Composting Recommendations and Marketing Evaluation for Livestock Operations in Cold Semi-Arid Environments

Final Report for FW09-305

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $49,315.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
Thomas Bass
Montana State University
Expand All

Project Information


This project validated composting recommendations for manure and mortality in Montana’s cold semi-arid environment, including documentation of storm water runoff from the composting sites (a consideration for future water quality studies). Manure and mortality composting were evaluated separately. In addition, the project evaluated the ability of producers at two sites to market manure compost as a value-added product from their animal feeding operations (AFOs). Exporting manure nutrients in the form of compost provides for better nutrient balance on the operations and enables homeowners and gardeners, commercial nurseries and landscapers, organic producers and others to utilize this organic-based fertilizer and soil amendment.

Recent increases in energy prices are stimulating interest in the use of less energy intensive forms of fertilizer and soil amendments. Manure and manure-based products, such as compost, are two alternatives to traditional energy intensive products.

Project Objectives:

1) Compost manure and mortality for one season

Track temperatures, time to reach benchmark temperatures and nutrient content; observe if run-off occurs from the composting site after storm events; and evaluate finished product quality (nutrient analysis and end user evaluation) at two sites, Bozeman and Havre.

2) Examine markets

Allow producers to sell, trade or give away compost; document end users, price paid per unit of material and end user opinion of quality.

3) Produce MontGuide Extension publications on manure and mortality composting, including guidance and case studies

a) Manure composting
b) Mortality compost supplement

4) Conduct two educational events (one at each site), ie: demo/field day

5) Submit professional papers to SARE, CSREES Water Quality and Western Section American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) conferences. Assume presentations at these meetings to disseminate information to other educators and technical service providers.

6) Complete reporting requirements in late winter; give presentations at conferences; continue distribution of materials regionally. Close grant in June 2011, as soon as Western Section ASAS paper is given.

This was not a singular research project, but a multi-component demonstration and education project. The project employed several methods towards the goal of locally validating and demonstrating compost techniques, in order to create relevant educational products. Therefore, Performance Targets are described in the Methods Section and answered in Accomplishments. More detailed narratives on the demonstrated research components are also provided under Accomplishments.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Darrin Boss
  • George Nathan Brown
  • Steve Chvilicek
  • Max Hofeldt
  • James Knight
  • Joel Schumacher


Materials and methods:

This project used multiple methods towards the goal of educating Montana producers and agricultural advisers on the suitability of manure composting in a cold semi-arid climate.

Expanded methods sections for demonstrated research are included below in Accomplishments.

Research results and discussion:

Please see accomplishments narrative, attachments and full paper referenced.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Potential Contributions

Composting methods for manure and mortality are not validated in the literature for Montana. In order for extension, the Land Grant University and other partners to move forward with educational programs and recommendations, this validation needs to occur. Documenting successful composting and evaluating markets for the finished product will provide a Montana-specific case study, with data, for other potential producers to examine before adding this sustainable practice to their operations.

Future Recommendations

The information submitted and documented can be used for expansion of outreach programs in cold semi-arid regions and as a basis for future research. A future recommended area of study would be related to connecting organic crop and vegetable producers with producers of animal manure compost. The certification needs of such producers should be identified and applied to the composting process to allow for movement of compost from conventional operations into organic production. Additionally, the social barriers between these two groups (organic growers and conventional livestock and poultry feeders) should be examined.

The discoveries regarding composting of mortalities from livestock operations could be applied to emergency management situations where mass animal mortalities occur from natural disasters or animal disease. The composting process seems like an environmentally preferable option to burial in many situations. Outreach in this area is advisable.

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.