|The Luthi Family Farm's 3,650-sow operation generates about 59,000 pounds of manure a day. Each barn is equipped with a plug-pull manure management system.|
Manure lagoon effluent, helped along by some pit additives, is delivering high value to Oklahoma's Luthi hog farm, adding to its bottom line.
Water is a valuable commodity on the dry plains of northwest Oklahoma. So any opportunity to conserve and recycle this precious resource is a real bonus to businesses like the farrow-to-wean hog operation owned by Chuck and Wathina Luthi.
Both were born and raised in the area, with decades of hog farm management experience between them. So developing ways to not only conserve water but also take advantage of the crop nutrient value offered by the manure generated by the 3,650-sow operation comes naturally for individuals used to making the most of what nature provides.
The hogs on the Luthi farm generate about 59,000 pounds of manure per day. "I said to Wathina just the other day that it was a shame that there wasn't some way that we could actually generate more manure from the hog operation because of the terrific value we have received from it," says Chuck. "It hasn't been a liability to our farm business at all."
Unfortunately, state regulations restrict how large the hog business that the Luthis operate on contract to Murphy Family Farms Inc can grow.
The couple also grows forage crops year round on their 280 acres of irrigated land, specifically Red River crabgrass, Old World Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Sand Love, and many other native grasses. They use some of the seed on their own pastureland to support their cattle operation and sell the rest.
Using treated effluent as crop fertilizer has made a real difference to the farm's bottom line. "We had been spending up to $7,000 a year on commercial fertilizer," says Chuck. "Using effluent has eliminated that cost. And we are growing some varieties of grass that we would not have been able to grow before."
|Chuck and Wathina Luthi. "We have received terrific value from the hog operation's manure," says Chuck.|
Their cropland is soil tested once a year, and this is compared to the nutrient test they conduct annually on the effluent in the second stage of their two-stage lagoon. Using these values, they are able to calculate how many gallons of effluent to apply per acre, using a towable, center-pivot, irrigation system. The effluent is pumped to the Reinke towable irrigation system using a 100-horsepower, John Deere engine connected to a Berkley centrifugal pump, capable of pumping 2,000 gallons per minute.
Nutrient build-up in the soil has not become a problem, says Chuck, because the forage crops remove almost all of the added nutrients.
Not only has the Luthi farm benefited from reduced farm input costs by using the effluent as a fertilizer, but crop production has also increased. "When we apply effluent from our swine lagoon, we have been able to get two hay crops plus a seed crop each year, plus some winter grazing for our beef cows," says Chuck. "We have quadrupled the amount of forage produced on some of these fields."
This past year, the Luthis were named Pork Checkoff Environmental Stewards by the National Pork Board for the leadership they have demonstrated in managing their hog businesses in harmony with their environment. A national selection committee evaluates each operation on its manure management, conservation practices, odor-control strategies, farm aesthetics and neighbor relations, wildlife habitat and innovative ideas.
"It's really gratifying to receive that kind of acknowledgement," says Chuck. He looks after the non-hog aspects of the farm business, while Wathina looks after the hog operation.
"Being stewards of the land means balancing economics with the environment in order to be viable for years to come," says Wathina. She adds that she really enjoys the challenge of managing a swine operation, and, due to the health issues related to maintaining a healthy swine herd, this has factored significantly into the farm's approach to manure management.
The business was started in 1997 with the hogs situated in five separate barns. Each barn is equipped with a plug-pull manure management system according to Murphy Family Farms' specifications. It starts with a partially slatted barn floor. The manure falls between the slats into a shallow pit. The pit floor is built on an angle from 18 to 24 inches deep. Recycled water from the second stage of the farm's two-stage lagoon is used to flush the collected manure weekly from the pits, through underground, eight-inch pipes, to the first stage of the lagoon. The first stage of the lagoon system has a 9.5 million gallon capacity and the second stage has a 3.7 million gallon capacity.
