STIRRING THE PIT


Embro pig farmer Chris Cockle was skeptical when he heard about a windmill that was touted to keep down odours by aerating the liquid in his manure tank.

Windmill manure lagoon aerator A scientific evaluation on his own farm convinced the 600-sow farrow-to-finish operator that the wind-powered Little River Pond Mill worked. When testing was finished last fall, Cockle bought the test windmill, and ordered three more devices for the other manure tanks on his farms near Embro and Harrington.

The windmill is mounted on pontoons anchored in the middle of Cockle's 330,000-gallon manure tank. A 62-inch fan 11 feet in the air turns a 22-inch propeller located 20 inches below the surface of the pit. The pit's contents are brought to the surface gradually where they are exposed to the air.

INNOVATIONS
Ontario agriculture ministry engineer Mike Toombs, stationed at Port Perry, shared Cockle's skepticism about the turbine's effectiveness. Now he is also excited about its potential to reduce odours. Testing for odours was costly, about $40,000, and involved sampling emissions and liquids from the tanks and testing them with sensing machinery as well as with a trained panel of testers. Funding came from both federal and provincial sources.

"The science is very sound," Toombs says. "It proves it does work."

Long-time pig farmer Cockle has been down the aeration road before. In the 1970s, he was among the liquid manure users who bought "bubblers" which pumped air into the pit in an effort to "oxygenate" the manure.

"All it did was suck up a lot of hydro," he says. It wasn't long before lots of those aerators were for sale in the used equipment section of farm newspapers.

"Over the years, there have been all kinds of fou-fou dust and products and machinery" that didn't work as well as promised, or maybe not at all, Cockle says.

Minimizing odours is a key concern. "It's very important that we be pro-active on this," he says, or legislation will make farming difficult. "We have to police ourselves."

Cockle's farm became the experimental site not only because he has an interest in keeping odours under control, but also because he has two adjacent manure tanks. One tank was filled with manure and allowed to sit. A windmill was installed in the other tank and extensive testing was conducted to determine differences in odour levels and possible loss of nutrients in the tank that was kept stirred.

The results were quite startling, Cockle says. Odours coming from the manure in the tank that was agitated were cut by more than half. Furthermore, no nutrients in the manure were lost. The ammonia levels were the same in treated and untreated manure.

The company that sells the windmill, Allied Environmental of New Hamburg, claims that solids were kept in suspension, Cockle says.

"As far as I am concerned, it's not important." He still has to agitate his tank before spreading and he uses a Houle pump "with a big propeller and it stirs the pit up very quickly."

The windmill is made of galvanized metal and plastic. There's no maintenance required, but Cockle is watching to see how it stands up. "How long will it last in a manure tank? I don't know. It's normally a very hostile environment."

The windmill requires a five-km-per-hour breeze to get it started. The windmill fan has a governor which kicks it sidewise if it starts to spin too fast in a gale.

Cockle says the amount of power required to spin the propeller will depend on the consistency of the liquid. Manure from the early weaning sow barn has lots of wash water and a thinner consistency than the finishing barn's effluent.

"That will have something to do with how effective it is," Cockle says.

Cockle says the windmill works even when the tank is nearly empty and the fan is sitting below the sides of the tank.

Cockle doesn't trust his own judgment when it comes to manure odours, but his family's non-farming friends describe the manure pit as having a "peat moss smell". They don't say that about his untreated manure tank, Cockle says.

Cockle says the agitators costs between $3,000 and $3,500 for each unit, depending on whether they are wind or electrically driven. Two of Cockle's new agitators will be on the leeward side of barns. They will be powered by one-third-hp electric motors and run about eight hours a day.

The agitators are manufactured in Saskatchewan and sold in Ontario by Allied Environmental, 175 Waterloo St., New Hamburg, Ont. N0B 2G0. 1-888-662-7600 or 519-662-4161.


