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The Solution Becomes the Problem that is the Solution  RSS feed

 
Travis Johnson
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I have sheep, quite a few to be honest with you and many more coming soon. Well I have to feed them and it has just become apparent that we have reached the point where we need our own forage equipment. I say forage equipment because there is not strong enough words in the English Dictionary to describe how much I loath hay and haying equipment. It just takes to much of it, the cost is out of control and I have better things to do then babysit cut hay for 4 days. I also grew up on a dairy farm and thus love silage. It is far cheaper, the sheep love it and it can be worked in a day instead of several days.

So I am getting a flail chopper. A brand new one costs less then a USED baler, and it cuts, processes, and throws the feed into a trailer or truck in one fell swoop. What is not to love?

Well the process has one flaw, while it does all these processes simultaneously, it is processing very wet grass, and in the bunker it causes silage liquor which is problematic. The ensiling process will render it ideal for a sheep's nutritional needs, but what drains off the silage pad can be problematic for the environment. So in looking for a secondary use for this silage liquor I found that it can produce ample amounts of biogas.

I love it; the flail chopper becomes the solution to expensive hay, but the silage produced that is high moisture becomes problematic silage liquor, but that liquor can then be rendered into useful biogas! The solution becomes the problem that is the solution!
 
Craig Dobbson
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Just out of curiosity, how much liquid renders out of a mass of silage?
For instance say I cut an acre of "ideal" silage material, how much mass would I have and then how much liquid would it render? 
 
Candy Johnson
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We too despise hay and we are working hard to provide all of our own feed. Is silage an option for small acreage in Colorado? We are new here and we are being hampered by the low amount of annual rain. Currently we are building a fodder system but sourcing the seeds has become problematic also. We are looking for organic/local seed and it seems somewhat scarce here outside of Denver.
 
David Livingston
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Maybe the biogas production will also give you some fertilizer as a bi product

David
 
Travis Johnson
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I did a lengthy post on silage for the homesteader, but I'll be darned if I can find it now. It never got many replies. It was a shame honestly as anyone can do it.

In that reply I talked mostly about corn silage. If you can grow corn in a garden, you have the stuff to make silage. I used to go up to our fields destined for dairy cow feed and cut a few trailer loads of the stuff. I used my chainsaw to cut the stalks, loaded them on a trailer and hauled them home. Then once home I stood them up so the wind could dry them out then ran them through a small chipper/shredder. Don't have one? Well you can drill a 4 inch hole in a hand lawnmower and drop the corn stalks through that. The whirling lawnmower blade will shred the stalks up so the sheep can eat it.

At the time I only had four sheep, but I was able to feed them up until January.

To answer your question though Craig, you can get about 24 tons to the acre. Grass and corn silage produce about the same amount believe it or not, it just depends on how many times you cut the grass. I am not sure how much liquor would come out. Silage is about 2/3 water, so assuming around 1/3 of it ran out and was collected, you could get about 2000 gallons or so, by my quick math.

I have some friends coming over or I would explain more, so if I sound snarky, I apologize; just very little time to explain a complex process at the moment.

David; I am sure you could use the bi=product of biogas as a fertilizer. On the dairy farm we used waste silage as compost.
 
Casie Becker
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Is this the post you were talking about? https://permies.com/t/60437/Video-Hay-Day#515262

I'm gonna look to see if any other better fits.
 
David Livingston
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Could this bio gas set up also replace your septic tank and maybe take your ...animal bi product too ?
Also is this a temperature dependent set up ? Ie will it only work in summer ?

David
 
Travis Johnson
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Casie Becker wrote:Is this the post you were talking about? https://permies.com/t/60437/Video-Hay-Day#515262

I'm gonna look to see if any other better fits.


Yes, thank you Casie very much!
 
Travis Johnson
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David Livingston wrote:Could this bio gas set up also replace your septic tank and maybe take your ...animal bi product too ?
Also is this a temperature dependent set up ? Ie will it only work in summer ?

David


I have to say I really don't know, I am just exploring this too.

I always knew it made great compost, it is what we use on the dairy farm to compost dead cows. Not only does the composting action break down any bacteria that might have killed the animal in the first place, or neutralized the euthanized ones, it would even compost the bones to oblivion in only 4 months time. That is powerful composting.

