Is Your Pit Foaming?
Iowa Ag Supplier Provides Proven, Practical Solution
When farmers call John Yoder about how to deal with a foaming manure pit, they want answers—now.
“They’re usually in emergency mode and can’t wait,” said Yoder, vice president of manure-handling equipment for Eldon C. Stutsman, Inc., Eastern Iowa’s largest retail and wholesale supplier of agricultural products that has served local farmers since 1934.
Plenty of products claim to manage foam, but not all deliver on their promises. “We really didn’t have a good solution until ProfitProAG came to us around 2017,” Yoder said.
The Stutsman team was interested in ProfitProAG’s Manure Master FoamAway, a concentrated, dry blend that is designed to knock down foam in swine manure storage facilities. “We’re always skeptical when someone pitches us a product we haven’t tried before,” Yoder said. “But around this time, a farmer with a foaming pit was calling us for help, and we needed to react quickly.”
Manure Master FoamAway solved the farmer’s foam problem. The Stutsman team has continued to recommend FoamAway to the pork producers they serve. “The product works, and it’s cost effective,” Yoder said.
Logan Lanz, 28, who farms near Oakville, Iowa, tried FoamAway after the Stutsman team recommended it to his uncle Monte Lanz, a fellow pork producer. “We had hogs that were almost ready for market, and I noticed that we were losing pit space because of foam,” said Logan, who feeds hogs for Trioak Foods Inc. and also raises his own hogs. “After I used FoamAway, the foam in the south room in one of our finishing barns dropped about 3 to 5 inches.”
Foam’s risks are real
Foaming manure pits aren’t just a nuisance; they can be dangerous. Barn fires, severe injuries and even death have been reported in recent years on farms where foam and methane have accumulated in manure pits. A 2011 survey of Midwest pork producers indicated 25% were experiencing some foam in their manure pits, according to the online article “Use Caution When Dealing with Foaming Manure Pits” by Michigan State University Extension.
“Foaming can cause explosions and barn fires if there’s an ignition source, like a spark from a welder,” said Chris Chodur, manure and livestock specialist with ProfitProAG. “It’s a serious issue that can cost you your life.”
What causes foam in the first place?
While university researchers and scientists at various Ag organizations have tried to determine what causes foam, results have been elusive. “Some studies looked at feed ingredients,” Chodur said. “While distillers dried grains in the feed appeared to be part of the issue, these studies didn’t provide all the answers.”
One thing is clear—foaming is a microbial process, Chodur noted. It occurs in specific conditions, including the warmer months of
“During the summer months, microbial communities in the manure pit are more active and re-populate,” Chodur said. “That also means the majority of the organic matter in the manure is spent, because the microbes have eaten it. Typically, when the pit is 80% to 90% liquified, the majority of the organic matter has been spent.”
This leaves indigestible or slowly-digestible materials in the pit, including oils, fatty acids, lipids and soaps that tend to float on top of the liquid in the pit. In addition, manure pits tend to be highly liquified in the summer. Additional water comes from misters that help cool the hogs and power washing the barns.
All this creates an environment where a specific group of microbes can flourish, namely methanogens that produce methane. “The bubbles in manure foam can encapsulate up to 70% methane,” Chodur said.
While this is ideal in a bio-digester designed to produce energy, it can be hazardous in a hog barn. When the foam in the manure pit is disturbed through regular management activities such as manure agitation and/or pumping and power washing, large amounts of methane may be released into the air space above the slats. This methane can ignite easily and may lead to barn explosions and flash fires.
Stay safe, have more storage space
Since foaming is a microbial process, it’s vital to bring the biology back into balance in the manure pit. Start by monitoring foam levels, Chodur said. “Use a gauge to check your manure levels below the foam. We’ve seen foam that can grow a couple of feet a week and climb up the sidewalls of the barn, almost to the curtains.”
Methane Manure Foam
Not only does this foam pose a safety risk, but it also creates other challenges. “It’s an animal well-being issue,” Chodur said. “You don’t want foam expanding above the floor slats and touching the pigs. This can affect swine performance, which impacts your bottom line.”