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ECO-FRIENDLY FEED


Oxford-Middlesex producer Eric VanBoekel is farm testing an enzyme feed additive which helps reduce phosphorus levels in manure
By TOM BUTTON

What goes in is what comes out," according to the old saying. When it comes to swine feeds, Eric VanBoekel believes it's all too true.

What's more, VanBoekel is happy it's true, since he believes it gives hog producers a chance to manage their manure by managing their feed, and to produce manure that is safer for both the environment and for crops.

INNOVATIONS
In fact, VanBoekel's current on-farm research with an enzyme called phytase is leading him to believe that what's good for the environment can also be good for profit margins.

Phytase was developed over a decade ago by the Dutch firm Gist-brocades into a feed additive called Natuphos, and is used by almost all European hog producers. It wasn't registered for use in Canada until 1993 and is only now starting to catch on.

"Phytase gives us a chance to manage the nutrient content of our manure," says VanBoekel, who runs a 1,400-sow farrow-to-finish operation spread over four locations in Oxford and Middlesex counties.

"We're doing our best to make sure our manure doesn't get into streams and that the phosphorus levels in our soils don't get too high," he says. "We'll be even more successful if we can make the manure itself safer."

Rations that are high in phosphorus produce manure that is also high in phosphorus, says Andrew Lennox, technical sales representative for BASF, which has worldwide marketing rights for Natuphos.

Swine rations must be high in phosphorus, however, because pigs lack the stomach enzyme phytase. Without it, they can't absorb the phosphorus in corn and soymeal, which comes mainly locked in a molecule called phytic acid.

Because the phosphorus in the corn and soymeal is essentially unavailable to the pigs, their phosphorus requirements have traditionally been met by a premix based on di-calcium phosphate.

Natuphos, the only phytase source available in Canada, lets pigs break down the phytic molecules, so less total phosphorus is required, and premix rates can be shaved.

It also cuts phosphorus levels in manure, says Lennox. According to BASF feeding trials, pigs on rations containing Natuphos produced manure that was 1.06-per-cent fecal phosphorus, compared to 1.43-per-cent for pigs on a standard ration, for a reduction of over 25 per cent. Other tests suggest a reduction of 35 per cent.

Lennox also points to a recent study of 180 crossbred grower-finisher pigs raised on low-phosphorus diets, starting at 18.6 kgs liveweight. The test ration produced pigs with a final weight of 96.9 kgs, while pigs that got the Natuphos enzyme in their rations finished at 110.1 kgs, for a 13.2-kg difference.

Lennox says most growers will see equal performance between their standard rations and those containing Natuphos, which are adjusted for lower phosphorus levels.

The exception is for growers such as VanBoekel who have moved to liquid feeding systems, Lennox says. Because the Natuphos starts working as soon as it hits the water, it has more time to break down more phytic acid, so even less survives the trip through the pig's stomach.

Tests suggest that growers with liquid systems will also see better utilization of amino acids and calcium, Lennox says.

Hutton Farm Supplies at St. Marys is introducing a new line of feeds called Natublend, based on the combination of Natuphos and lower phosphorus levels. The feeds also contain De-odorase, an Alltech product refined from the yucca plant that binds ammonia so less is lost to the atmosphere during application.

Bob Galloway, Hutton sales manager, says the company is selling the Natublend feeds at the same price as traditional feeds.

"These feeds cost us more to produce," Hutton says. "We're working on a lower margin, but it's because we really think that manure nutrient management is the future."

Galloway points out that the typical rations in Table One, previous page, will also allow farmers to use more home-grown grains instead of purchased premix. On-farm handling is also easier, he says, with fewer bags to dispose of.

"With all the focus on manure and the environment, we think the time is really right," Galloway says. "We think that, when producers see they can improve their manure situations without any negative effects on performance, there's going to be a lot of demand."

VanBoekel is testing the Natublend feed in a three-month trial at a 3,000-head finishing barn near Norwich.

"So far, it looks very good," VanBoekel says. "We've been paying a lot of attention to the environment, but if we can do even more without any extra cost, I'm all for it."


