Dairy Farm Manure Management

Dairy farms are a great example of a closed-loop cycle in action where waste is collected, recycled, and used to make new products.

Rich in nutrients, cow manure fertilizes the land to grow crops for people and animals. Manure carries important nutrients that plants need like phosphorous and nitrogen. Cows depend on healthy crops to produce nutritious milk. In turn, those fields are nourished by the manure cows produce which is used as natural fertilizer. The crops are harvested to feed the cows, cow manure is created, and the cycle continues.

One cow produces can produce up to 100 pounds of manure each day. On New England dairy farms, manure is a valuable resource to be reused instead of wasted, and it also reduces the need to use synthetic chemical fertilizers.

Some dairy farms across New England use anaerobic digesters (sometimes referred to as a methane digester system) which can turn cow manure into renewable energy to power the farm and surrounding homes. The digested manure on some farms is processed through a mechanical separator where they can use odorless solids (a by-product of this process) as clean, soft bedding for their cows rather than purchasing bedding from outside sources. Many dairy farms also accept leftover food and food scraps that people and animals cannot eat and recycle them through anaerobic digesters and composting.

recycled cow manure

Cow bedding is a byproduct of the anaerobic digester process to turn manure into power. The bedding is clean, soft, and made up of plant fibers.

Image shows cow bedding from Keewaydin Farm in Stowe, VT.

Dairy farms may compost their manure and sell it to the public or local businesses like vegetable farms and flower nurseries.

Image shows composted manure for sale at Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, MA.

Every farm must abide by clean water laws. Farmers protect the water on and near their farms through a variety of practices to minimize potential runoff from their operations. Some farms use technology which allows them to shoot the manure underneath the soil, right were growing plants need it most and reduces the risk of runoff into local waterways.

New England dairy farmers work with state officials and agronomists to create nutrient management plans which act as a guide-map for the farm’s field work. Manure is spread on crop fields according to these detailed nutrient management plans. The plans are continually updated to reflect new technologies and take into account the types of soil on the farm, the terrain of the fields, soil moisture levels, and the amount of nutrients the next crop on that field will need.

The federal government offers incentives to help dairy farmers protect the water supply. For example, many farmers receive technical assistance when they upgrade their irrigation systems and manure storage facilities.

how cow poop becomes power

How Cow Poop Becomes Power

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Feeding the Soil: The Scoop on Poop

Get the “Scoop on Poop” and see responsible manure management practices in action on dairy farms in our region.

What is a Methane Digester?

Methane or anaerobic digester systems allow farmers to go a step further and recycle manure into biofuel or clean, renewable electricity.

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