Fran thinks big

December 19th, 2009 at 2:38 pm by David Farrar

Fran thinks big:

Instead of tilting at windmills, the dairy industry should think big.

If cows are housed indoors for much of the time, their poop can easily be captured for commercial biogas.

And while they are about it, why not invent a gas exchange system to extract methane from the air inside cowsheds.

We could even follow the Swedes and run a railway on biogas produced from digesting the parts of cows that usually get discarded at slaughterhouses to extract residual methane.

The big upshot is our tourism industry will also be protected. And I will get my fishing back.

Is this genius or lunacy? Or both?

24 Responses to “Fran thinks big”

  1. Viking2 (14,371 comments) says:

    Not at all and indeed we have been discussing just that concept. Sewage plants do it now so not new technology at all.

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  2. Adolf Fiinkensein (3,638 comments) says:

    Sheer barking lunacy. Our one competitive advantage is our ability to produce meat, wool and milk solids cheaply from pasture fed cows. Tell Fran to go and instruct the Inuits in the growing of bananas.

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  3. burt (11,468 comments) says:

    Anyone with a spare room could do this. You could probably get a few pigs, a cow and a few sheep in there. Chuck in a few chickens for good measure. Install a processing plant to extract the gas from the air and all the feces and you can feel really good about saving the plant.

    What a great pick up line; Wanna come back to my place for some carbon neutral bacon and eggs.

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  4. Danyl Mclauchlan (985 comments) says:

    Industrialised factory farms lead to highly stressed, incredibly unhealthy animals. Other nations respond to this with extensive regulation and oversight regimes. It’s hard to imagine New Zealand farmers swallowing this or taking responsibility for their animals, so it’d probably be a couple of years before we saw disease outbreaks in the herds and the collapse of our export economy.

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  5. burt (11,468 comments) says:

    Danyl McLauchlan

    The regulators of hard core factory farming are climate traitors !

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  6. Hagues (711 comments) says:

    Adolf Fiinkensein “Our one competitive advantage is our ability to produce meat, wool and milk solids cheaply from pasture fed cows.”

    In all my days I’ve never seen a woolly cow 😛

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  7. Pete George (24,828 comments) says:

    Cows could have sheds for cover and gas recovery but still be mainly pasture fed. They spend quite a bit of their time “resting” and chewing their cud, if they mostly did this under cover a reasonable proportion of methane may be able to be collected. I’m sure all that has been and will be researched.

    The milking shed could also recover gas, but Hagues is right, dairy farms don’t usually have shearing sheds.

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  8. burt (11,468 comments) says:


    The people protesting against GE were shot as traitors.

    Cows now have one rear leg of pork, one of lamb. One front leg grows a chicken every 4 days and the other front leg grows the best raspberries you ever tasted. Milk; the teats are now organised although two extra’s have been added. The six teats now supply; milk, cream, low fat high calcium milk, chocolate and strawberry milk and the sixth one has optional settings. I have mine set to G&T.

    Wool is an optional extra as well.

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  9. jims_whare (497 comments) says:

    As a dairy sharemilker I can tell you that extensive housing of cows in NZ would be uneconomic and impractical. Firstly the capital setup costs would not be little. Secondly the process of bringing feed to cows and then disposing of the waste gives much higher fixed costs compared to simply walking cows to a paddock which bears minimal cost at all.
    Thirdly historically the NZ dairy payout has ranged from $3.50 – $5.00 kg MS. Given the screaming and pain felt by many in the dairy industry when the payout was forecast at $4.55 earlier this season if a perfect storm hit a farm with high fixed costs there is minimal room to tighten the belt and would push the farms into deficit very quickly. It seems the high payout in 2007-08 and the $6.05 payout for this season is causing some to lose their heads and push for production no matter what. Milk production is no good if it is not PROFITABLE even in an average payout year.
    In such a situation it is not hard to see a repeat of the Crafar farms situation where financial pressure causes shortcuts to be made with animal welfare issues and stock management.
    Fourthly the change in housing can cause management issues with the cows. In a pasture fed herd when cows are ready to be mated they stand to be jumped by other cows which allows for easy identification for mating them.
    Overseas it is very common for cows which are housed to lose this natural instinct and then have to use expensive electronic means to identify on-heat cows.
    Unfortunately blind greed by a few overcomes any good business sense they may posess.

