Minnesota Farmer

30 days: Turning poop into fertilizer

This is day 5 of the 30 day challenge.   Today we’re going to follow our noses to the barn where we are turning poop into fertilizer.

When something is removed from the land, you have to put something back.  There is no doubt about it, just planting seed and expecting the crop to grow the same, year after year, does not work.  Our first farmer ancestors learned that when they had to keep moving on while using slash and burn farming.  In order to feed todays population new methods had to be found.

Prior to 1950 there was only manure to fertilize crops.  The problem with manure is it is bulky and hard to transport and store.  Commercial fertilizer is easier to apply and to calibrate to put just what the crop needs on the land.  With manure you can be short of one or more nutrients that will limit a crops ability to produce.  Also, some diseases can be transmitted to livestock or humans by improperly handled manure.  Still today 30% of U.S. crops are fertilized with livestock manure.

When my dad was young, manure was considered a waste product.  It was removed from livestock barns and pens and spread anyplace handy.  Today we treat manure as the precious resource that it is.  It has a place in the production of farm crops, and it is used where it will best help our crops grow.

For us that manure comes from pigs.100_1883

We have over 3000 head of pigs in the barns on our farm.  We do not own the pigs, we rent the barn to the owner of the pigs and he cares for them.  We do have first right to the manure.  All we have to do is apply it to the fields.

Manure is stored under the floor of our barns.  Feces and urine fall through the slots in the floor where they wait for the right time to be applied to our fields.

Applying that hog poop is not something that can be done anytime of the year.  Here in southwestern Minnesota our fields are frozen for four and a half months so manure could run off with the spring snow melt.  When crops are growing it takes specialized equipment to add manure to a crop.  The best time to apply manure is after the crops are off of the field in the fall.100_2498Moving several hundred thousand gallons of liquid manure is a big job, and there are people who specialize in the application of liquid manure.  The manure is tested for nutrient content and then it is applied in a rate that is best for the land.  100_2499

There are a number of ways to ensure that you get the most out of your manure.  One critical part is to cover the manure as soon as possible after it is applied.  This not only helps to make the neighbors happy, but it helps keep the crop nutrients in place.  This spreader uses disks to cover the manure after it is placed on the ground.  We like to further mix the soil after application to be sure that it is where the plants can find it.  There are also nitrogen stabilizers that can be added to help keep those precious nutrients where we want them.

Treating livestock manure like the precious resource that it is, we are able to help protect our livestock, plants, waters and the land.  It is all part of being a responsible steward out here on the farm.




3 Comments so far
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Oh boy! Haha. Our family used to have pigs. No smell can stain your clothes like pig poo. Definitely some strong stuff, but still has its use.

Comment by cdmiller07

Hello. Not sure how I stumbled across this article – perhaps it was fate (lol). After reading this blog post, I have a question. I hail from the very SE tip of Mn but today (Dec 1) made an auto trip straight across the state via:I90 on our way to SD. Cannot be real precise as to the location but it was for a good long stretch (an hour +) in SW Mn. Let’s just say there was “something” in the air. Could it have possibly been fertilizer? Liquid manure, etc.. is used where I’m from also, but the smell we encountered today was a bit different in that it smelled nearly like a dead animal. I’m just curious because we don’t know what else it could of possibly been? Hmm ..

Comment by Cyndi Meyer

Possible, but most of the time the “dead animal” smell only is found on hot days. Different animal manures smell different. Those in the know can tell by the smell so it’s possible that you are used to cow and this was pig.

Comment by Michael

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