The Future of Manure is Here… Unlimited, Clean Bedding

Joel Hastings

Rejean Houle of US Farm Systems
Rejean Houle of US Farm Systems

With herds of all sizes under increasing pressure to manage manure carefully, Rejean Houle thinks his company can offer the solution needed.  He’s the founder and owner of U S Farm Systems in Tulare, Calif., manufacturers of manure solids separation technology.

In a typical flushed free stall operation, the flush water is pumped to the manure system, where it flows over eight-foot by twelve-foot fine sloped screen(s) with vibrator and solid removal rates from 50-60%. The waste water with suspended particles flows to a lagoon, or second stage separator for further separation.

The separated solids then go through a screw press to remove more moisture, preconditioning solids for composting or bedding production; the solids then move on to a stacking conveyor.  The resulting solids are piled and allowed to sit for up to several weeks.  The heat generated kills any harmful microbes and the resulting product is clean, soft, virtually odor free and easily handled for use back in the stalls as an almost ideal bedding material. Enough bedding can be produced in five to six months for use all year long.

Solving a Manure Problem

Dairy producer Bob Aukeman who milks 3200 cows near Tulare, installed a system that began operating in December 2015.

“We had to do something… we had to empty our lagoon with sludge three times a year.  We’ve only done it once since the new system has been in place.

He says the quality and quantity of the resulting bedding has been a noticeable improvement for cow comfort and health.  He credits his hard-working employees for quality milk but he notes that since using the USF system, SCC counts have dropped below 150,000.

The lagoon water with reduced solids is applied on his 1500 acres of cropland through the irrigation system, with a reduction in purchased fertilizer. With plenty of bedding, he was still able to take 1000 loads of solids to be spread on fallow crop ground off site with a noticeable improvement in soil quality.  In California’s Central Valley, the solids are also in demand as a fertilizer for grape and nut growers.

Houle’s Commitment

Houle’s enthusiasm for his system is unrelenting and infectious.  He emphasizes the advantages of generously bedding the milking herd, resulting in greater cow comfort for more resting time and higher production, by as much as 10 or 15 percent, he claims.

Additionally, the high rate of solids removal from the water that flows into the lagoon means two things. First, it’s available for use as fertilizer on crop land through irrigation with a reduction in the need for purchased commercial fertilizer.  And secondly, the lagoon can be cleaned more easily and less frequently, as confirmed by Aukeman.  And as a bonus, in some installations, like Aukeman’s, the system reduces odor and fly populations as well.

Houle installed his first separator unit in the Central Valley in 1989 on a 1500-cow dairy, where the system is still in regular use.  But Houle continues to refine the systems, adjusting the screen size currently at .010 of an inch, adding the vibrator, improving the screw press and auto washer units.

Dairyman David Ribeiro of Tulare has been a customer for 20 years, updating his system as new elements became available.  He confirms, “[U S Farm Systems] is always looking to improve, trying to better [their products] by staying close to the dairymen.”  With manure management a priority on today’s farms he credits the company staff with understanding the bigger picture of the dairy operation, not just engineering the technical components.

Milking 1500 cows on his Rib-Arrow Dairy, Ribeiro recommends a screen that results in the smallest particle size possible, even the two-stage process.  He says the bedding now being produced from his system is excellent in terms of dryness, fluffiness and consistency.  It’s cooler under the cows, there are no lumps, it doesn’t compress and grooms better.  It has lowered the incidence of mastitis, too.  And he says there is zero runoff from the pile as it comes off the stacking conveyor, also reducing odor and flies.

He too uses the manure water for irrigation and fertilization.  He conscientiously soil tests so that just the right amount of nutrient laden water is applied on his 800 acres of corn, alfalfa and wheat.

Versatile Technology

Houle explains the systems can also be adapted to various herd sizes, climates, and operational requirements – from 100 cows in Quebec with just a screw press to 30,000 cows in Oregon.  And by including the system within a building, it can work effectively in cold climates as well with scrape or vacuum manure collection systems.

At the plant in Tulare, there are about 65 employees in engineering, manufacturing, sales, service and office admin.  The separator and pumping equipment manufactured at the company’s facility uses only high-quality materials and subcomponents and is made for harsh operating environments.  US Farm Systems separator equipment is constructed using 304 stainless steel, with pumps and other equipment covered with a first coat of an epoxy primer and a top coat of plastic polyurethane.

Houle, 73, was born and raised on a small Quebec dairy farm, one of eight brothers.  He began his career in Wisconsin selling dairy equipment built by the Houle company owned by several members of his family, offering a line of barn and manure handling equipment.  (Houle has since been sold to GEA.)

As dairy in the West expanded, he relocated his company to the Central Valley in 1983 and opened the current facility in Tulare in the year 2000.  Today his two sons are part of the business.  Jean, 52, is CFO and business manager in Tulare while Alain, 49, has represented the company in China where he lives with his family.  That market there has been important and systems have also been sold to Australia, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Hungary, Slovakia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and more.

After being in business for 38 years, Houle explains that the customer is buying experience when he purchases US Farm Systems. Experience and a continuing commitment to successful manure management.

More information is available on the company’s web site at http://usfarmsystems.com/