Foam also takes up valuable storage space in the pit. This space is at a premium during the summer months before harvest, since it’s still too early to haul manure to the fields. “In the summer, you need all the space you can get in the pits,” said Lanz, who manages wean-to-finish swine barns in the Oakville river-bottom area and does his own swine manure application.
Fight the foam
That’s why Lanz likes what he’s seen with FoamAway, a dry, granular product that’s added directly to the pits. ProfitProAG recommends using 5 to 10 pounds of FoamAway per 100,000 gallons of manure. “The range depends on how much foam you need to mitigate,” Chodur said.
The first application goes outside in the pump-out areas. Chodur recommends using the half of the “dose” in the pump-outs, since there tends to be more aggressive foam in this area, due to fans and ventilation.
Then apply the rest of the recommended amount inside the barn. Sprinkle it in alleyways and sweep the product into the pit. FoamAway typically takes 10 to 14 days to work, Chodur said.
“We applied some FoamAway on June 30,” Lanz said. “By July 9, I texted my Uncle Monte and said, ‘Hey this stuff isn’t working. We need to get something else.’ But we gave it more time, and it dropped the foam. You’ve just got to be patient.”
Once you’ve successfully treated a manure pit, FoamAway will give you three to four months of residual effect to keep foam under control, Chodur noted.
FoamAway is a safe, cost-effective product that can pay big dividends when used properly. It costs roughly $400 to treat a manure pit for a 1,200-head swine barn, Chodur added. “What would it cost you if you had a barn explosion, or a flash fire cost someone their life?”
Simple solutions make manure management easier.
Based on the positive results the Stutsman team has seen with FoamAway, they also carry other manure management products from ProfitProAG, including Manure Master Plus–PA, which harnesses the power of microbes to enhance manure digestion and liquefaction, reduce odors, and reduce top crusting and bottom solids.
In addition, they carry Manure Master Mechanical Defoamer. Made of a mix of natural plant-based oils and a surfactant, Manure Master Mechanical Defoamer works fast by breaking the surface tension between manure and air bubbles. Breaking the bubbles helps manure applicators get full tank loads faster. This saves time, labor and fuel costs, making your business more profitable.
“We appreciate Chris at ProfitProAG, because he’s responsive and understands proper manure management,” Yoder said. “He helps us fine-tune the right solution for our customers.”
Managing manure and foam properly takes know-how and the right products to keep the microbes in balance, Chodur said. “If you have a foam issue, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad producer. You just need to learn more about how to manage manure properly, and we’re here to help.”
Fight Flies with Smart Manure Management
It’s one thing to have some flies around the farm. It’s another to have so many that they buzz around your head incessantly and practically fly into your mouth, if you’re not careful.
“I used to have a terrible fly problem,” said Steve Jaster, who has a 4,000-head swine finishing operation near Medford, Minnesota. “The ceiling in the hog barn would be black, since there were so many flies buzzing around.”
He knew there was a connection between the flies and the solid crusts in his manure pits. “I called those crusts ‘tabletops,’” said Jaster, whose feeder-to-finish swine farm is 1 mile west of the outlet mall in Medford near Interstate 35. “Even if you tried to break them up, they’d just form again and keep floating around in the pit.”
Jaster turned his attention to managing the flies. He tried using fly bait to insecticide sprays. While some products helped a little, the flies always came back in a couple of weeks. He didn’t want the flies at his house, which is north across the road from his swine barns. He also didn’t want the flies to become a problem to the people who live in a mobile home park near his farm.
“I tried everything I could think of, but nothing really worked,” said Jaster, who grew up on his family’s farm near Medford. “I just couldn’t get ahead of the flies.”
As Jaster observed the flies’ lifecycle, two things became clear. “After we washed out the hog barns, maggots would start crawling out of the pit, and then they’d go back. About two weeks later, the flies would become a huge problem.”