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KEEP ON TRACKING


Tracking satellite antenna on livestock trucks will provide producers near-instant feedback
By ROBERT IRWIN

One day in the next few months, if you look closely at the livestock truck which hauls your pigs to market, you may see a new high-tech gadget tucked under the air foil on the cab roof.

The device is a continuous tracking satellite antenna, part of a computer system which is revolutionizing the trucking industry and expected to become a cornerstone of Ontario Pork's new Hog Allocation Management System (HAMS).

INNOVATIONS
Zev Ionis, Ontario Pork's information services director, says the project, which has been two years in the making, grew from an effort to modernize the information systems at Ontario Pork. "When senior management began to look at that, they realized there was a real opportunity here to not just replace our current systems, but to build the superstructure for the Ontario pork industry," he says.

The board will begin using the system internally in September. Other sectors should be hooked up by year end. Ionis says his first priority in launching the system was to verify that data is accurate and ensure it is secure.

Once HAMS is fully operational, truckers will enter all load information into an onboard computer when hogs are picked up. The message is uploaded by antenna to satellite, and then retrieved by the board in Etobicoke. The packer, the pork board and any other authorized party can access the information immediately.

Currently, when a load is shipped on a Monday and killed on a Tuesday, cheques along with grading information are issued Friday, usually reaching producers by Wednesday of the following week. By that time, the producer may have shipped another load and could be unaware of a problem such as a scale error.

HAMS should allow a Monday shipper to use a home computer to download grading information from the Internet on Tuesday night. "At the latest, it will be available Wednesday morning so instead of 10 days, the worst case scenario will be three," Ionis says.

Once the information is downloaded, producers can manipulate it in a personal computer program like a spreadsheet without having to enter information manually. The avoidance of repeated data entries may be HAMS' biggest single benefit.

"The general rule of thumb is that automating a system versus manual labour is an eightfold decrease in error rate," Ionis says. He predicts labour savings of 66 to 70 per cent.

With the current system, board staff can spend up to four days fulfilling a producer's request for information on previous years' shipments which might be needed for situations like a divorce settlement or Revenue Canada audit. HAMS will simply require a few seconds to type in such a request and receive a print-out.

"There's an obvious gain in labour saved, but that's only the small part," Ionis says. A major benefit is the ability to get accurate information out to producers quickly.

None of the board truckers is currently equipped for satellite communication. However, Ionis plans to begin promoting the technology which offers benefits to truckers far exceeding their pork board relationship.

In Canada, the trucking industry's major supplier of Omni TRACS, as the system is known, is Cancom Mobile Services, a division of Canadian Satellite Communications Inc. Since the late 1980s, when the service began, 175,000 trucks across North America have adapted the technology.

In the Ontario agricultural sector, one vegetable trucker is equipped and at press time, Hyndman Transport 1972 Ltd., Wroxeter, a livestock and general freight hauler, was equipping its fleet. "Our customers were demanding it," says Hyndman's operations manager John Cleland.

In addition to making load information instantly available, the system can track driver and equipment performance and can even provide information on load temperatures.

HAMS establishes a standard which will make it easy to share data between the board and all sectors including producers, packers, researchers and transporters. "Ontario Pork is not trying to be the expert in everything but we are trying to provide the facilities to the experts to do the work they need to do to improve the industry," says Ionis.

The system can be adapted for individual animal identification in the future. This would allow producers to track individual bloodlines, and open up a large database to Ontario swine researchers who have traditionally been forced by budgetary constraints to avoid studies involving large numbers of animals.

Ionis says Ontario Pork has implemented E-mail throughout its business as a "side effect" of HAMS. He says growing numbers of producers are communicating with their board this way, meaning they get a quicker response than those who use mail.

Does this mean it's time for producers who have been holding out to buy a computer? Ionis says most operations could benefit if they buy one but a few still argue that by delaying, they will get a more modern, more powerful unit as technology evolves.

"There's no end to that cycle," Ionis counters. He says anyone who buys a Pentium with 16 meg of RAM and a 33.6-baud fax modem will have plenty of power for farm and Internet use.


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