Now a farmer goes to some trouble to keep silage liquor from forming. Typically on grass silage they mow it, let it wilt, then in late afternoon chop it, or the next day. This allows the moisture to dry. With corn, they simply let the frost hi it, kill it then dry out on the standing stalk before harvest. Honestly this helps cut down on trucking costs as the farmer is not hauling water around, but it also reduces silage liquor.

With sheep it is essential to lower your operating costs as it is a low tech/low cash flow type of farm commodity. I need to feed my sheep, but if I can do it with a single cheap implement like a flail chopper, the better. BUT it cuts it at the same time, so it is very wet...hence the silage liquor the USDA wants a farmer to reduce. They even specifically design silage bunkers to drain and filter that silage effluent. But I wondered...like you David...if it could be use as liquid manure? I don't think you can because it is very acidic and my soil is already bad enough in PH levels. But it produces a lot of biogas...this makes sense because it is basically food before it passes through an animal. Biogas from manure is done, but it a lot less then food waste because...well...this is not so elegant sounding, but having the methane already burped and farted out by the sheep.

I am wondering if instead of draining it away from the silage pile, it was drained to a biogas catchment system if it could be used in biogas production. Certainly the animal manure could be introduced as well. Human Manure...contains little biogas unfortunately. As my wife can attest, I am very good at ridding myself of methane!).

Beyond biogas, I am not sure what the end product would be. It would be extremely high in acidity I would think.

A lot of research and thinking left to do on this for sure, but an interesting development.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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I imagine that if you ran this liquor through an oxygenator/aerator/or pump vortex system, you would change the bacterial population in the volume to those that thrive in oxygen, and thus be able to apply this directly or watered down, as a very powerful nutrient addition to your fields or garden.
 
David Livingston
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I remember reading about Biogas production in Bangladesh and the Congo where they produce biogas using both human and animal waste for both the gas and fertilizer . But both of these are tropical enviorments and this warmth was said to improve the time taken for digestion. In both the case studies I read years ago one of the economic drivers was that the system cost the same as a septic system plus you got the gas.
 
Travis Johnson
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I have a semi-friend...a guess if the truth be known, a person who farms not too far away from me who I know, and who has a digester. It is for a 1200 cow operation granted, but he said they had to heat the cow manure to 103 degrees (f) in order to get it cooking. This makes sense as a good ruminant has a 100 degree temp inside them.

One possibility that could be done is to use the refuse from the silage pile, and there is a lot, as a heater for the biogas system. Jean Pain did this to heat his home, but by having a place where pex tubing is run and the spoiled silage is placed, it could be used to preheat the digester. Roberto and I talked a lot about this in just plain heating our homes, but it could be used as a preheater of sorts for the digester. Underground burial and all that could come into play as an insulator as well.

My interest in heating my home through compost came directly from my experience with silage piles. As we broke into the silage on the coldest mornings to feed the dairy cows, the heat would be so hot that you could not hold your hand in it. It was warm sauerkraut for the cows in essence. And this was after we let it dry down in the fields, compacted the crap out of it, and overall did everything possible to STOP it from heating up. I wondered if this resulting heat could be of some use on the farms as heating costs in Maine are EXPENSIVE!. So that is my background in silage and heat. Even as I type this my sheep manure pile is steaming the snow off the top and ll I did was push it out of the barn...and it is 10 below zero (f)!

In a quick, rough sketch, I envision a silage bunker that collects the silage liquor and drains it into the biogas digester. Spoiled silage that comes from the top of the pile (think in tons on this), get placed in a specific spot that has pex running through it. Circulator pumps bring this heated water into the digester to the optimum 103 degrees (easily done through radiant floor heating controls), and then the biogas is used in a small generator I have (3KW) to run my sheep barn. Surprisingly...I don't consume a whole lot of electricity for raising sheep, but if my cost was almost zero, I would do even better.

I do have a meeting scheduled with an alternitive energy person who is giving out grants to family farms like mine. I have a feeling this would be well over the top for what they fund, but if she is knowledgeable at all, maybe she can give direction on it.

I do not see why physically this would not work. My biggest questions are:

What is the return on investment...that pesky question in farming that always rears its ugly head?
How much biogas could be produced? Even a small generator consumes quite a bit of biogas. Would it be enough to do any measurable amount of work?
 
David Livingston
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Also would you get the gas at the right time of year ?