When a ProfitProAG sales representative urged Jaster to try Manure Master Plus™, a blend of digestive microbes that enhance manure digestion, he was intrigued. The product helps liquefy the manure, which reduces top crusting and bottom solids. Jaster decided to give it a try. “I could tell that things were getting better as we kept using Manure Master Plus each month.”
Not only did the product eliminate crusting in the pits, but it has controlled the farm’s fly problem, too. “We have a lot fewer flies, and they don’t bother us at our house,” Jaster said.
This became a big factor when the Jasters decided to host their daughter’s high school graduation reception in their garage. “While my wife suggested getting screens for the garage doors to keep out flies, I told her we don’t need to spend money on screens,” said Jaster, who has worked with ProfitProAG for more than a decade. “The flies aren’t a problem anymore.”
How much are flies robbing from you?
Flies are a part of any livestock farm. They assist with the natural decomposition process and are attracted to manure and dead animal carcasses. When a farm isn’t managed properly, however, flies can quickly get out of control.
“Flies have a lifespan of 28 to 30 days,” said Chris Chodur, manure and livestock specialist with ProfitProAG. “On average, flies have an opportunity every two weeks to multiply.”
Flies go down into manure pits to lay their eggs. Pits offer a perfect place for this, since they provide a moist, nutrient-rich environment filled with organic matter. “We see a lot more fly challenges where pits have crusts and a lot of solid matter,” Chodur said.
A rampant fly problem can:
- Damage hog carcasses. When flies bite hogs, it’s irritating and painful for the animals, plus it can cause swelling. Damaged carcasses cost you money. “If the packing plant docks you $14 to $15 per hundredweight, this can cost you $40 to $50 per pig,” said Chodur, a former hog buyer.
- Spread disease. Flies traveling from barn to barn can transmit harmful viruses and pathogens that can make
- pigs sick.
- Cost you money. “Flies can have a negative impact on your animals’ well-being and your farm’s profitability,” Chodur said. “Since we have to live with flies, we have to manage them properly.”
Control pH to manage flies
Many places can harbor flies, including cracks and crevices in building foundations, holes in bulk bins, and weeds and junk around the farm. Proper sanitation can help manage these potential trouble spots.
It’s also important to provide proper ventilation in your hog barns. “It’s a key to your hogs’ health and helps manage flies, since flies don’t like air circulation,”
Above all, focus on effective manure management. Manure pits with an alkaline pH level are the most prone to fly problems, since insects’ digestive tracts are primarily alkaline. “If you can maintain a slightly acidic pH, it will help you manage a lot of fly problems,” Chodur said.
This requires a pH range of 5.8 to 6.2. Pits that spawn fly problems, however, tend to have a pH range of 7.5 to 8. For new clients facing this situation, Chodur mixes a solution of Manure Master Plus microbes in a low pH (2.8 to 3.1) formulation. “We’ll push 300 gallons through a 2-inch hose and hit all the pumpouts to break up the crust. You’ll see thousands of maggots crawling out of the pumpouts within seconds, because it’s that acidic to
While this mixture kills most of the maggots, the solution is safe for people and pigs, since it uses organic acidifiers, Chodur added. “It’s great to tell customers, ‘I killed a few thousand potential flies for you today.’”
Fewer flies, fewer worries
Ensuring that the manure won’t crust anymore takes longer, but it will happen when you use Manure Master Plus consistently. If you feed distillers dried grains, pay extra attention to managing solids in your manure pits.
“It takes longer to digest these ingredients and to break them down in the pit,” Chodur said. “This can allow more flies to come in.”
ProfitProAG can formulate the right Manure Master Plus mix for your needs. Totes of the pre-mixed product can be shipped to your farm so you can add the product to the pits yourself. Other farmers prefer to let ProfitProAG handle monthly manure treatments for them.
Jaster appreciates the convenience, while his manure pumping crew likes the results. “They comment on how easy it is to agitate the manure,” Jaster said. “There aren’t solids floating on the top anymore, and there’s no pile of solids that can’t be pumped out of the pits. The more liquid manure you can pump, the better.”
