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From plate coolers and heat exchangers to land application of manure, we do several things to lessen our carbon footprint. These common moneysaving practices are good for the environment if done properly.
Forage quality also contributes to an operation's carbon footprint. We put significant research into selecting hybrids that give us good tonnage as well as high digestibility. If we can maximize forage digestibility, the cows will more efficiently turn nutrients into milk.
Fecal excretion is directly correlated to feed intake. For example, a cow eating 120 lb. of feed will excrete more feces than a cow eating 100 lb. of feed on a daily basis. Feeding higher-quality forages results in more energy available to convert nutrients into milk, compared to lower-quality forages. This helps maintain higher milk production with less feed intake.
So, if a cow eating 100 lb. of feed produces the same amount of milk as the cow eating 120 lb., I have reduced my carbon footprint. I have less manure to handle and transport and I don't need as many acres of land to support the number of cows I have.
Another way we ultimately reduce our carbon footprint is by recycling and reusing our sand bedding. Two years ago, we put in a passive sand separating system. Prior to sand recycling, the sand eventually ended up in the lagoon. It was removed twice a year and spread on our cropland. We went from buying four loads of sand a week to eight to 12 loads per year. We hope it will be several years before we have to consider dipping sand out of a lagoon again.
Finally, we use some common industry practices that reduce our carbon footprint. Commercial fertilizer is expensive and it takes considerable energy to create, but as dairy producers we have the ability to use cow manure as fertilizer. We are able to recycle the undigested nutrients back to the land to grow our crops.
The plate cooler and heat exchangers historically have been used to save producers money, but by saving money they reduce energy usage and thus our carbon footprint. The milk is cooled nearly 30ºF just by recirculating well water with a small 1-hp pump through a plate cooler. This uses less energy than using refrigeration units to cool the milk down from 102ºF to 36ºF.
It is the same for our heat exchangers. The heat exchangers use the heat generated from the refrigeration units to heat well water to more than 100ºF prior to entering the propane water heater. The heat exchangers use less energy than it would to heat well water to 185ºF with our propane water heater.
We as dairy producers should be proud of our efficiency and the attention we pay to detail. Our desire to be more efficient and profitable resulted in our being "green” before "green” was popular.
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