Saying about heat , where I come from in the North east of England at one time it was the habit to build two story farm houses , ground floor for the animals whose heat would warm the house and an  attic to store the hay as insulation for the winter

David
 
David Livingston
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Just a thought in terms of numbers of sheep what will your set up for hay or silage or X be ? Making hay is a pain and weather dependant plus uses up  grazing space Silage the same but less so both have costs . What about if you did neither and just had less sheep ?
Have you come across Gebe Brown very interesting look at things from a farmers perspective 
 
Travis Johnson
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David Livingston wrote:Also would you get the gas at the right time of year ?

Saying about heat , where I come from in the North east of England at one time it was the habit to build two story farm houses , ground floor for the animals whose heat would warm the house and an  attic to store the hay as insulation for the winter

David


I have never had the pleasure of going to England but I did go to Ireland and stay on a farm there, but learned absolutely NOTHING about sheep farming, mostly because it is so warm there that they can graze year around, something out of the question in Maine unfortunately.

I don't think seasonality would be a problem for biogas production because that much tonnage is always squeezing out of the silage liquor. Naturally as it was fed out it would go down, but that could be augmented with the sheep manure. If done right, I think it would be fairly consistent; silage in, sheep poo out. Then of course there is the possibility of storing the biogas.
 
Travis Johnson
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David Livingston wrote:Just a thought in terms of numbers of sheep what will your set up for hay or silage or X be ? Making hay is a pain and weather dependant plus uses up  grazing space Silage the same but less so both have costs . What about if you did neither and just had less sheep ?
Have you come across Gebe Brown very interesting look at things from a farmers perspective  [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuwwfL2o9d4
[/youtube]

I always figured about 12 pounds of silage per day per head of sheep, with a 150 day winter season. With hay it is about 7 pounds per day. (Honestly I just figure 1.5 round bales of hay per head of sheep per winter season, but both come out about the same). I carefully track my winter feed on a Spreadsheet entitled as such. I put down what I fed for hay, grain, minerals etc and keep a running track of how much I have on hand, when it will run out, and how much I need to buy/have left over. I do this because by keeping track of my surplus I can sell my excess feed while people still need it. Most farmers I know hoard it until Spring "just in case", then have to sell the extra as "last years hay" which has half the price. Best to use averages, spreadsheets and sell it when people need it. Like this year, I know I am going to run out on April 10th, but 7 out of the last 8 years I have put my sheep on pasture on the second week of April. So statistically, we are okay. None to sell to others, but we won't have to buy any either. (Incidentally I do this on firewood too. Selling seasoned firewood in the dead of winter means high prices when no one else has it). Don't get me wrong, I don't gouge people on the price and have cut people a little break  few times when they were up against it. Lets face it, we all miscalculate now and then, but selling hay at half the price for "just in case" situations, makes no sense to me. In business they call it "lean manufacturing" and I apply the same thoughts to farming; minimal inventory!

As for less sheep? Yes that is always a possibility. There is no doubt I could do nothing but hay and actually make more money with the farm then with sheep, but that is not my calling. I had a devastating day back in 2011, not only was I going through a divorce, but I put my sheep on a really good pasture too quick and woke up to find 30 dead sheep. I was pretty devastated by it all and wanted to give up sheep farming altogether. But then...well I wish I could say more...and would...but the rules on here forbid talking about such things, and I understand and respect that, so let's just say I just know sheep farming is what I am to do. There are many that are certainly bigger then my farm, and many smaller, and I am not even sure where average is. But I just try and be the most efficient sheep farmer I can be.

I am wondering if instead of draining and filtering out silage liquor, if it may be able to help me in that endeavor.
 
Tracy Wandling
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I love the idea of biogas. You could definitely add to the silage juice using sheep poo, humanure, and other organic stuff. And you'd also have a great compost material, as well. I read that the silage juice is hard on cement, so you might have to build the tank out of something else. But it's a brilliant idea. You could be cooking with gas in no time!
 
David Livingston
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So you have your sheep inside all winter ? This would make it easier to incorporate things into the biogas digester
Where I lived in the UK the sheep roamed the hill sides during the late spring summer early autunm and lived in the fields near the farm in late autunm winter ( these fields were known as the inbye ) winter supplimented by hay or kale .
I am surpised you keep your sheep indoors . What sort of sheep do you have ? Dont think these guys need to be inside https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_sheep , http://www.scottish-blackface.co.uk/, although these days this last one is often crossed with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bluefaced_Leicester
If you keep sheep indoors have you thought of getting some milking sheep as sheep milk (plus yogurt chesse etc) are premium top price products 
 
Travis Johnson
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It is not that sheep cannot tolerate the cold we have here, its that they can not tolerate the wind and the cold. For that reason that have to have a winter barn and they have to have winter feed, winter grazing is just plain out here in Maine. It has to do with only 10% open land here, snow cover, and our topography.

