Manure Management

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November 4, 2015 - On October 30 Chore-Time celebrated a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the official opening of its $7.1 million building expansion. Milford and county officials who helped cut the ribbon included Milford Town Council members Bob Cockburn and Doug Ruch, along with George Robertson from Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation, Bob Jackson, County Commissioner and Alyssa Lowe from the Kosciusko Chamber of Commerce.  Also participating in the ribbon cutting were Dan Robinson, Brent Robinson and Dan Reynolds from Robinson Construction, company personnel from Chore-Time and CTB, and local media.

The expansion features 45,000 square feet (4,180 square meters) of floor space, five new truck docks and a new truck drive along the north side of the Chore-Time plant.  Six new fabrication machines were purchased as part of the project along with a variety of material handling and assembly fixtures and warehouse racks.  

The addition to Chore-Time’s existing facilities in Milford was designed to improve the flow of raw materials into the building and the efficiency of manufacturing processes and delivery performance. As the project progressed, Chore-Time added approximately 80 full-time employees to its ranks.  A celebration event for Chore-Time employees is planned later in 2015.

The expansion project was announced in late 2014 with ground breaking taking place soon afterwards.  The new space brings Chore-Time’s total square footage in Milford to 395,000 square feet (36,700 square meters).  

Employees, machinery and inventory moved into the new space in July and August, and the project is now essentially complete.  A few finishing touches, such as landscaping, are still planned.

“This ribbon cutting marks the culmination of a wonderful team effort,” said Chris Stoler, Executive Vice president and General Manager for the Chore-Time Group. “I’d like to extend my thanks to all the Chore-Time team members who have worked so hard and demonstrated such great teamwork.”

“The completion of the building compliments the efforts of the whole team to increase the efficiency of our customer fulfillment process,” he added.  “This effort will continue in the months and years ahead, as we strive to further optimize and enhance the way we supply products and services globally.  Our goal is continuous improvement in how we meet customer needs and support the growth in global demand for Chore-Time’s poultry, egg and pig production systems.”

Jeff Miller, Operations Manager for Chore-Time, noted that the town of Milford, Kosciusko County and the State of Indiana contributed economic incentives to facilitate the Chore-Time expansion in Milford. He also thanked the team at Robinson Construction and the many others involved in the project.

“The construction team worked through 63 days of snow and rain,” said Miller. “We appreciate the extra efforts that weather issues required.” 



Residents throughout the Northwest Territories (NWT) are flocking to the Northern Farm Training Institute (NFTI) in Hay River to learn how to grow crops. The challenge is finding enough productive land in their communities to pursue agricultural endeavors.

That’s where Hay River-based egg producer, Choice North Farms, and its plan to convert its poultry manure into compost could play a vital role to help develop productive soils in many northern communities.

Kim Rapati, NFTI Operations Manager and former Hay River Regional Manager for an environmental advocacy group called Ecology North says that compost is a highly valued commodity in the North because there is so little arable land available in the region to pursue farming ventures in or near the region’s many small communities. Addition of compost to what she described as ‘young soils’ will provide community members with the opportunity to establish and develop their farming skills.

“The composting venture was initiated by us,” says Kevin Wallington, Choice North Farms sales and marketing representative. “In past years, there had been studies done on old poultry sites to see if there was any feasibility in it. But I don’t think there was really a will on the industry side. It really has to be championed by industry to participate in a venture
like this.”

The farm houses about 117,000 laying hens producing about 37 million eggs and 3500 tonnes of manure per year near Hay River. It is working with Ecology North, the NWT government, federal government, NFTI and Town of Hay River on its composting venture. The plan is to start with a 160 cubic metre pilot scale site involving the use of about nine tonnes of manure this summer to test various mixing methods and outcomes, with the goal of developing a full scale site consisting of an area of about 18,000 cubic metres as a commercial composting operation hopefully by next summer.

Choice North Farms is owned and managed by Glen Wallington, and his son, Michael. They own part of the operation, and manage another part for a separate egg producer, but all under one roof. They started producing eggs under the Choice North Farms label about three years ago and are among the largest egg producers in NWT as well as being a supporter of the ‘Polar Egg’ initiative. Since 2012, the Polar Egg Company has been certified to grade eggs locally so that not all eggs are shipped to southern markets but also supplied for human consumption in retail stores in the North. Kevin Wallington is also Glen’s son, as well as sales and marketing director for Polar Egg.

At present, their raw manure is collected on plastic conveyor belts and removed from the barns daily, representing about one dump truck load per day that is transported to a designated landfill area 22 kilometers from the barns.

The objective of the composting project is to mix raw poultry manure with waste paper and wood. The paper and wood are necessary as part of the conversion process to produce compost. Because of that, Kevin says they are in discussions with governments such as the City of Yellowknife and Town of Hay River, as well as industries dealing with waste paper, such as paper shredding companies and the Yellowknife newspaper, to discuss possible alliances in the composting venture.

The concept is to establish an open-turned windrow system where the manure, paper and wood are piled into five metre wide by three metre tall windrows. At full scale operation, 3420 tonnes of poultry manure generated by the egg farm will be combined with 2800 tonnes of paper and 500 tonnes of wood to produce about 3400 cubic metres of compost annually. One of the benefits of composting is that through biological activity, it reduces the volume of the raw materials, and produces a marketable, pathogen and weed-free compost that can be used as a soil amendment in a variety of growing environments.

Either a wheel loader or pile turner could be used to turn the piles as needed to improve air flow and encourage the conversion process. Not only does Choice North Farms want to convert their current production of manure, but also to use the thousands of tonnes of poultry manure that they have accumulated in their nearby landfill over the past 15 years.

“This project is a benefit to us because if we didn’t compost, then effectively the landfill becomes a liability for us,” says Kevin. “Some of those pits are fairly deep and I don’t think you’d have to dig too low below the surface to find that it is fairly fresh after it’s been there for some time.” He adds that there are no issues with the landfill currently, “but I know that the government is excited about our project because the North is full of stories where people just walked away
from things.”

Wallington says that the egg producer had no experience with composting and that is a major benefit that Ecology North has brought to the partnership, providing the technical know-how needed to launch a composting venture.

Savings in diverting paper waste from the Hay River landfill to the poultry farm composting site is estimated at almost 14,000 cubic metres of space, and at $150 per cubic metre, that is a savings of just over $2 million per year. The project costs of establishing the site were estimated at about $350,000, with additional capital costs of $459,000 and annual operating costs of nearly $136,000. To recover those costs, it is estimated that there is the potential to generate just over $235,000 per year in compost sales at $70 per tonne, with the sales and marketing handled by Choice North Farms.

The egg producer has been speaking to the NWT government for a couple of years about acquiring a fresh parcel of land for the composting site, separate from its existing manure management landfill. It is located about 300 metres from the stockpiled manure in the landfill for easy access.

From a technical standpoint, poultry manure is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and requires the addition of carbon for the overall composting process to work. Choice North Farms is relying on the mentorship and experience provided by Ecology North and is also working with a laboratory in Yellowknife to establish the proper mix to produce high quality compost as an end product. Rapati says that despite the sub-arctic temperatures in northern Canada, it is possible to produce high quality compost, but it takes longer because the air temperature does not stay warm for as long as areas further south. The temperature in the windrows is required to achieve at least 55 degrees Celsius for 15 days and turned five times to ensure that the conversion is complete. Producing compost is more of a time management process in the North adapted to suit local conditions. Rapati says the conversion to marketable compost could probably be managed in one season. The frequency of turning and adding moisture to the piles depends on air temperature, airflow and moisture content readings to encourage uniform conversion is taking place within the piles. One advantage of composting in the North is that it has the space to conduct open-windrow composting and because of its sparse population, there are few if any odor complaints.

Kevin says Choice North Farms is excited about the opportunity and eager to get started.

“This is going to be business-driven, probably supported by various organizations, including the government,” says Kevin. “At the end of the day we would like to have a product that we can sell and use in the North for everything ranging from expansion of agriculture to reclamation and for municipal uses as well.”




 Finding a way of turning poultry bedding into a valuable resource in a cost-effective way is difficult. But it didn’t stop B.C. Agriculture Research and Development Corporation (ARDCorp), B.C. Sustainable Poultry Farming Group (SPFG), Ritchie-Smith Feeds and Diacarbon Energy, from trying.  The groups optimistically embarked on a trial to turn this material back into fodder.