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  10. burt (11,468 comments) says:


    You traitor – Al Gore’s black suited men will be on your door step soon. You introduce logic, reason AND facts into the debate which is an assault on blind faith. There will be no jims_whare (17) blog entry by the power vested in me by the supreme Trotter lord under his authority from the Great Gore I ban you from blogging forever.

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  11. jims_whare (497 comments) says:

    burt = lol! The great gore is a freakin’ bore. Listening to his crap is such a chore. He is a climate change whore. Wait til Jack Frost knocks at his door. That should freeze him on the floor as his lies makes my head sore.

    When I grew up in the eighties the big fear was over population – millions were going to starve – scary picutres of dying Ethiopians – all the bands holding concerts to supposedly raise money for the starving millions (more like to promote their own public profile) then once the drought ended it all fizzled out.

    Then we hit the nineties and the next armageddon was the ozone hole nightmare. ooohhh its been getting bigger – the computers tell us so. Everyone is going to fry to death -quick lets ban all the nasty fridges with their poisionous hydrocarbon refridgriants. Never mind that the Ozone holes have been around forever and a day due to the long pole winters not having enough sunlight to continuously produce the Ozone.

    What was next Y2K computer issues are going to bring the world to an end. Man I wish I was an IT nerd back in 97-99 woulda made a killing.

    Now we have this Global Warming crap. Again we must bow to the computer/scientist gods who are so omnicient (sp?) that they can predict coming disasters due to unpredictable temp fluctuations. Its all the CO2 – its so evil. Never mind that if you took all the humans off the earth one or two volcanic eruptions a year would pump more CO2 into the atmosphere than all the nasty human activity combined.

    its madness. This global warming fad will pass on and then it will be something else – global cooling? the sun growing in size? the sun going out? the moon flying away? the earth farting? Some people think themselves so frikkin clever when they are wearing the emporers new clothes.

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  12. black paul (124 comments) says:

    jim, those are terrible examples.

    Two of those problems were arrested by deliberate effort – a lot of work and a lot of co-operation by scientists, technicians, businesses, consumers and government agencies all over the world.

    The third is still a massive problem. None of them just went away.

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  13. black paul (124 comments) says:

    Hagues, there are a few woolly cows around. Belted Galloways grow a woolly coat every winter.

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  14. johnbt (90 comments) says:

    Jim, I still think that an extra 2,000, 000 people every week is a bit of a worry. Once the AGW nonsense dies down and the Algoreans have been taken out the back and shot the focus will return to population growth ; which on a graph just happens to look like a hockey stick.

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  15. David in Chch (595 comments) says:

    Dear Fran.

    What a ruddwit! It would be a cold day in Hell before you would have your fishing back. The amount of water needed to operate such an operation would strain already strained water resources, ESPECIALLY in the Mackenzie Country, a high alpine arid plateau. And the quality of the waste water would be marginal at best, given the volumes and the economics of treating that much effluent.

    But then our journos rarely have much understanding of science, economics, business … Hmmm. Is there anything that IS on the list?

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  16. the prince (10 comments) says:

    jims_whare, my god, are you really that ignorant? have to agree with black paul… those are the worst possible examples you could choose. Your credibility has gone out the window with that post. “It’s all a conspiracy!” … and i thought it was mostly the left who were conspiracy nuts… sheeeeeeeeesh

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  17. Viking2 (14,371 comments) says:

