Kenn Buelow of Holsum Dairies LLC shows the methane digester–reclaimed manure solids he uses as bedding.
Sustainability winners help the environment and bottom line
The 6,800 cows at Holsum Dairies LLC are energy misers. Each cow uses 40% less electricity for lights, ventilation, milking, cooling and everything else that sustains her and brings her milk to market.
"Looked at individually on a kilowatt hour [kwh] per cow basis, we’re using 600 kwh per cow per year versus the national average of 1,000 kwh," says Kenn Buelow, a partner in the Hilbert, Wis., operation.
And that translates into very real dollar savings:
- $30,000 from more efficient barn fans.
- $25,000 from plate coolers and heat recovery systems for milk cooling.
- $25,000 from more efficient lighting.
- $18,000 from using variable-speed pumps on milk pumps and water wells.
- $20,000 in waste heat recovery from milk cooling and methane generation that is re-used for in-floor heating of the milking parlor, holding pen and calf nursery.
Simply "right-sizing" payloaders and other engined farm equipment saves another $22,000 annually. "At our size of operation, some of this equipment is running all day long. If you can save 1 gal. of fuel per hour by appropriately sizing a payloader, for example, that adds up to big savings over the course of a year," Buelow says.
Holsum Dairies LLC is one of four dairies recognized nationally in the first-ever U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards presented by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. In addition, Holsum Dairies won one of three Elanco Awards for Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability. (See sidebar on page 8 for the other winners.) It’s easy to see why.
Holsum Dairies milks its 6,800 cows on two locations in northeast Wisconsin. Each facility has a
methane digester to process manure into electricity and re-usable solids for bedding. The bedding is used on the farm, with surplus sold to neighboring operations.
Electricity produced by the digesters is sold into the national power grid. Electricity used on the dairy is then bought back from a local utility.
"We have net metering in Wis-consin, but the technology is still too expensive for us to implement. So we simply sell the electricity we produce and buy back what we need," Buelow says. "We’re still making money with the digesters."
One of the reasons is that here, too, right-sizing and fine-tuning equipment allows for optimal power production. "The key is finding the right people to work and control the digester operation," Buelow says.
Holsum Dairies also has 14 months of lagoon storage. That means it can take in other food wastes (often by the semi-load) to increase the digesters’ efficiency and collect tipping fees for doing so. Some of the other digester substrates taken include breaded vegetable wastes, malt ingredients, food waste from local school cafeterias, cheese trappings and even rumen paunch material from a local slaughter plant.
The excess lagoon capacity allows Holsum’s field crew to spread the liquid effluent at a time of its choosing. That’s important because Holsum works with 40 area farmers who supply the dairies with alfalfa and corn silage and receive manure fertilizer.
Altogether, Holsum works with area farmers to maintain a nutrient management plan on 11,000 acres. On a commercial fertilizer equivalent, it provides $1 million per year in organic fertilizer to these fields.
The liquid effluent supplies fertilizer for 3,000 to 4,000 acres per year. On alfalfa fields close to the dairies, it can supply 100% of fertilizer need. "On corn ground, we try not to supply 100% of crop need, simply because the agronomists want some commercial nitrogen in spring as a starter to get the crop growing," Buelow says.
- April 2012