In-vessel Composting for Biosecure Deadstock Disposal

CANADA - A desire to relieve the impact of higher fuel costs while, at the same time, improving biosecurity on the farm is prompting a growing number of livestock operations to rely on in-vessel composting to dispose of animal mortalities.
calendar icon 12 August 2008
clock icon 8 minute read

Composting is a natural process that harnesses bacteria to break down any range of organic waste, from livestock manure to human waste to waste from food processing to animal mortalities.

BIOvator Speeds Bacterial Decomposition of Waste

Developed by the Niverville, Manitoba based Puratone Corporation the BIOvator is a rotary drum composting unit which dramatically speeds up the biological processes that break down organic waste. The technology earned its inventor, Dr. Shokry Rashwan, the 2005 F.X. Aherne Prize for Innovative Pork Production, presented as part of the annual Banff Pork Seminar.

"The BIOvator is an in-vessel composter that uses in-vessel technology to enhance an age old process of composting," explains Shawn Compton the sales and marketing manager with Puratone's BIOvator Division. "[It] speeds up the microorganisms and produces a pathogen free safe compost out of your mortalities in a very short period of time."

Originally Developed for Handling Swine Mortalities

Compton notes, although the BIOvator was developed for the hog industry, the recent downturn has slowed the switch from other methods of disposing of mortalities. None the less, the larger integrators are carefully examining their options. "The big driver, right now, is the price of fuel for incineration which a lot of producers are still doing. That's really driving those producers to take a look at other alternatives."

The composter consists of a four foot diameter rotating drum and comes in three sizes, and 18 foot model, a 30 foot model and a 42 foot model. The mortality is placed in one end with an appropriate amount straw or wood shavings to provide carbon and the door is closed. The drum automatically rotates every 12 hours or so and 12 to 14 days later the mortality emerges from the other end as finished compost.

BIOvator Offers Alternative to Rendering and Incineration

Henry Moore operates Sampson County, North Carolina based Bobcat Farms. Bobcat Farms consists of a 5,200 sow farrow to wean operation, an 8,800 head finishing operation, a 200 head cow calf operation and crop land which produces small grains.

"Anything that dies here, we compost it," says Moore. "We compost everything on the farm from the weanling pigs after birth to the 500 and 600 pound sows to any of the other gilts in the operation."

Originally Moore used rendering to dispose of dead animals. He found, as fuel costs rose, rendering became a more expensive option but of ever greater concern was the biosecurity risk as disease became more prevalent. To address biosecurity, the operation switched to incineration two and a half years ago. "We soon found that the cost of incineration along with the air emissions was not something we could afford with diesel fuel approaching $4.50. So we, in October of 2007, decided to seek another remedy for our mortalities and that's when we teamed up with BIOvator and began using the rotary drum composting system to dispose of our mortalities."

Decision Pays Off

As part of an effort to reduce the farm's total energy use, cut energy costs and reduce the operation's carbon footprint from the use of fossil fuels, Moore hired an independent audit firm to conduct an intensive energy audit and attach a dollar values to the farm's energy use. Everything was evaluated, right down to a flickering light bulb.

"During that audit we found several items that we could improve on but the largest one was our mortality removal and the method that we got rid of our mortalities," Moore says. "The energy audit itself showed that we had a value of about $28,000 to $30,000 a year in savings on diesel fuel alone, not to mention the benefits for the environment and the ability to utilize the end product."

BIOvator Offers Easier More Efficient Composting Option

In 2002 Ted Neufeld, with T and D Neufeld Farms at Niverville, adopted in-vessel composting to replace pick-up by Rothsay Recycles, the local rendering company.

T and D Neufeld Farms began as a 250 sow weanling operation in 1983 and has since expanded into a 1,600 sow early wean unit. "We had looked at a number of different ways of composting and this just seemed to me to be a better and easier system to work with."

"The composter itself runs approximately $35,000 to $45,000," says Neufeld.

He estimates the cost of owning a cooler and having Rothsay pick up deadstock would be comparable. Ongoing operating costs are negligible.

"The whole composter runs on one one horse power motor so the electricity bills are very very minimal. It only runs approximately two hours per day on a one horse power motor so it's a matter of pennies per day."

He estimates the wood shavings the 1,600 that the sow operation uses as a carbon source for composting costs about one thousand dollars per year.

BIOvator Replaces Other Composting Options

Mike Heppell, with E and H Farms at Abbotsford, BC, purchased a BIOvator about six months ago to replace bin composting.

E and H Farms has been in operation for just over 30 years. Primarily a poultry operation it produces heavy tom turkeys, over a million kilograms per year.

"Over the years we've handled deadstock on the operation every way conceivable and we're always looking for a better way," says Heppell.

Several factors played a role in the decision to switch from one form of composting to another. "The bin composting was far more labour intensive for one," he says. "The single biggest reason was that the bin composting tended to go anaerobic and therefore there was significant odour when we would turn the bins. The other thing was, in the summer months, we ended up in a situation where we had a lot of flies. The vessel composting has eliminated those issues and, in addition, the possibility of animals, dogs, coyotes or whatever digging into our bin composter and packing stuff off into the fields or the neighbour's place."

Setup and Operation Costs Comparable

Heppell estimates the approximately $50,000 dollar up front cost of purchasing and setting up the largest available BIOvator would be comparable to the cost of putting up a covered facility and building a bin composting operation. "The beauty of it is the ongoing cost of running a BIOvator only come in at about $120 per year."

He acknowledges the other system was also relatively low cost but it required machine time and fuel for the machines and turning the compost required about an hour's time every three weeks. "This has become a lower cost option but, more importantly to us, it's just become a much more pleasant operation in dealing with the unpleasant side of livestock production."

End Product Provides Valuable Source of Crop Nutrients A key advantage of composting over rendering or incineration is the resulting end product.

"If you've ever been to a store and bought potting soil, it's very similar, probably a little more wood chips in it," observes Moore.

He uses the end product to fertilize his operation's cropland. "Nitrogen has become very expensive, commercial fertilizers have become so expensive over the last two to three years with the rising cost of fuel, it's been important to utilize all sources of nitrogen that we can on the farm to produce our small grains and our hay."

The compost is analyzed for its nutrient content and spread over the fields using a manure spreader and soil samples are taken to ensure a precise application as needed.

Compost Improves Productive Capacity of Marginal Soils

Moore notes, "While we're talking about the compost, the composition of it, if you have weak land, like here in North Carolina, in certain areas we have sandy land that doesn't do a very good job of holding moisture. This compost really builds up the land and the quality of the soil to help it maintain a little more moisture to grow a better crop."

Compton notes interest in the technology is building world wide. "In the future I would expect a large swing over to some form of composting whether it be in-vessel or just your standard form just due to the energy crisis. I don't see those [energy costs] coming down any time soon and farmers are going to be watching their dollars a lot closer."

Moore agrees, "I believe what ever method, composting is the way of the future, utilizing what's left over. We've been very pleased with all aspects of it."

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