Anyone who works in B.C.’s poultry industry is aware that a creative, cost-effective disposal solution is required for the excess volumes of used poultry bedding accumulating from the over 100 million chickens and turkeys produced annually. Finding a way of turning this abundance of bedding into a valuable resource is even harder. But that was the goal of the B.C. Agriculture Research and Development Corporation (ARDCorp), B.C. Sustainable Poultry Farming Group (SPFG), Ritchie-Smith Feeds and Diacarbon Energy, who optimistically embarked on a trial to turn this material back into fodder.

Used poultry bedding has been used for centuries as a soil fertilizer. But only so much of the bedding can be used on the land before the nutrients start leaching into the environment, becoming a risk rather than an asset.

With a relatively low moisture content of 30 to 40 per cent, it is possible to transport broiler litter to nutrient deficient areas for land application. However, on average, a tonne of broiler litter contains less than 200 lbs of nitrogen, phosphate and potash, while a tonne of commercial fertilizer contains over 700 lbs. Due to its low nutrient content to weight ratio (when compared to commercial fertilizer), it is often uneconomical to transportation broiler litter over long distances. While this distance depends heavily upon transportation costs and the cost of commercial fertilizer, a good rule of thumb is that broiler litter should be used within 50 to 100 kilometres of the source. For the Lower Mainland, which raises close to ninety per cent of B.C.’s poultry, the current nutrient surplus is a concern. The poultry sector’s quest for a viable alternative to the land application of bedding was the reason for this recent feed study.

In other parts of the world, some success has been achieved with turning used broiler bedding into biochar and adding it to broiler feed, thereby improving the broiler’s feed conversion and increasing final weight. Fueled by the success of others, ARDCorp, the SPFG and the Ministry of Agriculture hoped that through conducting their own experiment, they could create demand for roughly ten per cent of the used broiler bedding in the Lower Mainland; and, at the same time, improve production.

Biochar is made by burning biomass material at extreme temperatures of over 500C in an oxygen-free environment. This process, called pyrolysis (thermochemical decomposition), is a very effective disinfection technique, ensuring that the biochar is free of any possible pathogens.

When applied to soils, the high surface area and porosity of biochar act as a catalyst for plant growth by helping to retain water and by providing a habitat for beneficial microorganisms to flourish.

More recently, there has been interest in how biochar aids in the grinding process and provides a habitat for beneficial microoganisms in the digestive system.  It has been claimed that the consumption of biochar by broilers can increase update of foodstuffs and the energy contained within them.  Increased uptake can thus result in increased weight gain and/or improved feed conversion.

Although the idea of supplementing broiler feed with biochar made from broiler litter may seem strange, it should be noted that processed poultry litter has been used as a feed ingredient for almost 40 years in the U.S.

For this study, used broiler bedding was taken from a commercial broiler barn in the Fraser Valley and dried before being delivered to Diacarbon’s pyrolysis unit in Agassiz. Once processed, the resulting biochar was transported to Ritchie-Smith Feeds in Abbotsford where it was incorporated into commercial starter, grower and finisher broiler feed. The feed was delivered to S.J. Ritchie Research Farms Ltd in Abbotsford for a floor pen study.

The study involved 288 broiler chicks arbitrarily placed into twenty-four specially constructed pens. The chicks in each pen were given feed supplemented with biochar or feed without biochar for 35 days. The broilers were weighed individually once weekly and the weights recorded. All feed was also weighed weekly and any feed remaining in the feeders was weighed back and replaced.

Unfortunately, the hoped-for outcomes of the study did not come to pass. From the results of this study it can be concluded that supplementing broiler feed with broiler litter biochar had no statistically significant impact on broiler weight gain and/or feed conversion (Table 1). While unknown as to why, it could be because of the nutrients in broiler litter; a result of the droppings and spilled feed that gets mixed in with the bedding material. It is therefore possible that the supplementation of broiler litter biochar resulted in the broilers being feed too high levels of certain nutrients. This assumption would go some way to explain the high levels of Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl) found in the litter from T2 and T3 pens (Table 2).

In other studies that have found significant benefits from supplementing broiler feed with biochar, other feedstocks were used to make the biochar; including oak, pine, coconut shells, corn cobs and peanut hulls. It is therefore possible that had an alternative feedstock be used (such as pine instead of broiler litter), supplementing broiler feed with biochar may have been a statistically significant impact on broiler weight gain and/or feed conversion.

Future Opportunities
While the biochar feed study might have ruled out one opportunity, it has opened doors for others. The main objective, after all, is to find sustainable ways of managing used broiler bedding. And if supplementing broiler feed with broiler bedding biochar did not work as expected, then the question should be: where can the industry look next?

Allen James, Chair of ARDCorp, and a member of the SPFG hopes researchers can find a positive way to convert the poultry bedding into energy. “As long as there’s an excess of bedding, we’ll be looking for a solution.” He is hopeful we will find a local solution to our local situation.

Other applications of biochar have proved successful, but perhaps not economically feasible for the Lower Mainland. Biochar has been used as a soil conditioner to improve water retention and nutrient density to aid in the growth of plants and increase yield. Biochar is also considered a superior growing medium in hydroponics, which is a rapidly growing technology. All of these areas could be expanded upon, creating financial opportunities for the poultry industry.

“Many studies have been done in the U.S,” explains James, “but none of them relate to B.C. and our particular situation. We’ll keep pressing on as long as the industry has this situation to deal with.”

For B.C., a new study is planned for 2015 to convert poultry litter into heat and electricity. This project could potentially have positive impacts on both the environment and animal waste management, and be one solution to how we can turn trash into treasure. We will have to wait for the results to come in, and look forward to future projects, which will help answer the burning question.

Any inquiries about this study and requests for details should be directed ARDCorp’s Senior Program Manager Jaclyn Laic (604) 854-4483. 

Funding for this project has been provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture through the Canada-B.C. Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C.





Actual chicken growers as action movie stars fighting the use of hormones and steroids in the production of B.C. and Canadian chicken? That’s the unlikely premise of the Chicken Squad, a recent social media campaign by the B.C. Chicken Growers Association (BCCGA) and the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board.

“We started working on the program three years ago,” says BCCGA president Ravi Bathe. “Our association directors talked a lot about how we talk to the public about things they are concerned about. Three years later, here we are.”

Bathe plays the primary “good guy” in the series of ten YouTube videos and an action movie “trailer” which can be viewed at BCCMB director Kerry Froese acted as the main “villain” while other growers from both the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan took parts as supporting members of the cast. Even Chicken Farmers of Canada chair David Janzen appears in a cameo role as the good guys’ mentor. A total of about 15 growers and their families participated.

The short videos include “auditions” for the movie, grower interviews, outtakes and, of course, the movie trailer.

Even though the videos were shot in mid-winter and included a rather chilly scene where several end up in a backyard pool, the growers had a blast.

“I’m now looking to Hollywood,” one joked, claiming “I’ve already turned down several offers.”

Relevention Marketing, the public relations and marketing firm contracted to co-ordinate the project shares their enthusiasm.

“The most rewarding part of the process was working with real chicken farmers and seeing the relationships and friendships which developed,” says Relevention marketing strategist Steffan Janzen. “To ask them to do something vulnerable and be able to laugh at themselves was great.”

Reaching Consumers
The program is based on consumer misconceptions about the use of hormones and steroids in chicken production.

“The most concerning statistic is how many consumers believe chicken contains hormones and steroids,” Janzen says, noting a recent survey showed 64 per cent of British Columbians believe that. The videos therefore clearly spell out that the use of hormones and steroids to produce chicken in Canada has been banned for 50 years.

Misconceptions are particularly prevalent among the young.

“We looked at the issue of trust between consumers and farmers. Do consumers trust the people who are growing their food?” Janzen asks, adding “there was a direct correlation between age and the level of trust. The younger the consumer, the less the trust.”

He says the campaign’s aim was to “increase the level of trust among younger urban consumers,” calling them “a highly skeptical group.”

They are also difficult to reach using traditional media, which is why a YouTube campaign was selected.

“Social media is becoming the norm now so we wanted to harness it,” Bathe says.

