Andy Lenkaitis 2016-10-25 00:26:31
A balancing act of animals, equipment, labor, and the environment From the barn to the field, the equipment used to handle manure has improved dramatically in the past 30 years. Push scrapers and shovels are being replaced by sleek robotic machines that maneuver through the barn, while the old open-cab tractor and manure spreader tossing dry manure onto a field are being replaced by self-propelled machines that simultaneously work the soil and inject liquid manure with a precision-controlled supply system. There are two major drivers of innovation in animal agriculture: making the animals more comfortable, and making tasks easier for the operator. In manure equipment technology, we also have a third factor: environmental impact. When we look inside the barn, the equipment and the approach vary among animal species; however, in the field, it doesn’t matter what animal created the manure—it all needs to be used properly. In the barn, manure collection systems—both mechanical and robotic systems—operate alongside the animals to collect manure and clean the barn. Efficient manure collection is critical for controlling the gas and odor emissions from animal facilities. Many systems also strive to minimize freshwater use by reusing water several times for floor cleaning, bedding separation, and manure conveyance. Particularly on dairy farms, bedding recovery systems have been gaining popularity as a way to recover or produce bedding for the animals. Equipment development in the barn is driven by finding ways to replace manual tasks without disrupting natural animal behavior. Robotic systems will play key roles in cleaning stalls, distributing feed, and even moving and sorting the animals. Specialized products—such as environmental floors, aeration systems, and emissions recovery and treatment technology— will be adopted to find solutions that can pay for themselves through improved efficiency and economics. Advanced manure treatment systems—such as decanter centrifuges, digesters, and filtration systems—provide additional options for manure treatment and handling. As livestock farms grow in one location, their manure and nutrients need to be distributed across greater distances. Often, concentrating the nutrients recovered from manure can allow an operation to transport the nutrients over greater distances, while the lower-nutrient liquid can be applied more cost-effectively close to home. Manure processing systems will continue to evolve to extract beneficial products from manure, including fiber for processing, gas for energy, and field amendments with nutrient levels tailored for specific farms and fields. Manure processing may be limited on swine farms, as their growth model is to build barns strategically on land capable of using all the manure produced. Most operators are aware of the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N, P, and K) values of manure. Those of us involved in manure processing discuss N, P, K, and B, where B stands for the biological benefits of manure, which often go beyond the traditional nutrient analysis. To maximize the biological benefits, manure application technology has evolved along with other agricultural equipment. PTO-driven manure pumps at the edge of a storage lagoon have become manure boats which include a pump, power unit, and agitation nozzles floating across multi-acre lagoons to create a homogenous mix of nutrients in the material applied to the field. Liquid manure tankers with flowmeters and GPS mapping can precisely apply manure with a variety of tools that incorporate manure immediately into the soil, thereby reducing the odor and preserving the precious nutrients. When a large land area is available within a few miles of the farm, power units with booster pumps can feed manure from a lagoon directly to the applicators through a pipeline network at up to 4,000 gallons per minute with precise control of manure placement. Real-time nutrient readings with near-infrared sensors or similar technology will decrease the variability in nutrient applications. All this development in manure application equipment is driven by efficiency, measured in gallons per labor hour during the short application window. Many of these advances in manure equipment are due in part to a shift toward more liquid manure systems on livestock farms. Handling manure as a liquid allows application with precise control and can adapt proven pump technology from other industries. Solid spreading systems in the poultry industry have also made advances in precise control of nutrient application. In either case—solid or liquid—efficient use of nutrients requires a consistent and homogenous manure product. Manure handling has a dirty and smelly past. While the future is bright, the industry doesn’t smell like roses quite yet. Farm managers and operators—those who understand the needs of the animals, the value of manure, and the cost of labor—are continually pushing for innovative solutions to balance these demands. Engineers will continue to develop new technologies, new materials, and new methods to meet the challenge. One thing won’t change: manure handling will remain a major factor in the future of animal production systems. ASABE member Andy Lenkaitis, P.E., Product Manager for Manure Equipment, GEA Farm Technologies, Inc., Naperville, Ill., USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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