The Luthi farm is fortunate to be located above a large water aquifer, and given its location, the owners have taken steps to ensure that the integrity of this aquifer is maintained, starting with how the lagoons were constructed. The farmstead is on a substrate of clay, which was used to form an impermeable layer in the lagoons. As a further safety measure, a high density polyethylene geosynthetic 40 ml smooth liner was added above that. "We feel really secure in the fact that we have done everything we possibly can to protect this water source," says Chuck.
|In both stages of the lagoon, the manure is treated with commercial pit additives, which are part of an overall Hog Wash system. The system provides a number of benefits, including reduced odor.|
An important aspect to the Luthis' manure management system is how the manure is treated prior to flushing the pits, as well as when it is situated in both stages of the lagoon. They treat the manure with commercial pit additives, which are part of the overall Hog Wash system. This system provides a number of benefits, starting with reduced odor and hydrogen sulfide emissions. Wathina says it is a natural carbon-based product that not only improves the working environment in the barns, but also breaks down the manure solids. After eight years in operation, their farm still has not had any issues with solid build-up in the lagoons, nor have they had to invest in any mechanical systems to aerate them.
Furthermore, a healthier barn environment results in a healthier swine herd, lower mortality, higher production, and ultimately, more income.
An Australian who recently moved to Oklahoma, Geoff Jordan, developed the Hog Wash system. He operates a company called Ensol LLC in Oklahoma City that for the past seven years has been engaged largely in research and development of the Hog Wash system, as well as a product called Waste Away, which uses bacteria to break down more compacted or dried solids in hog, dairy, or septic systems.
Jordan says he developed a specific carbon-based product when he was in Australia, and when he discovered the size of the hog industry in Oklahoma, he decided to use it to develop a process to help the industry manage its manure.
He works on contract to manage the Hog Wash system on the Luthi farm because it has served as a trial site for his product development, where he can control, monitor, and evaluate all aspects of the system. Since then, the company has expanded its contract services to other hog operations, and based on its successful application in the hog industry, Ensol has broadened the use of the Hog Wash system into other industries where lagoons are in use.
Jordan says the system has been used successfully in cattle operations, and even treating a lagoon attached to a purebred dog business.
"We manage the chemistry of the lagoon similar to an aquarium," he says. The key is to create the proper chemistry in the lagoon so that it produces the desired outcome of manure detoxification and decomposition. He adds that the Hog Wash treatment is completely safe for both hogs and humans.
Wathina says she appreciates that the Hog Wash system is safe for the environment, and that it has allowed them to avoid having to install expensive mechanical aeration equipment to drive an aerobic process in the lagoon. Finally, the air quality in the barn and coming off the lagoons is healthier for both hogs and employees, and doesn’t annoy neighbors. The improved air quality is also immediate upon application. Testing on Hog Wash at Iowa State University showed that it reduced odor and hydrogen sulfide by 97 percent.
|On the Luthi farm, the effluent is pumped to the Reinke towable irrigation system using a 100 horsepower, John Deere engine connected to a Berkley centrifugal pump, capable of pumping 2000 gallons per minute.|
The system essentially consists of two steps to build up the biological load needed for the manure transformation process to occur. Initially, Jordan will apply his patented carbon-based product in its powdered form to both the shallow pits and first stage of the lagoon. The carbon product removes antibiotics and other harmful chemicals to the bacteria, such as copper, and also provides a platform on which the bacteria can grow, just like barnacles will attach themselves to a dock.
The bacteria producing agent, called Manu-Rx, is then added to the pits and lagoon in liquid form. It takes about a month to ignite the bacteria development and the transformation process is usually established within two to three months. The best indicator that the system is established is when the lagoon effluent is red and free of solids.
In terms of cost, Ensol has worked out a formula where providing the product and application service in the Oklahoma area for breeder hog operations works out to $0.19 per pig produced for a 1,200-sow unit, or $0.10 per pig produced for a 22,000-sow unit.
Jordan says out-of-state customers can purchase the Hog Wash treatment packages suitable for treating 500,000 gallons of lagoon effluent, or 50,000 gallons of deep pit slurry storage for $355. Re-treatment is recommended each four to six months.
Because bacteria decompose the solids, the Luthis have not had to dispose of any solids built up in their lagoons since they were established in 1997. No solid build-up in the lagoons means that there is no blockage of the lines transporting the effluent to the irrigation system or back to the barns, and no extra expense of having to hire a commercial service to remove and dispose of the solids.