Composting has valuable role in hog production

CANADA - Composting hog manure has not been considered a viable manure management alternative until recent years. Even now the practice is thought to be more labour intensive and more expensive than conventional liquid manure handling methods.
calendar icon 12 June 2003
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"While it is true that composting does not fit well with conventional rearing systems, it can have an important place in hog production," said Dr. Katherine Buckley of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's (AAFC) research centre in Brandon, MB. "Where dry sows and grower/finisher hogs are housed in facilities with straw or shavings as bedding or as an absorbent, composting is a natural solution to manure handling problems."

Composting is the aerobic (oxygen-requiring) decomposition of manure or other organic materials under temperatures of 40 - 65° C (104 - 149° F). Nature provides an extensive population of microorganisms that are commonly attached to all organic wastes. When conditions are right, these microbes grow and multiply by decomposing the material to which they are attached. From a scientific viewpoint, the "active" composting process is started and managed under controlled environmental conditions.

Managing moisture, air, carbon, and nitrogen in the right proportions will bring about rapid composting. Another consideration is proper site preparation to minimize weather-related disruptions to composting activities and to prevent environmental impacts on surface and groundwater.

According to Dr. Buckley, the composted material becomes relatively stable and useful after 12 to 13 weeks of active composting. It is odorless, fine-textured with low-moisture and can be used for non-agricultural and agricultural purposes with little odor or fly-breeding potential. The process increases the value of raw manure by destroying pathogens and weed seeds and creating a medium for the production and proliferation of beneficial organisms.

When managed properly, composting improves the handling characteristics of any organic residue by reducing its moisture content, volume, and weight. Composting generates a rich nutrient product that maintains soil quality in a way that chemical fertilizers cannot.

Studies are under way to examine the benefits of using either hog or cattle manure as fertilizer in annual cropping systems. The AAFC research team in Brandon is especially interested in nutrient transformation and nutrient-use efficiency. The long-term effects on crop yield and quality and soil quality, and energy requirements of various manure handling practices also fall within the research program.

Reducing weight and mass of manure through composting improves handling characteristics of a product easily stored and applied at convenient times of the year since the organic nitrogen in the material is less susceptible to leaching and further losses of ammonia.

"Composting produces an excellent soil conditioner that adds organic matter, improves soil structure, improves water-holding capacity, reduces fertilizer requirements and reduces potential for soil erosion," said Dr. Buckley. "For composted manure, there are a variety of consumer market opportunities this product could be marketed to including as home gardeners, landscapers, vegetable farmers, turf growers, golf courses, and ornamental growers."

AAFC facilities at the Brandon Research Centre deliver R&D in sustainable management of soil, crop and livestock resources. The research efforts help to ensure the safety, quality, and marketability of agricultural production from the Parkland, a vast agro-ecological region of the Canadian Prairies.

Federal, provincial and territorial governments recognize agriculture's long-term viability and profitability depend on the environmental sustainability of farming practices. Through the Agricultural Policy Framework, AAFC and other departments of agriculture are encouraging farmers to continue their use of good environmental practices, such as composting, to increase profitability and maintain an important link to increasingly environmentally aware consumer.

Source: Agriculture and Agri-food Canada - 10th June 2003

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