He would not reveal how much the campaign cost, but insists “the benefits outweighed the cost.” Although it was funded in part by provincial Buy Local funding Bathe notes the campaign was already being developed before the funding program was announced.

By the end of June, the videos had attracted a total of 175,000 views. The campaign also led to appearances on major Vancouver television and radio stations and interviews in many urban papers.

“It’s about making people aware that we have all these programs,” Bathe says.

“Part of the purpose is to build goodwill so when something happens there’s a level of comfort among consumers,” Janzen says, adding there is opportunity to do more with the material developed for the campaign.

That is something growers are considering.

“We are looking at the next steps,” Bathe says. “We hope to do more things like this in future.”



Although the Canadian poultry industry doesn’t have a formal sustainability plan, existing on-farm programs and planning speak to sustainability 

Sustainability is simply long-term thinking, making sure we look after tomorrow while we look after today. Farmers already know this: unless farming is balanced on the three pillars of sustainability — looking after the environmental, economic and social needs of production — long-term viability will not be ensured.

But to consumers, sustainability has now become a buzzword. They are starting to realize that at our current global population growth rate we’re faced with a potential need to feed 9 billion people by 2050. At the rate we’re going, we will eat our planet. Water, soil, energy, all can be easily depleted but not so easily replaced. While farming practices and scientific advances will contribute to higher production, we will end up bankrupt if we don’t plan to use our natural resources wisely.

Under increasing consumer pressure it may no longer be good enough to just practice sustainable production — you may have to prove it. Is this an opportunity or a restriction? What does the actual word “sustainability” mean to the future of farming?

For fish farmers, sustainability is already a household word. By the mid-1990s, aquaculture was already implementing world-class standards. Fish farmers realized early that demonstrating sustainability would be critical to their industry, not only to maintaining and growing their market, but also to look after their natural and social resources.

While farm-raised fish now supply half of our global demand for human consumption, Karen Tracey, Executive Director of the Northern Ontario Aquaculture Association, told the audience at the 2014 Farm & Food Care Conference in Milton, Ont., that the demand for farmed fish will rise to 70 per cent of global market share by 2030.

The media assault that resulted from heightened food safety fears was the original driver of sustainability in aquaculture, said Tracey. While food scares were easily fuelled, they were not so easily corrected. Food retailers became the target of a strategic focus on the marketplace, where groups such as Greenpeace rated retailers according to their sustainability practices. Like it or not, this pressure can close doors in a hurry.

Certification Jungle
Retailers, not wanting to be shamed, fed into what Tracey called a “seafood certification jungle” of more than 30 fishery and aquaculture labeling programs worldwide, which led to great confusion in the marketplace. Seventy to eighty per cent of these accredited standards contain the same criteria, but the confusion arose within the remaining twenty to thirty per cent — and this is where the labels tried to differentiate themselves. Tracey said when you meet one certification standard it’s not so hard to meet the others, but it causes a lot of confusion for all stakeholders — farmers, consumers, processors and retailers.

Fish farmers knew that more regulations were not the answer. In Ontario, aquaculture is covered by more than 20 acts of legislation. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources issues the fish-farming license but then defers regulation to others, such as the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Canadian Food Inspection Agency for fish health, or Transport Canada for farm siting in relation to navigation of waterways.

In the marketplace, producers knew that a solid production framework had to be in place in order to compete globally. Pressure to become more sustainable wasn’t going to go away; it was only going to intensify. The best answer would be third-party audits and certification.

At first the industry didn’t understand the rationale or cost surrounding this new word, sustainability. Surprisingly though, while certification was not initially embraced, it has turned out to be a positive experience.

Facing Challenges
“The biggest challenge for farmers was recording data,” said Tracey, “but once you get your mindset into it (third party certification), (farmers) found greater efficiencies at the farm level that they didn’t embrace before.”

On the farm, underwater cameras now monitor feed consumption, reducing the amount of waste feed that supplies the benthic community of bugs and worms and wild fish that feast under the nets. In ocean fisheries, three-bay management is now standard, allowing for site recovery. Fallowing sites has been the subject of research by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, showing that site recovery occurs within a few months with absolutely no trace left after seven years. Technical improvements in containment pens have significantly reduced escapes, and fish health is increasing through the use of vaccines and brood stock screening, reducing the need for antibiotic use. The future will also embrace innovation and research into novel feeds and nutrient recycling.

Tracey acknowledged that even though sustainability has become a part of everyday aquaculture there are still a lot of challenges ahead. She would like to reduce unnecessary duplication of efforts and conflicting requirements as well as increase buyer and consumer confidence through more consistent messaging. And in some cases, refute expectations of certain standards that are unreasonable.

At a minimum, certification has maintained or increased market access, providing worldwide consumer assurance. Within the next three years a new Global Seafood Sustainability Initiative will attempt to assimilate the smorgasbord of sustainability certification into two or three global standards.  

So if Tracey hit rewind, what would she say now? “Just jump right in and do it. If consumers are demanding it, be pro-active.”

What about Poultry?
Just jump in and do what? Fish can’t fly and poultry can’t swim. Does a consumer push for sustainability mean the same thing to aquaculture as it does to feather culture? Are there lessons to be learned?

“We don’t talk about sustainability the same as aquaculture,” answered Lisa Bishop-Spencer, Communications Manager at the Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC), “it’s an unspoken rule already.”

In general comparison, farming implies some sort of intervention in a production cycle, allowing improvements such as feeding and predator protection for the stock or product being raised and ownership of the product. So in this context, fish and poultry are both farmed. In terms of market access, there isn’t the same international pressure on Canadian poultry that there is on fish. And for poultry, under supply management it’s the poultry farmers themselves, not the consumers, that have been leading the way.

Strategic Plan
The CFC has a five-year strategic plan in place that looks at responsible stewardship, risk management, consumer-driven growth, value-chain efficiency, competitiveness and system management. The current evolutionary document covers 2014 through 2018, helping to identify and respond to the needs of consumers and producers.

While the central thrust of the document does not include the word sustainability, it covers everything else from providing profitable industry growth, managing markets, and eliminating the preventive use of Class 1 antimicrobials to addressing media myths and public concerns.

The strategic plan also includes moving forward with the On Farm Food Safety Assurance Program (OFFSAP), which has received full government recognition in compliance with HACCP rules. While there are variations among the provinces, at present, 95 per cent of poultry farmers meet compliance in Canada: they’ve passed the third party audit.

“We are extremely good planners,” said Bishop-Spencer. There is a lot of protocol already in place. Over her 14 years with CFC, she is noticing that the government wants to regulate less, but someone has to take charge; the feather industry has taken a lead role rather than being told what to do.

Having a strategic plan not only drives increased efficiency in the industry, but the plan also serves consumers, to offer them a wide choice of different brands and feeding protocols. “Whatever they want they can find it,” said Bishop-Spencer, although they may have to pay a premium. New labeling, set to launch this month, will brand fresh chicken, letting consumers know that a Canadian farmer raised it.  This designation will either appear as a label or be integrated into an existing label.

That Word
But what about that word “sustainability”? How can poultry farmers prove to the consumer that their industry is looking after the future? It’s not enough to say “trust me” when the consumer is saying “show me.”

Poultry farmers already have incredibly stringent record keeping with strong repercussions for non-compliance, Bishop-Spencer explained. “We don’t have a sustainability plan but I think it’s all there.”

Ask any farmer and they’ll tell you they’re responsible to their land, their birds, their customers, the system that allows them to grow their birds, and ultimately, to their children, says Bishop-Spencer. “Sustainability means leaving a positive legacy and frankly, that’s something that just makes sense.”


February 26, 2014 - Egg Farmers of Alberta (EFA) has announced the launch of a new environmental program, the first of its kind for egg farmers in Canada.  

The Producer Environmental Egg Program (PEEP) is intended to help egg farmers better identify their impacts on the environment and facilitate the use of best practices.  This will help to ensure that resources are being managed in a sustainable manner and that the Alberta egg industry continues to be recognized as a source of fresh, high-quality local food, which is produced in an environmentally responsible manner.

Egg farmers are already good stewards of the land, who are committed to environmental protection and sustainable development.  PEEP will build upon this foundation by providing information about impacts of on-farm activities and helping to establish goals for improvement.  The PEEP assessment is focused on key impact areas such as energy use, water consumption and manure management, which helps farmers identify and address environmental risks and opportunities, to improve their carbon footprint.


