STATESVILLE, NC — There’s something about doubling your herd size that makes you reconsider how to manage and handle inputs.
That’s how Jeff Maness decided to take a new approach to reclaiming bedding sand on his dairy. He went from dredging sand from manure pits to using passive settling lanes and a 36-inch McLanahan sand-manure separator to catch the majority of his dairy’s sand before it reaches the pits.
By installing the sand catching system, M & M Dairy (a partnership between Maness and his wife Carolyn) has cut its sand use by 95 percent.
Five years ago, the dairy was buying about five tractor trailer loads of sand a week, when milking 800 cows.
“It was a huge expense,” Maness said.
Reclaiming sand by dredging sand from manure pits, he added, “was no fun.” Plus it didn’t result in the cleanest sand.
Today the dairy milks 1,600 cows (3x) but only buys about 20 tractor trailer loads of sand a year — the equivalent of what it would have bought every two weeks prior to its new investments in sand reclamation.
The reclaimed sand is clean, too — with a fresh sand smell free of manure odors and with a bacterial count of about 75,000.
When Maness’ grandfather and father started the dairy in 1948 they milked 12 cows. By the time Maness’ father retired in 1994, the dairy had grown to 150 milking cows.
Today, the dairy keeps all 3,300 of its animals in freestall barns. “All bedded on sand,” Maness said. That includes young heifers, starting at 45 days, who are in a facility with 2 ft. freestalls.
The buildings which comprise the heifer facility are the most recently constructed piece of the dairy, having been built in 2011 and 2012. The facility has its own sand settling lane, which alone can reclaim the sand from the facility.
“There’s so much difference in heifer manure solids,” Maness said.
Four main barns (built over the years from 1994 to 2010) housing adult cows are equipeed with flush systems. The older ones received hydrants as retrofits when Maness decided to use sand settling lanes. Sand from a handful of satellite barns are moved with loaders to the one of the two lanes adjacent to the four main barns.
The two settling lanes “worked fine for a while,” Maness said.
But simple passive settling wasn’t getting the sand quite as clean as he wanted. So about two years ago he bought a McLanahan sand-manure separator. Since adding the separator, Maness has noticed that “cow health has been much improved.”
To keep up with the scale of his operation, Maness has to run the machine the equivalent of two hours per day (it could be six hours every three days).
At Maness’ dairy, the separator is used to process sand which has already passed through a settling lane. A loader feeds sand into the separator through a hopper with a safety screen on top to catch large objects.
From the hopper, the sand enters a tank where it is mixed with reclaimed water, which gives the sand a final cleaning.
An augur pulls sand from the tank up through a sloped tube where dewatering occurs, with the water and any residual manure bleeding off as the screw turns, discharging away from the sand.
“About 98 percent of the water used in the separator is recycled water,” said McLanahan’s Dave Swartz. Based in Hollidaysburg, PA, Swartz sells McLanahan’s agricultural equipment throughout North Carolina and Virginia.
At the top of the separator, four nozzles spray fresh water onto the sand to rinse off the reclaimed water. Fresh clean sand tumbles out of the end of the machine.
Maness grabbed a handful of sand from a pile underneath the separator —sand waiting to be reused as bedding — and brought it to his nose.
“It smells like sand,” he said.