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Cow Patty Power -- Local dairy farm creates electricity from manure

Twin Birch dairy farm finalizes biogas generator system

Twin Birch dairy farm milks 1,100 cows three times a day seven days a week. Using biogas technology to collect methane from the collected cow manure, the farm's new generator creates 125 kilowatts of electricity per hour, or enough to power 170 homes.

Twin Birch dairy farm milks 1,100 cows three times a day seven days a week. Using biogas technology to collect methane from the collected cow manure, the farm's new generator creates 125 kilowatts of electricity per hour, or enough to power 170 homes. Photo by Jason Emerson.

— When asked why he puts so much emphasis and money on environmental stewardship, Young says matter-of-factly, “I believe everybody lives downstream.”

The new Twin Birch methane-powered generator does not, in fact, save the farm any money, but Young believes it is good business, good policy, and, most importantly, helps him be a good neighbor.

Put simply, the new technology generates electricity from the methane emanating from the manure, it reduces waste, and it significantly reduces the manure odor coming from the farm.

More specifically, there are numerous steps to the energy process, but it all starts in one place — manure.

“We are just constantly recycling what Mother Nature gives us,” said Twin Birch Business Manager Steve McGlynn. About one-third of dairy farming focuses on what you do with the manure, he said. And for a farm with 1,300 cows, that is a lot of manure.

Anaerobic digestion

Twin Birch has state-of-the-art barns that keep the cows comfortable with fans, sprinklers, automated walls and shades — even automated back scratchers — and an automated manure collection system. The collector, a V-shaped metal bar, constantly moves up and down the barn moving manure to the collection pipes. From there it is pumped to the air-tight anaerobic digester, an immense underground vat that heats up the manure to 100 degrees for 21 days while it churns and separates the compounds in the waste.

The liquid compound is piped out and used as fertilizer on the farm fields. The solids — undigested pieces of mostly corn and hay — is purified and comes out looking like sawdust that is used as sterile bedding for the cows. This entire process, which is also chemically complex, kills pathogens in the waste and nearly eliminates the smell of the manure both in the barns and in the fertilizer it creates.

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