertilizer not to be given away. The question is… ”How to best handle and utilize it in the best environmental fashion?“

When farms were small in terms of animal numbers - the manure, heavily made up of straw used for bedding was spread daily in small amounts. Rural houses were few and there was a saying ‘the smell of manure is the smell of money.”

As dairy herds expanded into the four figure numbers, manure volume along with holding lagoons and land spreading over a short-term, environmental issues came to the forefront especially in highly populated watershed areas. Meaning every dairy farmer faced new regulations and installed nutrient management and manure programs.

New manure handling and management systems are coming on the scene almost daily . The 2017 Manure Expo theme ”Innovation, Research and Solutions” was indeed appropriate and aligns with the focus of showcasing how manure application professionals, researchers and industry are working together to apply manure nutrients to fields and crops in environmemtally safe, efficient and financially productive ways.

Farmers I talked with at Expo said they “came to see and hear what was new in order to be ready if and when. Yes, farmers are environmentalists and yes, they care. The Manure Expo is a see, hear and learn event and that’s the whole idea.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications and can be reached at 608-222-0624, or e-mail him at