Building barns though is not a huge expense. Mine are built only for sheep, and built so they thrive and they can be built for $6500 per 100 head of sheep. It has to do with having so much forest and having a few sawmills to build my barns. The real expense comes in feeding; as discussed a few seconds ago we have to have winter feed. That means either buying it, or producing it myself. Up to this point I have traded feed at a 50%/50% rate with haying contractors, but it is not working for them (too much cost) as well as not for me (I only get 50% of the feed produced on this farm). Now that I am growing, I need more of it. That means I HAVE to have implements. To afford that, I need more sheep. If I lived further south like Gabe Brown, we would be having a different conversation.

I have been penciling pretty hard with my banker and right now it actually looks like 100% confinement is going to be more profitable then grazing. It has to do with being able to feed more sheep per acre harvesting the feed then grazing, even though it has to be done all year. It is the same tonnage of grass I know, but a person has to remember that for every bite full of grass a sheep takes, it ruins 4 more by stomping on it with their hooves. Then of course every once and awhile they poo and ruin it even more. Again if I did not have to have implements to put up winter feed, things would pencil out different. But if I have to have them, then its better to employ them year-round then try and graze/cut pastures for winter feed. Its that split that really makes things inefficient. Now of course I could just buy my winter feed and not worry about the equipment aspect of things, but fencing for sheep is very expensive. It actually would cost me just as much to fence all my fields as it would be to buy a flail chopper; both would be around $20,000. So with grazing I would have to buy fencing AND have to buy winter feed every year, where as with a flail chopper its a purchase every 10-15 years and NO buying of feed yearly. See what I mean by penciling out funny?

Now one thing that is hard to calculate is time. Feeding inside 365 instead of 150 takes a lot of time, and then there is the time of putting up more feed, so with a few extra hours per day I could make money in other ways, because in the summer the sheep would be on pasture and there would be nothing to do with them. (My rotational fences are permanent so there is nothing to move.) There is increased fuel costs and vet bills, but its not a very significant portion of the pie though. But then too being inside there are no predator losses, and higher weight gain since they are not walking off what they eat...so I don't know, a lot of pros and cons on both sides.

Hopefully as I iron out my expanded flock it will be more clear. I sent some preliminary spreadsheets for my banker to knock around and see what she says.
 
David Livingston
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Time equals money . I dont know about the idea of housing them 365/24/7 I think you are making a rod for your own back and I worry about getting in hock to the bank to boot. Going big is one answer but going diversified is another  ( never mind the health issues for the sheep ) your grand parents showed you the way I think
to house amimals all the time is big big work more than letting them outside . Yes sheep make a mess but as Gabe shows why  this is not a problem  it becomes  part of the solution rather than create a whole load of work for you ?
Those Icelandic sheep have a really interesting ratio of ewes to lambs means you can keep them indoors over winter then your population triples+ ($$$$$$$$$) in spring . I know a farmer who keeps such statistics quiet from his neighbours as he does not want them finding out he is averaging more than twins These sheep  would laugh at your mild weather

David
 
Travis Johnson
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I understand where you are coming from, and if I had forage equipment already I might think differently, but because I don't, I minds well get the most use out of it. The problem with grazing is, for every mouthful a sheep eats of grass, it destroys four more with its hooves so it takes a pile of acres to graze. All that grazing takes fence, and with sheep...expensive fence so what you save in diesel costs putting up feed, you quickly lose in fencing costs that is much higher. And...even with some winter cover crop grazing, I could not graze 100% of the year so I am back to having forage equipment. DRAT!

I did take the time to watch that video of Gabe Brown and even he admitted he had a lot of acres to graze, something I just don't have. I am not sure what constitutes "a lot", but it may come as a surprise, but I have very little tillable land here, most of mine is forest. I am working on that, but the conversion of forest to field takes a bit of time, and a lot of work. I have converted 20 acres of forest to field already, and working on a new 30 acre piece, but it will be a bit of time until I get it cleared, stumped, graded and seeded down. I am guessing 2018 at the earliest.

