Composting Feedlot Manure

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Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

Situated in the Texas panhandle is an area known as the Rolling Plains ecological region, a topography consisting primarily of open-range pasture and cropland. Approximately one-third of the Rolling Plains region is dedicated to production agriculture, where huge fields of wheat, cotton and sorghum extend into the distance for as far as the eye can see. The remaining area is native grassland, used primarily for grazing cattle.

After birth, calves typically spend the first six to 10 months of their lives on the range alongside their mothers. Once attaining weights ranging from 450 to 700 pounds, the mature calves are weaned and moved to feedlots where they remain until reaching weights desired for slaughter, typically 1,200 to 1,400 pounds. Over the course of the four to six months spent in feedlots, each growing steer and heifer will produce approximately 1.8 tons of manure. With the number of cattle often upwards of 30,000-plus dwelling within one lot, the hefty amount of manure poses concerns for feedlot operators and environmental interests alike.

More stringent regulations imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Water Quality Board over the years on large feedlot operations have created an opportunity for Jack Moreman, a former college instructor on ranch and feedlot management and a feedlot operator. Moreman provides a highly efficient composting service that helps feedlot operators better manage the staggering amount of manure produced by their herds each year. “At the time I was in the feedlot business, we couldn’t give it [manure] away,” he says. “But since then, regulations have stepped up on feedlots — specifically manure and runoff — so it behooves operators to partner with someone like our organization that will remove manure and compost it.” The compost is sold to local farmers as fertilizer and to help with water and moisture retention — a challenge for agricultural operations in this area.

Moreman’s composting quest began several years ago while working with an Oklahoma-based company that marketed a plant nutrient package made from raw cattle manure. The company grew quickly, and expanded to service feedlots in neighboring Texas and Colorado. Six years ago, Moreman and business partner Don Lyles purchased the Texas-based portion of the company and formed their own — Rolling Plains Ag Compost, appropriately named for the geographic region where the bulk of the feedlots they serve are located. Today, the combined herd population capacity of the seven feedlots served by Rolling Plains Ag Compost is approximately 200,000 head. The company processes more than 720,000 tons/year of manure. With a conversion rate of approximately 5-to-1, Moreman estimates the manure composted each year yields about 300,000 tons of compost.

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