Most people visiting the Minnesota State Fair, which runs through Labor Day, Sept. 3, in Falcon Heights, Minn., will give no thought to how the 3,000 tons of manure produced by all those cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and other livestock is handled.
But they can rest assured that Cody Koenen, full-time supervisor for livestock and coliseum events on the state fairground, does think about such things.
“This was the first project thrown on my plate” after being hired a few years ago, he said.
To be sure, the almost 20,000 animals that take up residence in the livestock barns on the state fairground during the 12-day event produce plenty of poop. It’s Koenen’s job to make sure it is properly collected, cleaned and hauled away to Hastings, Minn., where it will be composted, mixed with dirt and spread as fertilizer on more than 1,000 acres.
While manure at the fairground wasn’t really accounted for in the past, Koenen said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency a few years ago began considering the state fairground to be a feedlot and now requires officials to test manure for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium and keep up-to-date records on how it’s handled.
Koenen said fair officials have taken a proactive approach to dealing with the waste, rather than waiting for a problem to crop up.
Dealing with the dung is a team effort: During the fair, it’s up to exhibitors to make sure manure from their animals gets carted outside buildings to nearby pits. On livestock barn changeover days — typically, the first Monday of the fair, the following Thursday and Labor Day — contracted workers with skid loaders and shovels push all manure, usually mixed with bedding such as wood chips, shavings and straw, out of barns and into pits. All trash, such as cups and food wrappers, must be picked out.
The Minnesota-based company Dirtworks then loads the manure into large roll-off containers and hauls it by semi truck to Hastings, where it will be spread within about two weeks of its arrival, Koenen said. A small portion of the waste goes to the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus for composting and use on fields, and Minnesota Mulch and Soil also takes some.
Before barns are ready to house the next batch of show animals, nine different cleaning crews are brought in to give the facilities a thorough once-over. Disinfectant is sprayed over every stall, row and floor of the barns in an effort to stay ahead of any contagious animal diseases that might be spread. The cattle barn alone houses about 1,000 head.
“All the bedding, in a seven-hour period, is completely cleared out, hauled out and (barns are) re-bedded,” Koenen said. “It turns into its own city down here after the animals go home and the barns are closed.”
But manure isn’t just a concern during the fair; Koenen said the state fairground hosts 16 other livestock shows between April and October, including several horse shows and the Minnesota Beef Expo in the fall. He said they must dispose of about 17,000 yards of manure throughout the year.
“They come in with 200 to 300 animals, and that’s a lot of manure that’s generated,” he said.
Manure composting is just one component of the state fair’s massive recycling effort, begun in the mid-1980s. The fair also recycles aluminum, paper, glass, metal, vehicle and appliance batteries, automotive oil, tires, grease, construction materials, wood waste, food waste, wastewater, cardboard, concrete, oil filters, plastic bottles, electronics, toner cartridges and more. Giant pumpkins and other vegetables entered in competition are composted.
About 70 tons of grease are recycled and turned into biodiesel fuel during a typical fair. Last year, almost 100 tons of food waste were collected and recycled, and 57 tons of glass, plastic and aluminum were collected and recycled. Almost 800 bottle-recycling receptacles were placed around the fairground this year.