Cows could come home to bedding made of compost

Brian Close

An old banana peel may one day end up as bedding for cattle.
In a recent study, Tom Halbach, a professor in the soil, water and climate department, found that composting the organic components of city garbage makes for a safer, more absorbent bedding for barns.
Cattle need bedding for soft places to lie and to absorb waste and excess moisture. Most feedlots use newspaper, straw or cornstalks.
By using municipal solid waste, sometimes farmers can pay less for bedding than if they used other products.
In addition to a cheaper, more absorbent bedding, composting municipal waste avoids using landfill space and returns nutrients to the soil.
“Composting may be more permanent and more consistent with natural cycles,” Halbach said.
Organic material accounts for more than half of total household trash, including items like food scraps and paper.
But Halbach said composting is more difficult and less cost-effective than other methods of dealing with the waste.
To separate the organic waste, a processing facility uses screens, spinning drums, electric currents and ballistic separators. A ballistic separator is a device that shoots a stream of garbage at a slanted table. The more dense materials, like rocks and metal, bounce off farther than the organic material, which falls down and is collected.
Once the organic material is collected, it is composted for 40 to 60 days, and becomes a crumbly absorbent soil.
One of the main parts of the study was to test for any negative effects of potentially harmful elements that may remain in the compost, such as lead and zinc.
But the study showed the cattle’s levels of these elements were in the normal range. According to the report, cattle bedded on the compost were healthy throughout the study.
Halbach also researched the effectiveness of the solid waste compost for crop production and found it to be a helpful soil additive.
“The reason the University needs to do this is, who else will?” Halbach asked.
No current plans for using municipal solid waste compost exist at the University yet.
The study was published by the University Extension Service, and is now available for farmers to review.
Shirley Barber, an extension educator for Ramsey County, said the goal of extension is to provide outreach from the University to communities.
“Our primary mission is to bring research-based information to people where they live and work,” she said.
John Springman, operations manager for Ramsey County’s yard waste program, said the county does very little separation of garbage. Rather, the county burns most of the garbage for electrical purposes.
“In Ramsey County, we accept leaves, grass and other soft body plant material, like garden waste, weeds, or anything else that will break down within a year,” he said.