“Producing compost is part science and part art,” Darin explains. “We’re working to achieve an optimal balance of nitrogen, carbon, water and oxygen. I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and we finally have a solid process in place. We typically turn the windrows twice/week and, as we move through the process, it decreases to once/week. If water needs to be added, we drizzle it over the top of the windrow.”

Within the first 30-40 days, they attain the desired internal windrow temperature of 131° over a 15-consecutive-day period required to kill the E. coli, salmonella, weed seed and pathogens present in the manure. Temperature is monitored daily by inserting a 4-ft.-long probe into the windrow every 200 ft. during the first 15 days of the composting process. The readings help determine if the windrow needs to be turned to add more oxygen, or if water should be applied to help further activate the process.

M/M Feedlot uses a Wildcat 616 towable straddle compost turner in their operation. The unit’s 275-hp engine can process up to 3,000 tons/hour of compost, allowing them to completely turn all their windrows within one day.

Once the composting process is completed, the material is cured and screened according to customer specs. Ninety-five percent of the compost is sold to area farmers and is screened to 3/4-in. The rest is sold to landscapers, nurseries and garden centers and is processed using a 3/8-in. screen.

The Manns currently sell the compost for $13.50/ton, which Darin says is much cheaper than the true nutrient value.

“We never intended for the composting operation to be a revenue generator for our feedlot – we did it because it made environmental sense for our feedlot,” Darin says. “However, we’ve been surprised with the demand, which has allowed us to turn a small margin.”

The Manns live and share that environmental focus. M/M Feedlot was the Region V semifinalist for the 2012 Environmental Stewardship Award, and the operation regularly hosts field trips by school children, as well as government officials from the local, state and national levels. A lush one-acre park located in the very center of the feedyard is the showplace of the operation.

So many folks think that a farm is a little red barn on a green hill with a white fence, and a few cows and chickens wandering around. But that’s not a farm anymore. That’s a hobby farm; that’s somebody’s weekend activity.

“This is a farm,” Darin says, sweeping his arm. “We represent modern-day production agriculture. And we need to let people know that that’s what it is and not be afraid of it. Let’s tell our story first, rather than react.”