You think you deal with a lot of dung at work? The livestock exhibitors at the Missouri State Fair have you beat.
There are scores of animals occupying the barns across the fairgrounds, and as the children’s book tells us, “Everyone Poops.” But how much manure are we talking about? And what happens to it?
Kaytelyn Robinson, 18, of Osage City, Kan., raises Salers, a breed of cattle. She manages manure “every minute of the day. One cow will go, and you turn around and another cow is going,” she said.
Robinson guessed that she moves about 50 pound of poop out of her Salers’ stalls each day during the fair.
“You kind of get used to it after doing it for so many years,” she said. “But it’s tiring.”
David Dick is the state fair’s beef cattle and general livestock superintendent, which means he oversees 19 separate livestock departments. He said Robinson’s estimate on how much dung she’s flung each day is probably representative of most cattle exhibitors. During the 2013 fair, Bud’s Feed Service removed a total of 27 cubic yards of straw and manure; that total is expected to be similar for the 2014 fair.
That total is a reduction from what had to be handled in past years. Dick said that in the 1990s, to reduce the waste load, the fair switched from straw to other animal bedding sources. Recycled newspaper, sawdust and bark bedding were all tried, and each presented its own set of problems. Fairs in the Southeast were using sand successfully, so Missouri’s fair made the switch and has stayed with it in the cattle barns. Exhibitors now are able to remove droppings without scooping up a bunch of bedding – it’s kind of like scooping a cat litter box, if your cat was more than 5 feet tall and weighed 500 pounds.
“The sand is really easy for us to clean and so really all that goes out the back of the barn is the cow manure, you don’t have a lot of bedding,” Dick said. “That has probably decreased our volume by 85 percent or maybe more.”
In the swine and sheep barns, wood chips are used for bedding. Because it is a natural product, it biodegrades and helps lessen the volume of waste that must be moved off the fairgrounds each night.
The droppings that are removed from the fairgrounds are taken to what might be called Mount Manure, a big ol’ pile near the Katy Trail’s Clarenden Road trailhead. By reducing the amount of bedding and stray material, what is left is a more pure fertilizer which is great to help trees and plants grow, Dick said. That fertilizer is available free to the public.
Cooper Sadowsky, 17, of Eagleville, Mo., is used to putting that animal waste to work for her angus cattle operation. Her family practices rotational grazing, so manure management is a way of life.
“A lot of (the agriculture experience) revolves around it,” she said. “You select the right, nutritious feeds for them so they get the most out of it and what’s left is the waste. … It’s cool because you recycle it. My
family has rotational grazing, that’s how we treat our land so we graze different parts of it. Our cattle re-fertilize the ground so the nutrients they take out of it they put right back into it so it makes our grass grow better.”
The Sadowskys use wood chips for their bedding back home.
“It’s another reuse/recycle thing,” Sadowsky said. “It all comes from the earth and goes back to the earth.”
Managing manure is just part of the agricultural life. But for the flock of non-farmers who come out to the state fair, the “livestock leftovers” are an annoyance.
“That is probably the highlight of my day, hearing people complain about it,” Robinson said. “Some will be walking through and we’ll be carrying out the cow crap and they will make a nasty face. Hey, they’re animals, it happens.”
Sadowsky understands the economic value of excrement.
“I know a lot of people, when they think of manure, think, ‘Ew, gross,’” she said. “A lot of people have the misinterpretation that it goes through a sewer, it just goes to waste. … But it has a dollar value by the way it makes your grass more fertile, your land more fertile. You’ve just got to think of it like that. You just can’t think of it as a waste product, think of it as, ‘Hey, I can use this product to make my ground better which will make me more profitable in my business.’’
Dick said the fair will always be cognizant of how it manages its manure and will keep looking for ways to improve the process. But for fairgoers who turn up their noses, he offers this advice:
“Don’t be afraid of manure – it’s a natural product that helps grow a lot of what you eat.”