“Consumers, retailers and other stakeholders want to know that eggs are fresh and safe, and also produced in a sustainable fashion,” said Jenna Griffin, EFA’s Industry Development Officer.  “Given the egg industry has existing on-farm food safety and animal care programs, the development and delivery of an environmental program is a natural point of expansion.  PEEP will enable EFA to communicate the positive efforts being taken by farmers, and champion the cause when industry needs to take the lead on piloting solutions.”


Portions of PEEP have been derived from the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP), which is a more extensive program available to all agricultural producers across Alberta.  EFA believes that the key to effective environmental management is through a systematic approach to planning, controlling, measuring and improving environmental performance.  EFA will be able to track industry-wide trends and significant changes in egg farming practices over time, using a pioneering attitude to contribute to the long-term sustainability of Alberta’s egg industry.


Nov. 1, 2013 - Chickens could be the unexpected beneficiaries of the growing biofuels industry, feeding on proteins retrieved from the fermenters used to brew bioethanol, thanks to research supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

It has long been known that the yeasty broth left over after bioethanol production is nutritious, but it has taken a collaboration between Nottingham Trent University and AB Agri, the agricultural division of Associated British Foods, to prove that Yeast Protein Concentrate (YPC) can be separated from the fibrous cereal matter.

The researchers have also shown that YPC may be a cost-competitive substitute for imported soya-based and similar high-value protein feeds currently used in the diets of chickens bred for meat production.

The project was born out of the vision of biofuels pioneer Dr. Pete Williams of AB Agri, who was convinced valuable material was being overlooked when cereals were fermented to make bioethanol.

With Dr. Emily Burton of Nottingham Trent University, he was able to secure funding from the EPSRC for a CASE (Cooperation Awards in Science and Engineering) studentship that allowed them to develop and analyse the process.

To establish the nutritional value of the concentrate, EPSRC CASE student Dawn Scholey examined the composition of the newly isolated, patented YPC in a series of experiments, which showed that it can be readily digested by chickens. A paper outlining this research is published in this month's issue of the journal 'Food and Energy Security' (

Project supervisor, Burton says the work is only just beginning: "Bioethanol is already a 60-billion-litre per year global market but this project shows the fuel itself is only half the story – immense value lies within other co-product streams too. As well as the proteins, the yeast content provides important vitamins and other micronutrients."

Produced by distilling and fermenting wheat and other agricultural feedstocks, bioethanol has particular potential for use as a petrol substitute. Currently, the dried distiller's grains with solubles (DDGS) generated as a co-product are sold to the cattle-feed market but this is not big enough to absorb all material that would be generated if bioethanol production ramps up significantly in future.

Burton believes the project helps address an issue often raised in connection with cereal-based biofuels: "One concern with bioethanol is the perception it will compete with food crops for limited farmland. Our new work shows how the two can live side by side."

The new, patented process separates DDGS into three fractions – fibre, a watery syrup and YPC, allowing global production of almost 3 million tonnes of supplementary high-quality protein per annum alongside current levels of bioethanol produced. A project at a US bioethanol facility is now up and running, demonstrating the performance of the process at factory scale.

Every year, 800 million chickens are reared for meat production in the UK and 48 billion worldwide. As well as helping to feed these birds, YPC could partially replace the fish meal used on commercial fish farms.

Dr. Pete Williams of AB Agri, the industrial sponsor of the work, says: "We couldn't have got this development started without the EPSRC CASE studentship that allowed us to establish the proof of concept, and to confirm the value-creation potential of our innovative separation process. By helping us to move to the next key stage of development, it has brought closer the prospect of full-scale industrial use that could deliver major benefits to the emerging 'green' fuel sector."
Oct. 29, 2013. Spring Valley, PEI - The fire marshal's office in Prince Edward Island says a fire that destroyed as many as 20,000 hens at a poultry farm was accidental.

Sunday's fire at Murray's Poultry Farm also damaged one of the operation's huge barns.

Investigators say the blaze was likely caused by an overheated fan motor, which caused the surrounding material to combust.

Farm owner Leith Murray suspects that while some of the chickens would have died in the fire, most would have suffocated or died from smoke inhalation.

Kensington and New London fire departments responded to the call.

Kensington fire chief Alan Sudsbury says firefighters were on scene for about two hours.

When René Gélinas undertook a conversion to biomass heating in 2010, he investigated every aspect, recalculated everything and questioned the recommendations of experts. In the end, only one detail had escaped him: just how much better his broilers would do.

The new biomass-based heating system is exceeding expectations. ‘’I’m making almost more money with better bird performances than I’m saving by using biomass instead of propane,’’ says the owner of Ferme Thomchyrs, in Saint-Boniface, Quebec.

Gélinas and his wife Lise Grenier operate five broiler houses and farm 350 acres with three henhouses on one side of the road, two on the other, along with a grain-drying bin, two garages and a family house. And yet, all of this is linked to a single hot water distribution system, without energy and water pressure loss.

Right from the start, Gélinas figured he’d better do a bit of investigation into the process on his own. Different contractors had differing advice about pipe diameters; and he also had serious doubts about the suggestion that he should insulate the pipes himself.

"’I checked everything, from the beginning to the end,’’ he said. “But it’s a good thing I did my own research, otherwise I would have had major problems with hot water distribution.’’

Gélinas had spoken to a farmer who knew he hadn’t insulated his pipes properly, because the ground above remained snow-free in the winter, which needed to be avoided at all costs.

Surfing the Internet, he found Urecon pre-insulated pipes. The 6,000 feet he ordered from the Danish company were shipped by boat.

‘’When the piping got here, we had no idea how to unroll it!’’ Gélinas remembers. ‘’I called a drainage contractor. He suggested I start by unrolling it in a field and let it sit under the sun. He saved my life! Afterwards, it was really easy to install.’’

After that, trenches were dug between all the buildings and the pipes; electrical wiring and security alarm wires were also laid and buried.

Local wood biomass

The 4,125,000 BTU (or 1210 kW) boiler is from Chauffage éconoserres, a company from the Beauce region, south of Quebec City. An auger feeds the boiler in real time, bringing the biomass in from a large shed. Gélinas uses mostly chipped demolition wood and hardwood residue from a sawmill that sells to furniture manufacturers. When Canadian Poultry visited, downgraded barley seed was also being fed into the biomass mix.

The boiler can take biomass with anywhere from five to 30 per cent humidity – but the dryer the material, the more efficient the combustion.

"’Everyone is calling to offer biomass!’’ Gélinas says. With offers coming in from everywhere, supply is surpassing demand and Gélinas figures that at current low prices, it is not worth investing in equipment to fetch biomass from his own woodlots.

Still, biomass is not for everyone, Gélinas believes. Installing a boiler and hot water piping requires a great financial investment: One must purchase the feedstock and store it, keep an eye on combustion and perform regular maintenance tasks – for some, propane and pellets are still the simpler choice.

Boiler maintenance at Ferme Thomchyrs takes about four hours, every three weeks. ‘’I have more maintenance to do than with propane burners, but I also have less problems with my broilers. I spend less time around my birds, therefore I can allot more time to my heating system.’’

Drier and warmer

Gélinas had calculated he would need eight to ten years of energy savings to recoup the $500,000 (after subsidies) he put into his new heating system. He hadn’t thought that the system’s profitability would be improved by better technical performances among all of his broiler lots.

The chickens seem to prefer the ‘’two-speed’’ hot water system.  Radiant tube heaters stretch the whole length of the houses, distributing soft and even heat. ‘’Birds get under the tubes and stretch their wings. They are comfortable,’’ Gélinas says. 

When the winter’s coldest days arrive, suspended forced air hot water heating units kick in and eliminate the use of oxygen-burning propane. Because of that, birds can breathe better and grow in a healthier, drier environment.  

This results in better weight gain and less mortality of the birds. For every lot, there’s a little more money going in the farmer’s pocket. 

Gélinas is so thrilled with the enhanced comfort his broilers are enjoying that he recommends all poultry farmers consider hot water heating, whatever the energy source may be. However, he warns that each boiler and each hot water distribution system must be perfectly adapted to the size and the specific needs of the farm. 

