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Possibilities of on-farm composting tech

Possibilities of on-farm composting tech

Producers and processors search for ecologically sound hide and carcass disposal options

By Owen Roberts

Ontario livestock producers and the Ontario meat processing industry are stepping up their search for new ways to handle carcass and hide disposal, following the collapse of disposal infrastructure in the province earlier this year.

Nearly nine months after the main collection service for hides from small- and medium-sized abattoirs announced it was ceasing operations, solutions remain elusive.

Burying carcasses on farm, windrow composting or sending carcasses to landfills are not considered sustainable solutions. 

So, the industry is casting its net widely in the search for ecologically sound options.

“Any solution to help the situation is something we have to look at,” says Franco Naccarato, executive director of Ontario Meat and Poultry. “It’s going to take a lot of new thinking.”

The global leather industry crashed in favour of cheap synthetics. One solution to the challenge is to appeal to discerning shoppers with local hides turned into handmade high-quality leather items.

Quality shows, as evidenced by products developed and sold by the Enright Cattle Company, near Tweed.

“Because we use as much of the animal as possible, Enright leather goods are proudly crafted from our own hides,” the company website says.

On the disposal side, an emerging approach is sustainable on-farm composting. One example is a modular technology which goes by the trademarked name Ecodrum, developed and manufactured for Canada in southern Manitoba.

Ecodrum is an in-vessel, aerated, dead-tissue composting system, says Matthew Epp, a company spokesperson.

“It eliminates pollution issues around dead tissue disposal and composting,” he says. Ecodrum is designed for daily whole carcass mortality or daily processing waste for any type of dead tissue, including hides.

Ecodrum has sold more than 500 composters around the world, mainly in the United States. (The company also manufactures the composters in Arkansas.) They proved particularly useful there during the recent avian influenza crises, Epp says.

In Ontario, a dozen Ecodrum composter units, which feature an electric motor-powered rotating drum made of non-corrosive, heavy-duty polyethylene, are operational mainly on swine, chicken and turkey operations. Ecodrum composters would also be useful for beef calving operations, Epp says.

Here’s how they work.

Typically, operators load carcasses and hides, along with wood shavings in a volume ratio of about 1:2, into an Ecodrum unit daily. The composter turns at preset intervals by a one-horsepower motor. Each rotation takes about 15 minutes. The electricity cost to run the Ecodrum is generally less than $1 a day.

After eight to 10 days for slaughter waste (or 10 to 16 days for carcasses, depending on their size), the dead tissue is completely composted. The nutrient-rich compost is churned out of the unit automatically into a discharge pile.

“We’re looking at composting as a nutrient stream, not a waste stream,” says Epp. “When you capture nutrients, you have a value-added situation.”

All processes – mixing, moving and aerating – are regulated by an automated controller. Aerobic bacteria digesting the dead tissue generate their own heat inside the Ecodrum. Internal temperatures routinely rise to about 57 to 63 C (135 to 145 F). 

Air injection makes the composting process aerobic, meaning it’s less smelly than anaerobic composting.

Prices for Ecodrum units begin at about $41,000. The unit has a lifespan of more than 10 years, Epp says.

Until Nov. 26, Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding in Ontario is providing a 35 per cent rebate for processors who purchase Ecodrum units. Epp expects this funding to be available again sometime in 2020.

Photo: Trent and Tanya Ens, owners/operators of Smokehaus Meats and Deli in Martensville, Sask., are pictured onsite with their Ecodrum.

Note: This article was updated to correct the intake application closing date for Canadian Agricultural Partnership funding.

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