Cow poop… we have all smelled it, and it’s almost a part of the Wisconsin quaintness. I am sure you have seen the shirts “We love our dairy aire”.

In the “normal” farming scheme the handling of manure is part of the daily or weekly routine. Cows are able to go outside to do their business and the manure is naturally applied over a grazing area where the natural process of the manure breaking down fertilizes the grass for the continued growth. In many areas, rotational grazing has become a very ecologically sound feeding method, and allows the natural process of fertilization and growth to take place. When these cows are in the milking barn, they still need to take care of business. Any manure in the barn is scraped into a gutter where it is conveyed outside to a waiting manure spreader and hauled out to the fields on an almost daily trip. In the winter the farmer can’t spread due to restrictions on spreading on snow to prevent runoff, so the manure is usually stored in a relatively small tank or “slurry store” until spring comes and the cycle resumes. With this process the odor and ground water issues are minimized as the manure is in a fairly “solid” form.

Now let’s contrast that with the factory farm. You can pretty much drop the “farm” part; it’s a milk production factory.  Here the cows stay inside all day, all year. They are “bedded” in sand. Operators will tell you the sand is the most comfortable thing for the cows! But I would venture to say that the real reason is that compared to normal straw bedding, it’s cheap and reusable. And this is where the factory is so different than the farm. When the cows do their business inside, it collects in their sand bedding. This sand is then hauled outside where it goes thru a washing process to remove the waste, and then is reused. The washing process increases the volume of the manure over. Instead of a fairly solid waste, we now have a very liquid stew that is pumped to holding lagoons capable of holding millions of gallons of waste. And it’s not just poop and water. Because the cows are kept indoors all year, which is not natural, they are subject to illness more than normal, so antibiotics are routinely used. These drugs along with birthing residue, heavy metals from feed, and hormones, all end up in this soup. In the lagoons the natural process of manure breakdown begins, only in volumes unimaginable. The volume of hazardous gases such as ammonia that are emitted would result in a normal factory being shut down, but “agriculture” is exempt from enforcement of these emissions.

Now the slurry sits in the lagoon for weeks or months until the time is right for spreading. Then thousands of truckloads will be taken out and spread on area fields. If the New Chester expansion is granted, the “area” fields will be for miles as they will need 38,000 acres to spread it all! At the proposed Richfield site (Coloma) they will use 16,000 acres. The spreading of this slurry is where the factory presents so much more of a problem than the farm. The fermented manure has a smell that is in NO way similar to the normal “dairy aire”.  Because the manure is in such a fermented liquid form as it is sprayed, it easily becomes aerosolized. The microscopic droplets are then picked up on the wind so that anyone within miles will be well aware that spreading is taking place. The other big issue, especially here in the central sands region, is that this liquid can easily begin its trip down thru the ground, to our water supply, or run to nearby streams.

So next time you hear someone from a factory farm explaining what a great product their manure is and how much it will help us all, you will know that line is a Crock of, uhm, poop.