But what if biomass heating one day becomes more expensive? 

"’Tomorrow morning, I can produce my own biomass using my woodlots,” he adds. “And if I don’t like biomass anymore, I keep my hot water system and switch it to propane, oil, electricity or... solar!’’

Jan. 23, 2013 - Eggs are an important source of protein and a staple breakfast food, but with every egg eaten, a potentially useful source of energy storage is thrown away in the garbage – the shells.

David Miltlin's research group at the University of Alberta and the National Research Council's National Institute of nanotechnology have devised a way to create high performance electrochemical energy storage (known as supercapacitors) using low cost biowaste, such as eggshells.

According to Zhi Li, the postdoctoral researcher leading the project, the idea stemmed from reading about the structure and chemistry of eggshell membranes. Upon further investigation, the eggshell membranes obtained from the biowaste were found to be more efficient than the activated charcoal used in traditional supercapacitors.

"The eggshell membrane has a 3D network structure which allows fast electron transfer and therefore the carbonized eggshell membrane can work at much higher current than traditional activated carbons," he explained. In addition, the membranes have much more nitrogen functionalities compared to normal carbon materials, which allows the to store a much larger charge.

The process of creating the carbonized eggshell membrane is simple and scalable says Li: the first step is to carbonize the eggshell through a pyrolysis process at a temperature of 800 C. Then, it is activated in air at 300 C to generate micropores on the surface, which increase the surface area available to hold an electric charge.

A procedure is currently in development to produce the eggshell material at a more industrial scale. Beyond that, the next step is to commercialize the technology, as well as to find further application for the new material.

"We have demonstrated its application as electrode materials for a supercapacitor," said Li. "However, it is also a very interesting material for Lithium-ion batteries and electrochemical catalysis."

In 2006, the Bullard family was growing crops and raising hogs and decided to expand their operation by raising turkeys. In less than a year, they were raising 64,000 turkeys and this year they won the North Carolina Poultry Federation Grower Environmental Excellence Award.

The Bullards are not strangers to farming. Collins is a fifth-generation farmer who runs the Bullard farm with his parents and wife, Alison. With the addition of turkeys, they also have three houses for the operation’s 3,000 hogs and farm 1,500 acres, where they grow corn, wheat, beans, watermelons, and this year, a new crop – sorghum.

Quick move to turkeys
When the Bullards decided to add turkeys to their portfolio, the idea became a reality in an incredibly short amount of time.

They approached Prestage Farms about raising birds for them and discussions began immediately.

“Prestage put together numbers and we looked at sites – trying to figure out where exactly we wanted to put things. Over about a six-month period we were up and running,” says Collins.

Getting up and running required the construction of eight, tunnel ventilated barns to house the turkeys from four to 20 weeks of age and around 42 pounds. Each barn is 50 feet wide by 500 feet long, or 25,000 square feet, and holds around 8,000 turkeys.

The barns are state of the art, says Collins.

“They provide superior environmental control for optimum bird comfort, with a cooling system in each house.”

The houses have a central computer system, which allows not only viewing of all eight houses, but also monitoring via a laptop. And an extensive alarm system will alert Collins if there is a failure in the feed, water, ventilation or other system.

Learning curve
“We were the first tunnel farm for Prestage, and one of the first tunnel farms in this area,” says Collins. “At the time, Prestage didn’t know exactly how these things were going to work and neither did I. So, there were some growing pains in the beginning. But we worked through things.”

Part of the learning process involved the computer system and learning what it could do and how to set it up to do what Prestage and the Bullards wanted – for example, adjust to temperatures that can vary substantially from day to day.

“Today, we still have to put in the programs, and the program depends on the size of the bird,” says Collins. “Everything is on a memory card. You insert that into the computer and the computer will automatically
update everything.

Litter management
Computers also play a part in litter handling. The Bullards raise about three flocks a year. To handle the majority of the litter, Collins uses a caking machine, moving the litter from near the feed and water lines, where the bulk of the waste accumulates.

“When it’s time to remove it, the litter is a little on the damp side and that’s when our sheds come into play,” says Collins.

The farm has two sheds – one 50 feet by 100 feet and the other 50 feet by 200 feet, with a total of 14,000 square feet to keep the litter covered and off the ground.

“We’ll go in weekly and turn it and by turning it we’re drying it out, also breaking it up, making it easier to spread.”

The litter can be stored in the sheds for as long as necessary, until it’s time to apply. This year, the Bullards will pull about 2,880 tons, which will be either immediately applied or stored.

Before any application though, Collins performs grid soil sampling.

“It gives us a better idea of what nutrients need to go where and to land-apply the litter based on of those soil samples. The litter has a real high phosphorus content and it works well with a wheat and corn and beans rotation.”

If spreading requires going off the turkey farm, the Bullards contract haul it with litter trucks.

“If not, we have a BBI 20-ton spreader that we can load that is used on the tractor,” says Collins.

The farm has also incorporated GPS with its grid soil sampling to help them stay right on target and avoid over applying.
“And all the tractors have auto-steer on them,” adds Collins. “Because of that, it’s essential that the material is broken up so it spreads evenly.”

Hog manure
The hogs’ manure management system is completely different. The hog houses have a slatted floor and the waste is collected in a pit below. The waste is gravity fed to a lagoon where the water is recycled to wash out the house, and it is also pumped onto the hay fields when needed.   

It’s all automated, says Collins.

“The tanks pump two or three times a day and constantly wash out the underside of the house. In the lagoon, we have markers that give us our low point, high point, and acceptable water.” 

As with the turkeys, the Bullards take samples of the lagoon waste as well as soil samples and apply the manure based on the results. With the pigs, however, the waste is liquid and much easier to handle than the dry turkey litter.

One of the things that sets the Bullard farm apart, and helped them achieve the 2012 environmental award, is its forced-air compost system, which was installed in 2010 by Advanced Composting. The system not only is an environmentally friendly way to handle mortalities (versus burying or burning) but also provides an end product.

Under a covered structure, any turkey mortalities are layered between organic matter, such as shavings and roadside grass clippings. The rows are kept at a specific moisture level and a temperature between 150 to 160 F for 30 to 45 days.

During that time, air is pumped in, rotating from bin to bin, and monitored via a computer.

“We also wet it and recycle the juices that come off of the animals as they break down, and we introduce some enzymes to that material, which helps with the breakdown process,” says Collins.

By the end of the 45 days, the bird carcasses are completely broken down, except for the harder bones, which are ground down.

“The finished product comes out a real even fertilizer; about a 15/15/15,” says Collins. “It’s also really a dry product, easy to spread, and easy to manage.”

One of the reasons for the composting facility is that the Bullards could see there would soon be regulations coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state on dead stock disposal. It made good business sense to be proactive.

“We felt it was a good time figure out what we were going to do.”

The benefits of this system turned out to be many. The finished product is comparable to commercially available fertilizer. It acts as predator control and helps keep coyotes, dogs and buzzards away from the turkey houses. The high temperatures also help reduce pests, such as mice and flies.

Cutting down on commercial fertilizer
The Bullards continue to buy some commercial fertilizers, such as liquid nitrogen for corn, but their overall purchase of commercial fertilizers has gone down significantly.

“I don’t think we’ll ever replace fertilizer completely, just because the litter doesn’t have a uniform nutrient content. For example, if we pull a load out from under the feed line, it has … more nutrient value than what’s in the center of the house where there are more shavings,” says Collins. “That’s why we mix it a lot and why we use the grid soil sampling. It’s a good way of keeping up with how much you’re putting out there from year to year and if you need to back off of a certain area for some time.”

The composting and litter storage facility both keep odors down, but it can’t be completely eliminated, especially during application.

“We try to be courteous neighbors,” says Collins. “When we are land-applying, we work it into the ground with a disc right behind the litter spreader.

Thumbs up for technology
It’s obvious that the Bullard farm embraces technology. Some other farmers shy away from it, but Collins welcomes it. Technology is one of the reasons the farm has been able to grow. Collins’ great-great-grandfather started with about 40 acres; today the farm is at 1,500 acres and requires only Collins, his dad and two employees to manage everything.
“If we didn’t have any problems, two people could manage this farm,” he says. 

