September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

A natural problem solver

Kolb helps redesign separator to keep bedding dry
Michael Kolb has been bedding his stalls with manure solids since 2009. Kolb, his three brothers and mother milk 370 cows on their farm in Stearns County near St. Martin, Minn.  <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
Michael Kolb has been bedding his stalls with manure solids since 2009. Kolb, his three brothers and mother milk 370 cows on their farm in Stearns County near St. Martin, Minn. <br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN

By by Missy Mussman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

ST. MARTIN, Minn. - Michael Kolb has a knack for finding solutions to problems. This talent came in handy after he installed a manure separator on his dairy farm in 2009 and noticed the natural bedding's moisture content was inconsistent.
"I used to have 30 percent dry matter in the solids closest to the screen and only 20 percent dry matter with the solids further from the screen," Kolb said. "I knew dryer was better."
Kolb put his problem solving skills to good use and worked for two weeks with the engineers of the FAN separator to help redesign the auger in order to get the solids dryer. Kolb, his three brothers and his mother milk nearly 370 cows in a double-12 parlor on his farm near St. Martin, Minn.
The original auger had nearly three to four inches of space for the solids to pass through and be dried. Kolb realized making the space between the auger and the screen smaller would help allow the solids to be dryer. With the new auger, there is only one to two inches of space.
"The moisture doesn't have as far to travel now," Kolb said. "I think I impressed the engineers."
Kolb put in the new auger this past spring, and has seen the dry matter percentage in the solids jump to nearly 35 percent.
"We have even been able to save a half an hour of time when we are running the separator," Kolb said.
Kolb currently runs the separator for four hours each day starting at 5 a.m.
He has also seen a small decrease in their somatic cell count (SCC) since putting in the new part.
"It's gotten the solids dryer, which helps," Kolb said. "But it all comes back to management. If the bedding is remaining clean and stalls are properly filled but there is still issues with SCC, then it is more than the bedding."
The use of compost bedding was not originally part of the plan for the Kolb family when they were building their new barn in 2009.
"We didn't design the barn with this in mind," Kolb said.
The barn was actually built for mattresses. Their other freestall barn, which they still use to house part of their milking herd, has mattresses and the Kolbs felt it wasn't the best fit for their new barn with cow comfort being a priority.
"It was the ninth hour, and we were starting to look at other options," Kolb said.
The Kolbs looked at prices for sand bedding and manure solids, talked to farmers and looked at facilities. In the end, the Kolbs went with the composted bedding for their new barn.
"We saw it as an endless bedding supply at a lower cost than sand," Kolb said. "From the systems we looked at that were using manure solids, the cows were comfortable and the farms were having success with it."
The Kolbs built the new barn, installed the separator and a 19,990-gallon reception pit in 2009.
Kolb is responsible for running the separator and has found the key to success for bedding with solids is management.
"You have to manage it," Kolb said. "It works that much better if you do."
The manure solids from the new 240-cow barn are used to bed both barns.
When the cows are brought in for their morning milking, the wet spots are raked off and the manure is taken off the top, then they come through to level off the stalls. For evening milking, the stalls are once again raked and fresh bedding is added.
"We fill the stalls a couple inches higher than the curb in the back of the stall since the cows are always moving material out of the stalls," Kolb said. "Adding a thin layer of bedding more frequently is also key because it allows the solids to dry more in the stalls."
Kolb has seen the benefits of using manure solids on his farm since installing the separator.
"The cows are doing well with it. They are comfortable and clean, there are less feet and leg issues and the alleyways are dryer," Kolb said. "The compost bedding also heats itself up to 170 to 180 degrees. It self sterilizes."
Although the old barn still has mattresses, Kolb is looking to change it to deep-bedded stalls to match the new barn with the success they have had with the manure solids.
"The manure handling has been much easier and it is beneficial for the cows," Kolb said. "We made the right choice."
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