Time wise I think 100% confinement and grazing is pretty well evenly matched because of the economy of scale. It would seem feeding 500 sheep would take 500% more time then 100 sheep, but that is not the case at all. When you are on a tractor feeding up, you have already walked to the tractor, got it warmed up, are already on it, and made a few trips to the bunker. It really is just a matter of making a few more bucket fulls to feed the additional sheep. In my experience on a farm, what slows the farmer down is many unlike tasks. That is why feeding 100 extra sheep takes the same amount of time as feeding 1 cow. That cow is in a different area, it requires different feed, it needs separate water, etc. All that takes time. Do that stop and starting 4-5 times. and not only do tasks get missed, but it erodes time.

I was surprised though at Gabe Brown's diversity. I have thought long and hard about other areas we could explore, but come up pretty short on ideas. I can log well into the future, but at age 42, I am getting tired of it.

Like him it has been awhile since this farm has had urea  though (or any synthetic fertilizer), and after years of crop rotation, cover crops, manure applications, swales and nitrogen fixing crops, my soil...honestly looks just like his. I do soil testing here however (not that Gabe is wrong for not doing so, it only confirms a few things that him and I already know), and it is actually on the high side of having too much organic matter, and yes there is such a thing. Our earthworm populations look just like his soil to, so it really is amazing what soil health can do. We have quite the diverse grass varieties, but I liked some of his ideas like sunflower and turnip. That would be interesting to try. Our Soil and Water Conservation District has their own custom blend of cover crop seed and it works really well, but I am sure it could be improved upon.

About the only difference I saw between his operation and what I am proposing is how the sward is removed from the open land. I plan to clip it, and he grazes. If I had 2000 acres of land exposed to high winds with little snow I would probably graze too, especially with a 42 winter feed days. But here, our winter feed days are extended because a sheep would expel too much energy trying to shrug off -10 below (f) weather while battling 20 mph winds while trying to break open two feet of snow to get at that green grass underneath. Here the better plan is to put the feed up in a bunker then keeping careful track by spreadsheet, sell off the excess feed I no longer need. Someone, somewhere close, always needs feed in the middle of the winter. And of course, Gabe has a lot of diversity.
 
Peter Ellis
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My research into biogas production pretty much came to an end when I found that the bacteria that do the work are largely tropical to semi-tropical in their temperature requirements.  Home biogas production is a terrific option for much of India, not so much for most of North America.

You may be able to find a way to make it work, but from what I have seen in my research, it's going to be difficult to do in Maine.
 
Travis Johnson
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I know of a farm though, not far from me, that produces biogas on a very large scale. He has 1200 dairy cows and produces 1 megawatt of electricity that is pumped to the national grid. I have had a tour of this facility and it is very interesting, and a lot of other farms in the area are thinking about doing likewise.

In his case he actually has excess heat because his methane burning engine has a by product...heat...so instead of pumping it through a radiator and fan to dispel it, he pumps it back through his digester to keep it at 103 degrees. Even then he has so much excess heat that he pumps it to his milking parlor to heat water and keep his parlor warm in the winter. Another portion of that heat dehydrates the manure and then then use it as bedding. He said that bedding alone saves him $100,000 a year on bedding costs (sawdust).

In this case a farm would have to produce enough biogas to operate a liquid cooled engine whose heated coolant could be used to preheat the digester. What that is...I have no idea. It could be a small liquid cooled engine, but enough biogas would have to power it. The only other alternative is to use supplemental heat of some kind to preheat the digester to that all important 103 degrees. I know biogas can be produced in cold climates, because it is done so here. How to do efficiently...I am not sure. Compost heat? Wind directly converted into heat? I don't have those answers.

Peter...I encourage you to look into this again. People are doing this in cold climates, its just a matter of scaling it down and still being efficient.



 
Craig Dobbson
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I found this video the other day while I was reading this thread.   Totally forgot to post it.  Anyway, I think this guy's system cools the engine and warms the biogas slurry at the same time. Pretty cool system. 

 
And now I present magical permaculture hypno cards. The idea is to give them to people that think all your permaculture babble is crazy talk. And be amazed as they apologize for the past derision, and beg you for your permaculture wisdom. If only there were some sort of consumer based event coming where you could have an excuse to slip them a deck ... richsoil.com/cards
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