Breaking news, dear readers: This year’s annual Manure Expo is in Springfield, Missouri! That’s right, for all you manure industry enthusiasts out there, this expo combines not one, not two, but THREE attractions into a single national event: an industry trade show, manure technology demonstrations, and educational events.

 

In my line of work, I would like to think of myself as a sort of manure expert. If you give me a sample of manure from a clinically healthy domesticated farm animal, I am confident I can identify said animal based on the appearance of its manure alone. And that, my friends, is a skill one should put on one’s resume. 

 

Occasionally at the clinic, clients will drop off a fecal sample for parasite testing. This is called a fecal egg count and consists of examining the manure under a microscope and identifying and counting the parasite eggs found to determine if the animal requires treatment. Occasionally the client will forget to label the animal’s name, or species if it doesn’t have a name, and this is where I get to show off my mad manure identifying skills. Granted, the difference between sheep and goat manure is a tough call, as is llama versus alpaca. But I’m good. Really good.

 

I recall from swine production medicine class in vet school, a manure color chart.  Apparently, swine waste can almost quite literally come in a rainbow of colors, and sometimes the color of the manure gives you the diagnosis. 

 

Also, caterpillar excrement is called frass. This is the only place I could ever include a fact like that, so I’m taking advantage of it. Knowledge is power.

 

This year’s theme at the expo is: “valuing manure and the environment.” According to the website, this is “the only trade show on the continent to focus specifically on manure management and application issues.”

 

Strange as it may seem, manure really is big business. And actually, if you crunch some numbers maybe it’s not that strange at all. Consider the following data from the EPA: they estimate that an average 200 cow herd produces just over 24,000 pounds of urine and feces per day. If you’re raising beef cattle on an open range, this isn’t much of an issue, as the animal waste is spread naturally over the ground. But if you’re running a dairy, for example, and the cows are housed mostly in large barns between milkings, that twelve tons of waste has to go somewhere.

 

That “somewhere” is where manure management kicks in. Many dairies have large pits called “lagoons” which are holding tanks for animal waste. These lagoons always creep me out a little because every once in a while, I hear from a farmer that a cow that has fallen into one. Talk about your worst nightmare. These lagoons are emptied periodically, with the waste spread over crops as fertilizer.

 

A large part of the business side of the manure world lies in machinery. You have manure spreaders, alley scrapers, drag systems, flush systems, and a plethora of other equipment that I wouldn’t even know how to begin to identify, much less use. All I know is: Stay away from the lagoon.

 

So, mark your calendars for July 8 and 9 for a family vacation to Springfield, Missouri. Maybe someday the expo will be held in my neck of the woods, the mid-Atlantic. Sure, I’d consider going. Who wouldn’t want a free hat that said “MANURE MGT”?

 

Dr. Anna O'Brien

 

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