For a long time, Washington dairy cows gave us two products: milk and manure. The milk was used to produce some of the finest dairy products in the nation, while the manure was often flushed and pumped into a not-so-blue holding lagoon on the farm. Well, Washington dairy cows are still the state’s top producers of milk and manure, and Washington dairy products continue to be delicious and nutritious. What’s changing is the way dairies across the state are handling cow manure. They’re transforming a by-product into a valuable, resellable asset through the composting process.
There are several benefits from composting, and you’d be surprised at some of the ways people throughout the state are using it. To begin with, manure is deposited in the dairy alleys and flushed out. This flush water is run through a large separator machine to separate the solids from the liquids. The solids are piled in long rows ("windrows"); then, over a few weeks, their self-generated heat neutralizes pathogens and other potentially harmful components found in untreated manure. The resulting product is clean, biologically inert but nutrient-rich compost. (Meanwhile, separated liquids are sprayed or injected into crop fields as a natural, nutrient-laden fertilizer.)
Compost serves a number of purposes. Some compost is used as a peat moss alternative and some is used as organic fertilizer. Landscape supply companies sell compost to consumers for home gardenening and lawn dressing purposes. Other agricultural industries including potato, hop, and wine-grape growers use this compost to add essential nutrients back into the soil and ultimately help produce a better crop.
Other compost is used for cow bedding, which paints the perfect picture of how everything on a dairy is recycled. The cow-bedding compost keeps the cows comfortable, and we all know that happy, comfortable cows give us the highest-quality dairy products - one of which is manure. The manure is again repurposed into cow bedding to ensure the cows are contented.
We are proud of our farmers for taking something that was once considered a waste product and turning it into something that further contributes to the health of our state and the environment. There’s even an artist in Walla Walla who’s using digested dairy fiber as a new medium to express his artistic vision. How’s that for repurposing?
Be sure to check out all of our composting videos!