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Environmentally Friendly Composting Unit Assists with Deadstock Disposal

20 June 2005

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 1837. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.

Farm-Scape, Episode 1837

An award winning composting system designed to assist in the disposal of dead pigs is proving itself as a cost effective alternative to rendering, burning or burying livestock mortalities.

The Biovator, which is now in its first year of commercial production, was developed by the Niverville, Manitoba based Puratone Corporation to address the challenges posed by the disposal of deadstock. The unit, which consists of a rotating four foot diameter drum, mixes livestock mortalities with wood shavings while introducing oxygen.

“What you would do is you would load mortalities and wood shavings into one end,” says Puratone Sales Representative Shawn Compton. “Your mortalities contain a high amount of nitrogen and your wood shavings contain a high amount of carbon and you need about a twenty-five to one carbon to nitrogen ratio for proper composting. We would add mortalities and shavings, let them sit for four or five days to bring the temperature up inside the vessel.”

“Then you add mortalities on a daily basis and turn the vessel occasionally, usually four revolutions in the morning and four at night, and the product just works its way down the drum. Once it reaches the discharge end it's in the cured compost stage and it just discharges on it's own.”

Puratone Opts for Composting

In 2000 Puratone decided to use composting for its deadstock disposal. Project Engineer Dr. Shokry Rashwan, who headed the development of the Biovator, says the alternative at that time was to build outdoor composting facilities and Puratone did actually build a few of those outdoor composting facilities using different designs and layouts.

“By the beginning of 2001, we realized, in order to build proper outdoor composting facilities we have to spend close to $30,000 or $35,000 dollars and that was, in our opinion, a very expensive option.”

He points out, “If you do not build proper facilities, then you're going to be stuck with lots of problems, drainage problems, leaching problems, problems with the cold winter weather, which would shut down the process for six months of the year.”

“With all of these problems added to the increasing cost we said let’s see how can we improve this process or change the process, keeping in mind we need to maintain the composting as our process for disposing of dead animals. That’s how we started thinking about a confined piece of equipment with controlled conditions.”

The research and development phase began in 2003 and commercialization began after that.

Biovator Captures Banff Pork Seminar Award

In January 2005, at the Banff Pork Seminar, Dr. Rashwan was presented the F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production for his work in developing the Biovator.

The award was instituted to offer recognition for on-farm technology innovations that answer production challenges. To qualify for the award, innovations must be in use on a farm in Western Canada and must fit into one or more of six categories, improved productivity, improved profitability, improved working conditions, improved animal well-being, reduced impact on the environment, and improved pork quality or food safety.

Different Models Accommodate Various Production Systems

The Biovator is currently available in three sizes. There is an 18 foot model which is geared for poultry operations and small hog operations. A 30 foot model, which is geared for a 1500 sow farrow to wean, and a 42 foot model which will handle larger operations. About 20 units are now being used on livestock operations across Canada.

Biosecurity Concerns Encourage Biovator Use

One of the units has been in operation since May 2004 at T and D Neufeld Farms, a 1600 sow farrow to wean operation near Niverville.

Ted Neufeld says the operation had been using a commercial deadstock pickup service but decided to try the Biovator, primarily to avoid the biosecurity risks associated with that service.

“They do not follow strict biosecurity rules. They go from farm to farm to farm picking up dead stock, where ever it’s most convenient and so they could have come from an infected feeder barn or another infected sow barn and just kind of back up on the yard and pick up your mortalities.”

“We were looking for an alternative to keeping our deadstock on farm and disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way.”

Alternatives Not Feasible

“Burial wasn't an option to us, just because of the cost and your constantly digging holes and burying,” Neufeld adds. “When you have one, two maybe up to three or four dead sows per week it doesn’t make economic since.”

“We looked at the pit composting aspect of it and it just seemed like it was too much work and also I think probably more costly. We didn’t cost out the pit composting but just looked at mostly the fly problem or the rodent problem and stuff like that and decided that was not an option either.”

“Then we heard about the Biovator which is a steel tube style composting unit and looked at it quite carefully over about a six month period and thought that was probably a reasonable way of dealing with the mortalities.”

Neufeld says the Biovator works really well, “We are putting approximately, on average probably two to three sows per week into the Biovator which would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 pounds and as well as all of the dead weanlings, which would probably be another 200 to 300 pounds per week and afterbirth and stuff like that and it basically, within seven days to ten days it's coming out the other end in compost form.”

Biovator Considered Cost Effective

As for costs, Neufeld says, “The only thing that's running that composter is one horse power 110 volt motor and, to the deadstock, you have to add shavings which cost probably in the neighborhood of $900 a year so the total cost is probably somewhere around a thousand dollars a year for operating the Biovator.”

Adding, “In comparison to let’s say a cooling system, it's probably about half the price of operating a cooling system and to set it up does not cost you that much more than it would cost you to put in a refrigeration system. Again the dead stock stays on the yard and so you don't really have a biosecurity system.”

Biovator More Work But Worth the Effort

Neufeld admits, “It's probably a little bit more work than some of the other systems. Like, if you just have somebody coming in and picking up the deadstock, it’s probably a little bit more work and it does take a little time to figure out the best way of working this Biovator.

Once it’s up and running and you figure out all the nooks and crannies and all the little idiosyncrasies of the machine it works really well.”

He adds, “We have a little nylon tent over it which basically keeps the wind away from it and we ran it right through the winter and managed to keep it going the whole time and had absolutely no problems with cold weather or anything like that.”

County Line Farms at Rimby, Alberta a 1200 sow farrow to 50 pound operation which produces about 30,000 weanlings a year, installed a Biovator about two months ago.

Farm Manager Randy Doleman says, “At first it took a little juggling but now that seems to be going good, it’s really handy. As far as feasibility goes, it’s not cheap by any means but it will pay for itself in a number of years so I think it’s worth it for sure. The pigs just seem to disappear in there when you add all the shavings and stuff.”

Compost Similar to Commercially Available Products

Doleman says, “The end product is very similar to the compost you would buy in the store. It’s not a straight black dirt but it is fairly broke down.”

He says County Line has been using the finished compost on its own farmland. “We’ve just been spreading out on the fields so it’s quite easy to get rid of and there's enough farmland around so it's no problem to get rid of it. It’s been really good.”

Biovator Offers Multi-Species Solution

Although the technology is now being used in swine and poultry production, a number of concerns, including the ability of composting to destroy the agent that causes mad cow disease, has kept it from being applied to cattle.

However, Dr. Rashwan is confident the technology can be successfully applied to the cattle industry.

“I would like to believe that the process, not necessarily the existing Biovator that you see, but the process of composting as we see it happening in the Biovator is applicable to any species whether it's cattle or horses or pigs or anything.”

He points out, “Humans decompose the same way as animals so the process itself is applicable to any species. The machine, or the size of the equipment that we have right now, is most suited to the pig and poultry market. The cattle market may require looking into a different size of equipment or slightly different control conditions.”

More Research Needed

Dr. Rashwan says, while many are of the opinion that composting will not destroy the agent that causes mad cow disease, he would like to see more conclusive research to determine whether or not composting is or is not an effective means of addressing mad cow.

For Farmscape.Ca, I'm Bruce Cochrane.

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