“I like the technology. I think if you don’t try to keep up with technology, you’re going to get left behind. The technology is there; you might as well use it because everything is heading in that direction. We want to stay in this business and, in order to do so, we have to be productive. I think  technology helps the productivity of this farm.”

Point of pride
Collins is a next-generation farmer and the awards he is receiving are the proof. Not only has he received the North Carolina Poultry Federation Grower Environmental Excellence Award but he has also won the Young Farmer of the Year from the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, Outstanding Young Farmer from the County Farm Bureau. Another environmental award is pending.

What Collins is most proud of is the farm’s consistency.

“We continue to produce a quality bird for Prestage Farm.” 

Like clockwork, South Carolina farmer Marc Marsh watched a manure broker cart away and market the poultry litter gleaned from cleaning out his 12 barns after his pullets matured or egg layers reached the end of their productive lives.

While it didn’t cost him a dime to dispose of the litter, he didn’t make any money on the transaction either.

He got to thinking that maybe there was some way that the farm could benefit from the litter, and that led him down the road to poultry litter gasification to produce the fuel to generate power.

With financial support from the United States government’s Farm Pilot Project Coordination (FPPC) program and mentoring from FPPC engineer Preston Burnette, the nearly $1 million poultry litter gasification demonstration project – intended to generate 20 to 30 kilowatts of power – is essentially in place.

While the project has proven that gasification of poultry litter to produce fuel to generate power is technically possible, Marsh sees greater potential in his farm operation to use the system to convert the poultry litter into a product called biochar that he can use in his turf business. Biochar contains many of the same beneficial chemicals as commercial fertilizer except for the nitrogen, but conversely, contains more carbon.

Marsh and his wife, Melanie, own M. Marsh Farms near Cheraw, S.C., about 70 miles southeast of Charlotte. It is a combination high-security, poultry breeding operation and turf business. The eggs produced on the farm are used by other poultry farmers to raise their egg-laying flocks and the high-quality turf grass grown on the 185-acre farm is used on golf courses, sports fields, lawns and commercial applications.

 In 1990, Marsh graduated with a bachelor’s degree in poultry science from North Carolina State University, which led to a job with Tyson Foods. In 2001, the couple purchased its own farm.

The poultry operation generates more than 1,200 tons of litter annually, consisting of a combination of kiln-dried wood fiber bedding and scratching material mixed with chicken droppings. That bedding material is commonly used in South Carolina’s poultry industry because it doesn’t contain fungus, spores and moulds that could harm the flock. The farm houses about 100,000 chickens at a time, consisting of 50,000 laying hens and 50,000 pullets that are grown to become egg layers. It takes the pullets up to 21 weeks to reach maturity. It takes up to 45 weeks for the egg layers to complete their productive cycle. In the past, a contractor and farm employees would take between six and eight weeks to remove the poultry litter using a Bobcat and then sterilize the barns for the next batch of chickens at the end of each cycle. Prior to installation of the gasifier, a litter broker typically sold the poultry litter to other farms for use in corn and soybean crops as organic fertilizer.

Now, with the farm’s poultry litter gasifier in place, the barn cleaning is handled internally, the manure is stored securely on site, and conveyed, as needed, to the gasifier as fuel.

Burnette designed the overall M. Marsh Farms gasification system, finding off-the-shelf components to fit each step of the design specification.

“The problem with using poultry litter as a fuel has not been the energy content but how to actually gasify it and convert it into energy,” says Burnette. “A lot of people have tried in the past 20 to 30 years and really haven’t gotten anywhere because of material handling problems.”

He says that poultry litter isn’t a consistent product; it can be sticky and has moisture problems.

“Everything that coal is, poultry litter is not,” he says.

Proper material handling of the litter from moving it from the barns to the storage sheds to feeding it into the gasifier was evaluated extensively as part of this demonstration project to find an effective solution.

With installation of the gasification system, M. Marsh Farms has purchased equipment to handle the barn cleaning in house. The poultry litter is now stored in two sheds with financial support from the United States Department of Agriculture’s EQIP program, consisting of about 10,000 square feet of storage. Farm employees fill a hopper located in the manure shed twice a day and it augers the manure into the gasifier at the prescribed rate of 200 pounds per hour.

The gasification process is a two-stage process called the Brookes Gasification Process (BGP) provided by a Canadian company called BGP Inc. Propane is used to heat the primary and secondary chambers initially to reach their operating temperatures. The heat cooks the poultry litter that enters the primary chamber, which creates off-gases. Some of these off-gases are used to substitute for the propane, at which point it can be turned off. A chimney draft propels the remainder of the off-gases to a secondary chamber where it ignites in a controlled, high heat environment. The heat from that ignition passes around a Cain heat exchanger to heat water to about 220 F. A pump circulates the heated water from the heat exchanger through an ElectraTherm-brand Organic Rankin Cycle, where it boils a refrigerant that drives a turbine to create power.

“You can sustain gasification of poultry litter theoretically all year long,” says Burnette. However, because the M. Marsh Farms installation is a demonstration project, it has run continuously for just three to four days at a time. Burnette says that this gasification technology applied to poultry litter is at its very early stages.

He adds the M. Marsh Farms project fulfils FPPC’s mandate, which is to demonstrate technology that finds alternative uses for nutrients, in this case, an alternative to spreading poultry litter on soil. Gasification produces energy and an ash byproduct, which has much less volume and weight, can be used as a soil amendment and is easier to store.

“We’re still not sure if these systems will work out economically,” says Burnette. The system components themselves are a bit expensive because so few are commercially available.

“Is this type of technology viable?” Burnette asks. “Yes. We know that we can generate electricity from poultry litter. This project in South Carolina served as a steppingstone and learning curve for us.”

One lesson learned is that farmers need to be able to use the equipment to generate more than electricity to achieve a return on investment. Because of the unique nature of this farm as a breeding operation, the energy is only used to produce electricity but poultry litter gasification demonstrates that it can also potentially generate heat for commercial poultry operations. This concept is being studied extensively by FPPC in other projects in the Chesapeake Bay
Watershed States.

Marsh says installation of the gasifier provides the farm with a number of benefits. It allows them to dispose of the litter on the farm, eliminates the biosecurity risk of the manure broker coming to the farm, and will also produce a new revenue stream, “which at the end of the day is our main goal.” In addition to sale of power, the process produces ash, which is sold as a soil amendment.

On-farm disposal helps the overall operation because they can now store and dispose of the manure when it is generated, which was a problem dealing with brokers because the manure sometimes became available when it was not optimal timing to land apply the product.

“There is not always a dependable market at a dependable price,” says Marsh. “We wanted to try to increase the value of the return of the product back to the farm.”

It took seven years for the poultry manure gasification concept to evolve from idea to reality. Marsh began talking about it in 2005 as he was working on his animal waste management plan. He says Burnette has been on the farm nearly every day of the week helping to inch the project forward. Other organizations such as the State of South Carolina, the federal Agriculture Department, and the Chesterfield Soil and Water Conservation District have also recognized the potential for poultry litter gasification and have provided financial support for the project. The Marshes have invested about 20 percent of the cost of the project themselves.

When Marsh and Burnette teamed up, Burnette was in the process of investigating the potential of a BGP brand gasifier in farm applications at North Carolina State University. The timing for launching the demonstration project was also good because the South Carolina’s Department of Agriculture had issued a request for grant proposals for alternative energy from biomass, which yielded a $200,000 grant. 

So far, the project has produced power for sale to the local Lynches River Power cooperative intermittently and Marsh says he has yet to receive any large checks from the coop because of the small amount of power that the system has been able to generate consistently so far. However, he says that he has absolutely no regrets about becoming involved in the project, keeping in mind that it is a demonstration project aimed at investigating the technology, evaluating its potential, and discovering where there needs to be improvements. Burnette says that he is confident with potentially upgrading the capacity of the gasifier and a bit of tweaking, that the M. Marsh Farms poultry litter gasification system will be able to produce between 20 and 30 kilowatts of power consistently.

As a result of this project and the lessons learned, and with encouragement from FPPC, the State of South Carolina has submitted a proposal to develop a model to help guide the design performance characteristics of these gasification systems.

With a show of hands, about half of those listening to the presentation in Jake Kraayenbrink’s back 40 near Moorefield, Ont., confessed to having a smartphone of some sort.

