Too much, and too smelly. Those are the two objections raised to manure from large feedlots, but August Liivam and his brothers Ken and Harold have a solution.
The Liivams have run a manure-composting business for more than five years. The Grey Wooded Forage Association worked with them to start the operation. Manure was initially taken from Hillbrook Feeders and other feedlots in the Rocky Mountain House area. The Liivams are currently composting about 700 tons of manure in Leslieville and have more compost sites in 20 different locations around the province.
Once manure is collected, it is spread into windrows 18 feet wide and eight feet tall. In the next stage, gypsum, a waste product from building demolition, is added to the manure to accelerate the composting process.
Key components for successful composting are high temperatures, aeration and the correct carbon/nitrogen balance. The ideal internal temperature of the manure pack must reach 160 F. Aeration in the pile is provided by a large composting machine that turns windrows so they reach the right level of aeration and temperature.
After the windrow is turned, the temperature must climb to 160 F before it is turned again the second time. This process is repeated about five or six times.
Without that oxygen, microbes don t live and they don t break down the pack, said August Liivam. In ideal conditions when the temperatures are right, we can go through a windrow about four times and break it down and make it look like garden dirt.
The process can take as little as five weeks, but takes longer in wetter conditions.
It depends on the outside temperature and if we can get enough oxygen into the windrow to drive it down so the microbes will work, he said.
Liivam says you can tell if the carbon and nitrogen are balanced in the pile by squeezing a bunch of the material in your fist. If liquid starts seeping out, wood chips or straw, which contain carbon, should be added. If the material is too dry and will not stick together, fresh manure, which contains nitrogen, needs to be added. If the balance is right, you should be able to squeeze the material and have it stick together.
When you apply manure straight, your neighbours are also going to object to the smell, said Liivam. That s probably one of the worst things if you re living close to an urban area. A lot of the feedlots are near urban areas these days.
Composting reduces the volume of the manure pack to about half. The process ties up as many of the nutrients in the manure pack as possible. Once the manure is composted, it is returned to fields to add valuable nutrients. Nutrients do not leach from compost the way they leach from manure.
Reducing the volume also makes it economic to haul a longer distance.
The load is lighter and the nutrient enrichment is there, said Liivam.
Done correctly, composting destroys pathogens and weed seeds, is easier to handle, and does not attract flies, and is a stable product free of odours. It can be stored and applied to land when convenient.
The Liivams use the material on their own 700 acres of crop, and do commercial work by taking their composter from Strathmore to Stony Plain and all across central Alberta.
Inidealconditionswhenthe temperaturesareright,wecan gothroughawindrowabout fourtimesandbreakitdown andmakeitlooklikegarden dirt.