Foresters and dairy farmers across the South Island are doubling down and using calf bedding as an opportunity to create a circular economy within their operations. Forest owners are teaming up with farmers using the compostable method of animal bedding and grabbing the opportunity ‘by the horns’. This ensures both of their operations are sustainable for future generations and not susceptible to future regulations which the government has been cracking down on regarding fire risk, nitrogen levels and sediment control.
How it Works
Compostable cow and animal bedding isn’t new. In fact farmers across the world have been doing it for years although it is becoming an increasing proposition to farmers who not only want a resourceful solution to animal bedding but also want to help solve some of the other challenges farmers face including nitrate management. Compostable cow bedding has many benefits.
The two main benefits are the mitigation of nitrate run-off and the term of the excess nitrogen from cows’ urine and fertilisers not getting uptake from pastures. This in turn means it is not entering waterways or ‘running-off’.
Nitrate run-off has been a huge topic in agriculture and farmers are praised when coming up with practical solutions to reduce nitrogen runoff into waterways.
A Compostable Bed
A bed of woodchip particles often 800mm deep which houses cows under cover during the colder months.
Richard Deck of Wholesale Landscapes describes the beds ‘like a living organism in which microbial activity feed off the nitrates and waste from the cows” and this combined with the carbon source from the wood residues “provide an excellent compost base”. The bed naturally heats up from the composting process giving the cows the optimum bed from nature. The correct particle size ensures that absorption and evaporation play their part to start the compost process below the surface.
Farmers will stir the bed daily which opens up the bedding and provides the microbes with oxygen allowing them to feed and uptake the day’s waste from calves or cows.
After the season all but a small amount of the pile, which will look like a compost, will be near the end of its bedding stage but not the end of its life. Farmers then spread the compost over paddocks to improve soil health and reduce further nitrogen runoff. The high level of organic matter in the compost means that it will improve the health of their soil and increase the capacity of storage for nitrogen.
Many suppliers including Wholesale Landscapes source their woodchip from forestry by-products and wastes which are a result of timber processes. Wholesale Landscapes, a division of Azwood Group, takes it a step further and recovers residues such as forestry slash from skid sites. By harvesting these sites Wholesale Landscapes can make a direct and positive impact on sediment and fire risks.
Multi Sector Benefits
What we’re seeing here is cross-industry partnerships for sustainable circular economies. We have the benefits for the forestry owners reducing their risk of fires from burnable wood or ‘fuel’ left on the skid sites. We also have the reduction of slash entering waterways during heavy rainfalls which results in forestry getting a bad rap for events such as the Tolaga Bay debacle.
Lastly, we have the farmers reutilising these by-products to mitigate their own challenges turning nitrogen from an obstacle to an opportunity to improve their soil. Farmers have had it rough in recent times when discussing their impact on the environment. Often only the negative stories make the media so when we see positive change by early adopters we need to celebrate this. It’s a win for their business but also a win for the environment so acknowledging this is important.
Sustainable, as a word, often gets thrown around these days but when you can see a physical outcome that solves more than one problem at more than one level, that is true sustainability.
For more information on animal bedding please visit: https://wholesalelandscapes.co.nz/commercial-solutions/agriculture-solutions/animal-and-farming/