That means that half of the crowd at that manure management demonstration would instantly be able to pinpoint their location at that particular moment, in that particular field, using the global positioning system (GPS) feature on their smartphone. It also means that they may be only a step away from utilizing precision agriculture to manage their manure.
But what exactly is precision agriculture?

Simply put, it is farming by the inch instead of the acre. It is achieved by using satellite and sensor data in conjunction with computer software to map and manage field data and to generate distinct records for every field of the farm. The goal is to better manage resources.

The most common tool to achieve this is GPS technology, used on field equipment to accurately steer and control applications based on the position of the equipment in the field. Every operation done by the equipment can be mapped and managed as a business management tool.

“It’s pretty cool technology,” Larry Prong, GPS specialist with Premier Equipment in Elmira, Ont., told farmers. “It’s starting to become the norm to sell GPS equipment with new tractors.”

Precision agriculture components typically include a GPS receiver, an in-cab computer display, machine controls for guidance (commonly known as autosteer systems), spray controllers, rate controllers for dry box spreaders and flow meters for manure tankers. Other components may include field scouting devices and desktop geographic information systems (GIS) for data management.

But does precision agriculture technology have an application in manure management?

“Yes,” said Prong. “That’s the purpose of precision agriculture: getting more exact with our field operations and gaining the efficiencies through that.”

Using precision agriculture technology and tools can increase manure placement accuracy and application rates, but then the data can be sent back to the office to map your fields and help to keep good records as well.

When it comes to manure application, the placement accuracy you are looking for is probably six to eight inches, explained Prong. That’s good enough to make sure you don’t have any big skips as you move up and down the field, but make sure that at the same time you are not getting a lot of overlap.

One good example of where GPS accuracy would come into play in nutrient management would be side-dressing liquid manure into standing corn: it’s tricky and there is not a lot of room for error. Corn planted with high accuracy will have bullet-straight rows but, more importantly, you can go back exactly into same wheel track within one inch six or eight weeks later.

It's Just Manure

Some people may say, “But it is just manure, why do we have to record all that data?

As your commercial fertilizer costs go up manure becomes liquid gold, said Prong, and there is tremendous value to what you’re putting on the land. If you’re going to take the time to work with an agronomist, you are expecting a certain yield from your ground and precision agriculture is just another piece of the puzzle.

Another side of the coin is that, unfortunately, manure is regarded as hazardous material. After the Walkerton incident, we need to know where it’s going down as well as setbacks from wellheads and waterways, said Prong. Every time you use a GPS system it provides an audit trail: this is how much I put down and this is where I put it down.

How Much Is Enough?

One of the key pieces of information is the amount of manure you’re putting down, which involves measuring not only amounts but also application rates. This is where a rate controller can be useful.

For solid manure, a rate controller gives you the ability to measure load size under a dry spreader box, measuring change in weight to calculate the application rate. A hydraulic gate valve can then help regulate the amounts going on the field.
Prong said liquid manure measurement requires the use of a flow meter, a common feature nowadays that will measure liquid manure application in gallons per minute from the tanker.

“That’s important in injected manure where you can’t see what’s going in the ground,” he said. “It’s amazing how a change in ground speed can spike your application rates.”

For example, at four miles per hour with a 2,500-gallon-per-acre target flow, 300 gallons per minute will be applied. Keeping the same flow but dropping to three miles per hour, that application rate will now be 3,300 gallons per acre. That’s a 30 per cent increase in application rate just by slowing down, and that decrease in speed can be caused by something as simple as going up a hill.

Premier Equipment has developed a creative solution that integrates an application rate control system with the IVT transmission of many John Deere tractors. As Prong explained, their rate controller actively adjusts the transmission of the tractor to maintain a consistent ground speed, which is highly critical in a dragline scenario for maintaining a consistent application rate.


In precision agriculture, as the technology is used, maps of your fields are created, allowing you to define and record not only where you’re putting down manure but how much you’re putting down. When you need to calculate how much commercial fertilizer to use above and beyond just manure, you’ll have accurate data. “That’s a plus for nutrient management,” said Prong.

Whether you have a GPS in your tractor, carry it in the phone on your belt or take it out on the four-wheeler to chart your fields, you’ll still need software to process and organize the data. The records from the field will also need to be stored and accessible, as you will need to go back and analyze that information over time, both in the short term and over several years.

A number of software products are available, and even more are still in development. Farm Works software has released the Connected Farm app, which runs on iPhones and Android smartphones and allows field scouting with a GPS-enabled smartphone.

Data can be transferred from the tractor using a memory stick, but when you use wireless technology, that transfer can be done while out in the field. As soon as the manure is put down, the data can be sent wirelessly to the office desktop computer and the software will automatically recognize and file it, including the geographical locations in the field.

“Quite a few people haven’t gotten there yet – they’re physically moving their data from the tractor to the desktop, but I think this is the next step in precision agriculture,” said Prong.

Looking to the future, he predicts that the next advancements will be in wireless transmission and software improvements.

After five minutes with Jason Diestel, you quickly learn there is more to compost than meets the eye.

Jason is the director of sustainability for the Diestel Turkey Ranch, located near Sonora, Calif. His grandfather founded a 50-acre turkey farm in 1949. Customers back then (and now) lined up for the turkeys grown the old-fashioned way and thought they tasted better. The farm continued in that direction. In 1980, Jason’s dad took over and today the 200-plus-acre farm processes 200,000 organic turkeys a year – all grown in the old fashioned way – and sells them to stores throughout the West.

Quality is key for the Diestels, whether it’s turkeys or compost. “My great uncle Ernest taught my grandpa about the concept of quality – not rushing the process and allowing time to develop the highest quality possible,” says Jason.

Senior project and compost
When the Diestels started processing in the 1980, everything could be taken to a rendering plant, but today the State of California won’t take the feathers. With 200,000 turkeys, that’s a lot of feathers. Jason says there’s also no market for them. “The only option in California is to take it to a landfill.” 

By the time Jason was in college at Cal Poly in the 1990s, applying raw manure had also become more regulated. When it came time to choose a senior project, Jason wanted to find a way to turn their byproducts into something productive.

“I started looking for something that made sense to me,” says Jason. “I started going to U.S. Composting Council and BioCycle and other areas and I heard the same thing over and over: “Compost is great stuff. Put it in a pile, turn it a few times, it turns black. Compost is compost.”

This didn’t make sense to Jason. “We have successfully differentiated ourselves for [more than] 60 years in the turkey business and you’re telling me that all compost is created equal? There had to be more to it.”

Jason’s search led him to Midwest Bio Systems, a company out of Illinois that focused on creating compost from the plant’s perspective – on humus-based soil fertility, which is the practice of building long chain polymer carbons in a very efficient 10-week composting process.” And, Jason says, corn and soybean farmers who were paying $120 per ton for humus compost and outperforming other soil fertility practices with better yields and lower input costs.

“That really caught my eye, not only from a profitability standpoint, but also if they were selling a product of such high value, it has to work or they’d be out of business.” And it was this realization that led Jason to take a year away from the farm to work for MBS, to explore soil fertility, and learn what he needed to do at the farm to make the system work.

Breaking down feathers
Back at the Diestel Farm, the challenge was composting 12-inch turkey feathers, which refused to break down. “We tried doing it with a loader bucket and we weren’t able to keep the moisture,” says Jason. “The other problem was, we had no way of releasing carbon dioxide and weren’t getting the breakdown process needed.” The answer turned out to be an Aeromaster Compost Turner from Midwest Biosystems.

“The Aeromaster Compost Turner is extremely efficient,” says Jason. “It removes carbon dioxide and applies water at the same time and does a great job of aerating. The tines spin slow enough that it’s not pulverizing the product and that allows for the humus chains to be built. It also doesn’t take a lot of horsepower to get through the rows. It flips the material backwards and allows CO2, which is heavier than air, to release from the bottom of the row.”

After the Diestels started using the turner, they were able to adjust their water application and keep it consistently at the necessary 45 to 50 percent. “If you can keep a consistent moisture throughout and not just the first few inches of the row, you can really break down some organic matter,” says Jason. “And after you break down the organic matter, you can start building up humus.”