“While Manure Master Plus takes a modest investment of money and time to work, the long-term results are worth it,” Jaster said. “Some farmers are always looking for the cheapest product or a silver bullet to control flies. My advice is to get Manure Master Plus and stick with it. When you manage flies from the start, you have one less thing to worry about.”
Intrigued by the information above? Call or text Chris today!
Download the print-friendly version here
Chris Chodur, ProfitProAG Manure Management Consultant • 507-402-4195 (cell)
Fight Foam Without Killing Your Pit and Your Profit Potential:
Iowa Pork Producer Favors Manure Master™ Mechanical Defoamer
Anyone who’s ever agitated a swine manure pit knows what a menace foam can be. Infusing air into the slurry creates foam that can rise from a few inches to a foot. Those air bubbles take up lots of space in manure tanks and drag lines. This means you waste time and lose money hauling more loads to get the manure applied, whether you get paid by the gallon or the load.
While some applicators use diesel to knock down foam, Iowa pork producer Trae Thomas doesn’t recommend it. “Diesel will kill your pit,” says Thomas, a rural mail carrier who also operates a 4,400-head swine finishing site southeast of Rockwell City in West Central Iowa. “It harms the beneficial microbes you want, both in the pit and in the soil when you apply the manure.”
It’s also not legal. From a regulatory perspective, a permit is needed to dispose of pollutants by land application, notes the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Even if you have an approved manure management plan to apply manure, the DNR doesn’t approve the land application of diesel fuel.
Less air, more manure
There’s a much better way, says Thomas, who uses an eco-friendly alternative called Manure Master Mechanical Defoamer™ from ProfitProAG. He tried the product a few years ago after seeing good results from ProfitProAG’s Manure Master Plus, which he uses in his pits to reduce odors, flies & solids. Defoamer has provided us with a consistent manure flow through the drag line to the nozzle up to 2.5 miles from the barns,” Thomas said.
Made of a mixture of natural plant-based oils and a surfactant, Defoamer works fast by breaking the surface tension between manure and air bubbles. This quick mode of action means more than instant gratification. Breaking the bubbles helps you get full tank loads faster. This saves you time, labor and fuel costs, making your business more profitable.
“With Defoamer, you haul more manure and less air,” said Chris Chodur, manure and livestock specialist with ProfitProAG. “We typically hear that clients get up to 30% more hauling capacity per tank fill.”
Thomas has had so much success with Manure Master Mechanical Defoamer that he’s now a dealer for ProfitProAG. “Manure is filled with living organisms, so you need to manage manure properly for best results. In my experience, plants can take up nutrients from the manure more effectively when you use the Defoamer.”
Defoamer pays you back
A small amount of Manure Master Mechanical Defoamer goes a long way. Simply add the product to the pit when it’s time to agitate the manure. Defoamer can also be mixed into manure tankers. “It only takes 2 to 3 ounces per 10,000 gallons,” Thomas said. “It ‘slicks’ the manure to keep the foam from building up.”
Defoamer costs less than $44 per gallon, and 1 gallon will treat up to 300,000 gallons of manure. How does this compare to diesel? It’s not uncommon to use 15 to 30 gallons of diesel to knock down foam in a swine finishing pit, Chodur said. “Let’s say you use 25 gallons of farm diesel at $2.50 a gallon. It may take you $50 of diesel to treat the same amount of manure a gallon of Defoamer can handle.”
Not only does Defoamer offer a more affordable option, but it’s environmentally friendly and helps build soil health and plant health. Thomas’ customers typically purchase a jug of Defoamer just to try it, and then they call him back before long to order more. “It’s an awesome product that’s a win-win for the farmer and the applicator,” Thomas said.
Manure Master Mechanical Defoamer offers a proven solution for all pork, dairy and beef manure haulers. Visit manuremaster.com to find your nearest dealer, or call us at 507-373-2550 for more information.