    HMMM, well most sheds have cow crap washed down and into holding ponds where its left to breakdown and eventually irrigated onto pasture or spread by other means. In large sheds that effluent is considerable and their should be no doubt that with a bit of science and experimentation the potential for power and or heating generation would seem to be possible.
    The nutrient value of the current disposal methods seems to me (who knows nothing) to be questionable and indeed seems to me to be contrary to the animals best interests and the interests of growing grass, which after all is the engine room of the diary farm. ( Cows like humans don’t really enjoy drinking foul water and spreading that same effluent over pasture is akin to that.)
    The better treatment of that waste would possibly enhance the process of grass production without fouling the pasture and possibly with a side benefit of energy production for use in the shed.
    I don’t know the answer to this but as humans we wouldn’t water our gardens and lawns or fill our teacups with poorly treated effluent and so this begs the question of why we shouldn’t look at this very topic from and animal health and nutrition standpoint.
    Just because we have had the land space to behave this way in the past (even with its consequences), its clear that the commercial drivers in the dairy farm are going to require more production per cow/ per hectare and with that the old problems will get worse. More cows per hectare equals more cow crap on the pasture, less grass per hectare as the grass is damaged by animals and their excrement.
    Seriously we do need to think of this from the level of increasing population. In this case cows.

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  18. malcolm (2,000 comments) says:

    We could even follow the Swedes and run a railway on biogas produced from digesting the parts of cows that usually get discarded at slaughterhouses to extract residual methane.

    That’s what happens when you just write an article off the top of your head, Fran. She’s obviously never been to a freezing works and seen the rendering and the bone/blood meal plants. It’s the same with fish processing ships – pretty much nothing is wasted.

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  19. jims_whare (497 comments) says:

    In relation to dairy shed effluent disposal, it is current practice for it to be spread onto pasture by travelling irrigator which spreads the nutrient load over a wider area. Resource consents require a minimum area of the farm to be used depending on how many cows are milked on the property. This is enforced by random annual inspection and fly overs by Regional Councils.
    It is in the farmer’s best interest to do this properly as the nutrient value of the effluent saves approx 25% of the farms annual Nitrogen useage.
    In relation to Vikings comments, it seems like an understandable observation but cows graze pasture that they have crapped and pissed on all the time. Becuase paddocks are grazed on a rotational basis by the time they come back to graze it again the grass has grown significantly(growing through the cow pats), there may have been rain and the worms have done their job. It doesn’t affect the cows at all. The same with effluent treated paddocks.
    In fact these freshen up quicker as the effluent is spread evenly as a liquid not dumped in a big heap like a cow pat.
    In relation to installing methane producing plants – likely to be costly and impractical as NZ does not have guarranteed minimum milk prices and expensive govenrment environmental subsidies to help offset the cost of installation and maintenance.
    Also the effluent would need to be stored for a significant period of time and construction of sufficient sized storage ponds brings extra costs and environmental risks of their own.

    As to black paul and john t I would say that those examples are perfect of certain groups, who would have societies engineered according to their liking, using a drummed up supposed catastrophes to shepherd people in the direction that these groups want people to go. It’s called propoganda…….been around for a long time.

    The previous labour government were good at this.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if they were honest and fronted up but they don’t, they hide behind their dire warnings and white coats and treat their computer models and projections as Holy Writ.

    I guess you would call me a conspiracy nut ….. I would call you both nai’ve. Do you really think that these IPCC scientists haven’t realised the ETS and global warming crap is going to put them on the biggest public funded gravy train of all time? Hello?? And you and I and every other hard working sucker is going to be paying for it – even when it is proved to be a crock of #$%t.

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  20. Matt Long (100 comments) says:

    Actually methane digesters for dairy effluent are nothing new, Integrated System Engineers seem to have a good product. If I was setting up a new farm dairy I would most likely install one.

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  21. johnbt (90 comments) says:

    Jim, I did not say that there isn’t a conspiracy over AGW. The IPCC and the UN call it agenda 21. It’s not new or secret but it is very, very scary. The words “sustainable development” are what it’s all about. This is where the money will go. Always follow the money. Agenda 21.