High-quality compost
As with the turkeys, Jason and his family focus on quality compost. Their goal is to make the highest quality possible. To do so, they also use windrow covers. It’s a little more labor, but saves some water and a couple of turns by keeping the environment stable.

Jason says they also have the luxury of having extremely good quality control over what enters their compost.

With the addition of humus soil fertility technology, Jason feels there is a big opportunity to increase soil organic matter by percentage points in as few as three years, balance mineral ratios, increase nutrient availability and improve soil structure.
“All this can be done with fewer truckloads of compost over more acres of farm land,” says Jason. “Now that is sustainable when you consider that most of the cost of manure or compost is typically in the transportation.

“By changing, or optimizing, the soil structure, we’re optimizing the biological balance from a fertility perspective and that’s also allowing the nutrients to cycle more efficiently,” explains Jason. “You can’t sustain good biology in the soil unless you have a good soil structure. By utilizing the humus technology, we’re addressing all that.

Jason believes soon farmers will see that they are losing a lot of fertility value in manure by not converting it into something more stable like humus compost. And they can take care of odor issues at the same time.

“Typically, I want to see my nitrate be much higher in my finished compost than my NH4, which is ammonia. That tells me that we’re on the right track for making a quality product and that’s essentially stabilizing nitrogen rather than nitrogen attaching to hydrogen. We want to attach it to oxygen and that stabilizes it, but then also the next step of that is to buffer it with humic acid — the long-chain polymer carbon of humus — which will hold that nitrogen in the soil stable where it’s not going to leach and won’t volatilize into the air.”

In short, with this process Jason is able to keep 96 percent of the nutrients in the root zone, whereas with manure 60 percent of nutrients are leached or escape as odor.

The process
The 10-week process is straightforward. First, manure, feathers and some brown material (ground wood) are combined. During the next two weeks they turn the row every day, except Sunday. The following weeks they reduce the number of turns with a total of 20 to 30 turns during the life cycle of the row. 

“We decide whether we’re going to turn a row based on the temperature, CO2 and moisture,” says Jason. “We have critical control limits on each of those areas and if they fall out of the limit, then basically there’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

For example, if the compost goes over 140 F, it could hurt some of the beneficial microbes, so they will quickly turn the row. And if the carbon dioxode is above 10 percent then they know that half of the oxygen is used. “If I’m testing every day, and half of the oxygen is used, then I turn so I don’t use up all my oxygen to keep everything aerobic.”

Two employees work full time on the compost. They use a digital temperature probe as well as a standard dial temperature probe to track the temperature. They also use a carbon dioxide meter, but haven’t found a good moisture meter yet and test by hand. If it feels like a sponge, but you can’t get a drop of water out of it, it’s at about 45 percent moisture.

All the manure and the feathers from the processing come to the centrally located, 15-acre composting site. Fall and spring are normally the busier time, but the Diestels compost year round. The final product is OMRI listed and the company is also a U.S. Composting Council’s Seal of Testing Assurance (SAT) member.

Selling the product
The farm uses a small portion of the compost on its pastures, but the majority is sold.

“We deliver small quantities and we work with other guys to haul it,” says Jason. “We’ve had a lot of success in the gardens, backyard farming, and with community supported agriculture (CSA) farmers. Also large commercial nurseries are including it in their blend because they’re seeing some noticeable benefit.

Getting those first sales wasn’t easy though.

When I first started going out, nobody had heard of me, the product or what we were doing. I just kept lining up all these contacts and saying, “Hey, I’m still here, and I’ve got stuff that works.”

“It was about a year before I sold them some product,” says Jason. “Fortunately, I was young and I didn’t really know what it meant to get a product off the ground.”

While Jason was building up a customer base, compost was building up at the farm. Diestels made arrangements with larger farmers to take the compost.

“We actually got a little business out of that,” says Jason. “They saw that it was different and it changed the soil in a better way than manure did.”

Staying focused
Quality compost requires a diligent site manager who is going to make the critical calls every single day. It also requires investing in the right equipment. “The efficiency gained by being able to handle material efficiently is well worth it and we went along for a while trying to avoid that reality,” says Jason.

Jason expects it won’t be long before people see how compost can make a big difference and become more willing to make the investment in our soil. 

“The most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced was seeing this concept working – one that 99 percent of folks have no idea is out there. It’s an incredible technology.

“I think that in our culture, we have a very mechanical view of the world. If the wheel bearing goes out on your car, you can wait a year or two years. It’s still going to be broken; it’s a mechanical organism. Our farms and our manure and our composting systems aren’t mechanical organisms – they’re biological organisms, which means that they are self healing when the right conditions are available. Farmers understand this process. It’s exciting to have people come back to me who are using the compost and have them say: “I reduced my water usage by 25 percent and I doubled my yield!”

Jul. 11, 2012, Charlotte, NC - A new series of radiant tube brooders designed to yield an extra wide, rectangular heat pattern for poultry houses has been introduced by Space-Ray of Charlotte, N.C.  Marketed under the name BIG FOOT, the new brooder provides one of the largest rectangular shaped heating footprints available for modern poultry applications.

Available in natural or propane gas, the new PBF Series from Space-Ray saves on fuel costs, reduces maintenance and permits higher mounting in the poultry house for broader coverage and added efficiency. The reflector angle of the BIG FOOT radiant tube brooder is engineered to an optimum angle of 19º which improves the radiant footprint and minimizes convective wash.  The result is a more uniform heat distribution, better brooding conditions, and more comfort for the birds.

Features Noted

Space-Ray Big Foot Heaters use positive pressure to push products of combustion through the heavy-duty calorized aluminized steel combustion chamber. Calorized tube material offers improved corrosion resistance and greater radiant output.

Each of the heaters come with a choice of one-stage or two-stage input controls for added flexibility and a totally enclosed burner box that places all the power, thermostat and gas connections in one central location for easier installation and maintenance.

The CSA-Certified BIG FOOT radiant tube brooder series is available in four sizes from 60,000 BTU/hr (18 kW/hr) to 90,000 BTU/hr (26 kW/hr). The most popular size is the 80,000 BTU/Hr. (23.5 kW/Hr) version. The Big Foot is also available in either “U” shaped tube or straight tube versions.  The standard emitter tube length is 20 ft (6.1 m), while the overall length for the “U” tube version is 11½ ft. (3.5 m) and the straight version is 21½ ft (6.6 m).
Each unit is pre-assembled for easy installation and comes with fresh air intake kit, exhaust hood, stainless steel flexible gas connector and a pre wired electrical connection.  Additionally, each unit offers a 3-year limited warranty on the complete emitter assembly.

Unique TISS System

Unique to Space-Ray is the patented TISS system that automatically turns off the heater in the unlikely event of a tube failure.  With the TISS system, an insulated aluminum wire is positioned in tension above the reflector. A low voltage circuit continuously monitors the clearance between the reflectors and the ceiling for excessive heat and tube integrity compromise. If the heat increases due to heat exchanger failure, the wire melts, the safety circuit is broken and the brooder shuts down.

“We decided if we introduced a positive pressure system to poultry houses, we would take steps to assure the integrity of the system and provide the ultimate in safety” noted Wilf Jackson, Sales Director for Space-Ray. “…we wanted a system that was safer than any other model on the market today. The TISS provides peace of mind.  It may never be needed but in the unlikely event of a tube failure poultry house owners will be pleased that they have a TISS system.”

About Space-Ray

Designers of the original radiant gas brooder in 1958, Space-Ray brooders have withstood the test of time. Beside the new BIG FOOT tube brooder, Space-Ray also offers an energy efficient line of spark ignition radiant brooders, a line of single jet brooders and a complete line of both pull through (negative pressure) and push through (positive pressure) tube-type gas heaters for poultry applications.

Unlike space heaters that work from the top down heating the air and the upper areas of the poultry house before stratifying down to heat the birds, Space-Ray’s radiant gas tube heaters operate using the same principles as the sun’s rays. They deliver radiant warmth directly to the floor and litter area where it is needed most. The first U.S. manufacturer to design unitized tube heaters, Space-Ray has over 50 years of field experience and exposure to a variety of heating problems. Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Space-Ray also has a facility located in Ipswich, England.

For more information on the new BIG FOOT Series of radiant tube brooders, call 1-800-849-7311 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .  Space-Ray Brooders can also be found on the web at

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