Composting

by Sandy Larocque
 
The days of taking deadstock out to the back forty are gone.
 
As livestock producers, goat breeders need to manage dead stock properly and correctly. One of the first questions many producers ask are, why should I compost? First of all, it is an industry accepted method of dealing with dead stock, but also there are many benefits to your farming operation, if you learn to compost dead stock properly.
 
Some of the benefits with composting is that at the end, you are left with a very valuable resource. This material is easier to handle than raw manure. The compost material has a lower water content than manure and the mass will have been reduced up to 60%. This reduces the costs of hauling and spreading the manure/compost material on the fields versus the spreading of raw manure. The resulting material is also more uniform in texture, which in turn makes it easier to spread on fields, gardens, etc.
 
The composting of dead stock and manure kills pathogens and weed seeds. The nutrients are also stabilized so that they are available when the crop/plants require them. Compost is also safer to use than raw manure as it won’t burn the crops/plants.
 
So to sum it up, if you compost dead stock, you end up with a very valuable nutrient rich product for a very small cost, if any at all.
 
There are many types of composting but the most common method for small operations is the passive or open-pile compost.
 
Open-pile composting is suitable for small to moderate-sized farms operating under a low level of management. This method involves forming piles of organic materials and leaving them undisturbed until the materials have decomposed into a stabilized product.
 
Small piles are designed to take advantage of natural air movement. As an actively composing pile heats from the inside, the warm air rises, pulling cooler, fresher air inward from the sides and bottom. Depending on the looseness of the pile, wind currents can also move air through the pile. In general, larger piles are more difficult to aerate effectively because of pile compaction. Under proper feedstock and moisture conditions, however, these piles can get quite hot and produce good compost.
 
It is important to start the compost pile on a hard packed surface, asphalt or concrete. You need 2 feet of straw, wood shavings, etc. Once a good bed of this material is made, the dead stock is placed on this. Then the animal(s) are covered with raw manure preferably a mixture of manure and straw or wood shavings. This gives more aeration to the compost pile. Every time animals are added, top the pile off with a raw manure mix. This will help provide the heat that you need for the composting to be fast and effective.
 
Compost Requirements
  • Water (40-60%)
  • Air (5%)
  • Nutrient Balance (20-40:1)
  • Temperature (43-65 degrees Celsius)
 
If you have too LOW of a moisture content you will have a very slow decomposition rate. If you have too HIGH a moisture content, you will have flies and unwanted odors. To check your moisture level, it should be ideally at the wrung-out sponge level. Gathering a handful, squeeze it together, if it clumps together, is wet without moisture running off, your level is right.
 
 
Three Stages of Composting
 
Primary Phase
  •  Carcasses and bulking agent layered in pile
  •  High rate of anaerobic and aerobic activity
  •  Breakdown of flesh and small bones
  •  Temperature increases
 
Secondary Phase
  •  Turning the pile initiates increased aerobic activity
  •  Temperature increases
  •  Breakdown of long bones, skull and pelvis
  •  Turn the pile regularly once a week (not absolutely necessary but turning hastens the composting)
 
Finished Compost
  •  Compost is finished when temperatures drop to ambient (current air temperatures) temperatures
  •  Compost will appear dark and soil-like.

At this time, you can spread the material on lawns, gardens, fields, etc.

 
All of this information was gathered from a Composting 101 Workshop that was held at various locations around the province of Manitoba. We all came home learning something new and with some very valuable, in hand reading, resources as well.