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  22. Viking2 (14,371 comments) says:

    My point Jim is that you want/need more cows per hectare and more grass per hectare to continue to to up your commercial gain and that’s the same as increasing population density. More density, more cow pats and cow pats especially in dry times stop the grass and indeed can cause grass less patches. How is that increasing grass production?
    Its a dumb as allowing the stock to destroy the grass base on paddocks and then having to wait for the grass to grow again.
    Just the other day someone set up a trust to get farmers to resow their paddocks more often and properly rather than rely on the 20 yr old oversown grass that is past its best growth profiles.
    When did you last see a paddock of lupin ploughed back in. There are just so many benefits from this sort of practice as opposed to allowing a cow to turn the paddock over.
    Same applies to the better use of effluent. The current way is just an easy way out and its isn’t necessarily efficient nor optimally productive.
    Having seen what can be done with treated waste disposal from a sewerage plant I am quite sure that money spent on research on this and capital investment will pay for itself. But of course unless we do the research we will never know and dairy will continue to degrade pasture and underground aquifers.

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  23. trout (1,132 comments) says:

    I agree with Viking. The sight of cows destroying the grass (and inhibiting regrowth) by crapping and pugging seems ludicrous. Surely the grass can be cut and brought to the cows (fresh or as haylage or silage) on a properly designed feedlot. The attempts to recycle waste effluent by spraying are largely for show. Often the liquid loading is higher than the soil can absorb so that effluent just ponds or runs off into waterways; I have even seen effluent sprayed into water troughs. Environmental pollution by dairying is really serious and most farmers are just paying lip service to improving their practices. Perhaps the payouts enable them to replace the dirty rivers with private pools so their kids can still enjoy swimming.

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  24. jims_whare (497 comments) says:

    Stocking rates per ha Viking are fairly limited in how much they can increase. Most dairy farms would have a stocking rate of between 2.5-4.3 cows per hectare. Any higher than this and you will find the pasture quality/growth/deficit periods will cause a negative effect on the farming system. Most farms have tended to increase in total farm area than inputting more cows on the same farm size.

    I am wondering if you are referring to Winter grazing when farmers use a long rotation to preserve pasture cover through the cold months and tend to graze paddocks down to a low residual (1100-1300kg/ha) (which also tends to increase the cow pat density for that particular round only) Without boring you too much it is good pasture management to do this as though it appears that the pasture has been chewed to death, in fact this close grazing through the winter allows good quality pasture to grow from the ground up as the Spring growth kicks in.
    If you don’t and leave a higher residual, your pasture quality, subsequent milk poduction, and total pasture yield will suffer. Also after the Winter grazing round of around 90 days a paddock grazed on say 1st of August will not be grazed again until around September 20th. That is around 51 days which is plenty of time for the worms to break the cow pats down and turn them into productive topsoil.
    Also ryegrass especially has a low growing point and can live with this close grazing quite easily.

    Not many farmers rely on 20 year old pasture any more. Most cockies worth their salt have an annual pasture renewal programme in place ususally involving up to 10% of their farm area. Many of the new grass cultivars can outgrow old cultivars a large percentage. ALso mixing useful herbs like plantain and chicory is getting more common as well.

    During dry times (and droughts) on farms that aren’t irrigated, grass tends to die anyway so the number of cow pats aren’t gona change that. In a real dry spell 6-8 weeks or more up to 100% of some farms will have complete pasture death from moisture stress.As soon as Autumn rains come both the dead grass and cow pats rot away and become part of the topsoil and the new grass growth comes from germination of seed in the soil.

    In relation to nutrient leaching a new product called Eco-N is helping to limit the Nitrogen leaching of pastures by helping to bind the N to the soil. Other fert leaching can be limted through using slow release fertilizers. In the future it may be compulsory for farmers to use this product. Also riparian planting and voluntary fencing of water ways are all helping control water quality in dairying areas.

    In relation to the Lupin I presume you are refering to its role as a legume and the Nitrogen benefits it can provide to the subsequent pasture? Just remember that the year that the paddock is out of rotation with the Lupin crop is a year that the paddock is a dead weight on the farming syytem. Whether this or encouraging clovers ot fix nitrogen in the pasture sward is a better option you be the judge. I am not against more organic/natural options on a dairy farm but they must be options that are both practical and profitable. There are enough fixed costs heaped on farmers as it is without adding more.

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