Converting Windrower into an Efficient, Affordable Compost Turner

Final Report for FNC92-009

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1992: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1994
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $6,800.00
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Composting is now becoming widely accepted as a valuable alternative to commercial fertilizer and to conventional waste disposal systems. For farmers who maintain livestock it can significantly reduce or even eliminate the need for costly commercial fertilizers. Many municipalities are interested in it as a solution to the problem of increasing amounts of organic waste and stricter land fill and dumping laws. Composting would appear to be an easy and environmental way to solve these problems.

The process of composting is a relatively simple one. The refuse (manure, animal bedding, lawn and garden clippings, newspaper, etc.) is usually piled into windrows and periodically (as governed by temperature and other factors), the piles are turned, or aerated. This allows oxygen in, which the bacteria that process the waste need to exist.

The main hindrance in the expansion of composting has been the lack of any efficient way to turn large amounts of compost. Most conventional methods (front loader and spreader, rear mounted) are too time consuming to be cost effective for the majority of small farmers and communities, while commercial composters are usually priced out of their range.

In 1978, Bill Kleinschmit and his brother Martin saw a picture of a large commercial compost turner. They decided to build a smaller and more economical composter, starting with a used forage crop windrower and using other parts. Designed to straddle 4 ft. x 8 ft. windrows, it utilized a large rotating drum with iron teeth on it, which took the place if the windrower’s cutting head, to aerate the waste. This turner worked well, but Bill began to think of ways to build a better, more convenient model.

In September of 1992, he applied for a “Converting to Sustainable Agriculture” grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. He requested aid for his plant to build a compost turner form a used windrower and other parts, some of which he would have to fabricate himself. He received approval for his idea in November, and began purchasing the necessary parts and constructing the turner.

The “better and more convenient model” that Bill had in mind was a turner made from a windrower that employed a hydrostatic ground drive. The advantage of using such a machine is that it would not be necessary to modify the ground drive. To this end, he purchased a used Owatonna 260 windrower, equipped with a standard Ford industrial 200 cubic inch engine and hydrostatic drive, for $3150.

Bill raised the machine so it would have an underneath clearance of 4 ft., and broadened it to a width of 10 ft. This allowed the machine to straddle the windrows and improved its turning capacity. He was able to change the windrower’s dimensions by having extension pieces bent (at an iron work shop) to the form of the old legs, and then inserting them into place, for both the front and rear legs.

In place of the cutting head was a 10 ft. long drum with a 26 in. diameter. This was made by welding together two 4 ft. and one 2 ft. long drums. Onto this drum, teeth were welded in the reverse pattern of a John Deere 33 spreader drum, so that the compost would be thrown back into a manageable pile. This virtually eliminated the need for clean up by a front-end loader afterwards. Bill used a metal lathe to turn the shaft, which ran through the drum, to fit bearings he had from an old grinder.

He constructed arms of square tubing to hold the drum in place. John Deere 95 header cylinders were used to raise and lower the arms. This allowed the drum to be raised in times of need, for example if the pile was of unusual height or if the turner would need repair in the middle of a windrow.

At first, Bill attempted to use a hydraulic drive for drum rotation. He soon discovered that although it worked well, it was too expensive to maintain and used too much power. He went to a mechanical chain drive, with a drum speed of 200 rpm. This worked well and was relatively inexpensive.

The trial run of the composter turned a 8 ft. x 4 ft. pile, 75 ft. long, of manure and straw, in about 15 minutes. Bill also organized a demonstration of the turner at Martin Kleinschmit’s farm on August 27th, planned to coincide with a Beginning Farmer Group tour, so that people who were interested in the machine could see how it worked and hear how it was built.

In all, the machine cost just over $4000, but his excluded some parts that Bill had on hand. He was also able to find many of the parts at salvage yards or auctions, which served to lower the cost per piece. The actual time of construction was minimal as well, due to his ability to identify and locate parts that matched the existing windrower. These factors allowed Bill to build a compost tuner comparable to factory-built ones at a fraction of their cost.

The idea behind this project was not only to build a better machine, but Bill also wanted to show that composting can be cost effective for small producers and municipalities. By constructing a compost turner that minimizes time input and is still affordable, he hopes that people will see the environmental and economical benefits that composting can provide.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.