Last issue, New Farm Senior Writer Laura Sayre wrote about
Institute's on-farm compost program and the star of
that program, one of the most ingeniously crafted pieces
of machinery we've ever seen--a homespun compost turner
fabricated from the chassis of a salvaged dump truck. Lots
of you took notice, too. Here are a couple of letters Farm
Manager Jeff Moyer received about the article, followed
by his responses:
I read with interest the article on your composting experiences
and thought you might be interested in what we do.
About six years ago, I was doing all of my manure spreading
with an old New Holland 510 box spreader. This was one of
those classics—you know, five loads to the field, then
half a day in the shop.
Obviously, I needed a new spreader. I was also interested
in being able to do a better job of composting our manure
(about 90 percent sheep, the balance horse and poultry—all
fairly heavily bedded). The raw material also includes a small
amount of rotten hay from the bottoms of round bales and household
wastes like peelings, egg shells, etc.
I opted for a slightly more expensive machine—a Gehl
Scavenger side-discharge spreader. My idea was that I would
put all manure through the spreader and into the pile as I
cleaned out the barn.
This has worked out well. The spreader breaks the pack manure
down into small, uniform particles. About three or four times
a year, I have a neighbor with a huge Payloader come over
to turn the pile. He can turn half a year’s manure production
from our 300-ewe flock in about an hour.
The end product is a black, crumbly compost. Any given pile
usually ‘works’ for a minimum of four months prior
to spreading and will have been turned a couple of times at
least. Most field spreading takes place in late summer/early
fall because: (a) I have the time and the field situations
to get the job done, and (b) there is much less chance of
compaction at this time.
I get a wide, uniform spread pattern with the Gehl spreader
(about 60 feet). I typically put the compost on at a lower
rate than you do—about five to eight tons per acre.
Our hay and pasture fields are really thriving, and the earthworm
population is amazing. Three weeks after spreading, it's tough
to find any sign of the compost on the surface of hay fields—the
worms pull it down. I try to get over our full 250 acres at
least once every three years.
When I first looked into composting, I was overwhelmed by
the systems recommended by compost zealots. The trouble is,
I do have other work to do. Our current system seems to be
doing a reasonable job, although I am sure it would be unsatisfactory
to composting purists.
Best wishes from southern Ontario, in the Great Lakes basin.
With this year's weather, it might better be described as
the toilet bowl of North America. I'm a bit concerned that
we could be in the early stages of the next glacial period.
Here in Ontario, we haven't had spring in four years. This
year, we've pretty well had to do without summer as well.
Thanks for the email and for reading New Farm. I enjoyed your
letter very much. I had a spreader just like yours only it
got to the point where we couldn't finish a load without stopping
by the shop and beating it back into order with a sledge hammer.
If you have any photos you might care to share, I'd enjoy
seeing them. You might even be willing to share them with
other New Farm readers. It sounds like you are happy with
I enjoyed your comments about the weather. At least you seem
to have a sense of humor about it. You can always come visit
us if you need to see summer. While ours was a bit cool and
very wet, it was still summer (very pleasant, as a matter
Again, thanks for the email and please keep in touch.
I am a turkey grower in Central Texas who markets manure
and produces compost for retail sales. I am very interested
in the ‘homemade’ compost turner in your most
I would love to travel to see the unit with hopes of building
one here. We have access to used trucks and excellent welding
folks who work with us.
Thanks for the email and for reading New Farm. I’m around
the farm most week days from 7:30 in the morning until early
evening. We’d be glad to have you come and visit to
see the compost turner and discuss how we built it. It may
not be fancy, but for us it does the job. If you do plan on
coming out East, let us know in advance to make sure we schedule
some time to spend together and that I don’t plan to
be off site (I do travel from time to time).
I’d like to hear more about your current operation.
If you come, bring some photos of your farm.
Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail
him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.