So how is the digester doing?

I really need to start a list of the 20 most common questions we get about our farms.  For the energy enthusiasts this is by far the top question.  

“How is the digester doing?”

As dairy farmers we often expect and are thrilled to answer questions like:  How are the cows doing? How are they handling the hot/cold temperatures?  What are you doing for animal welfare?   We love these questions!   Not only do we know how to answer them, but they challenge us to do better!

The digester is always a tough one.  Often, it feels like a service project.  We know it has a significant positive environmental impact, but the operation of it can be messy and there are few events that create immediate positive feedback. 

What an awesome opportunity it is witness and assist in the birth of a newborn calf, or knowing the animals for which you care could be producing a milk that might eventually be packaged in a new healthy product like fairlife milk.  Wow!  How cool is that!  

 The generators are producing electricity that run out of the farm through three large black wires!  Yeah, no the wires aren’t jumping around because they are so full of energy they can hardly contain themselves.

I could tell you hundreds of stories about the challenges associated with the digester, but there are many positives as well.  Those aren’t stories for today, today is about learning cool things.

If you have been tracking us for awhile you may know that about 8 years ago we installed a methane digester and two 600 kWH generators capable of providing electric equivalent to the usage of more than 400 average sized homes.  

Anyone have a guess how many hours our generators have on them?

Generators, digesters and pumps all have maintenance issues, some of which we do in house, and some of which we hire out to more skilled technicians.  The really exciting piece of information is that we now have the ability to do a complete overhaul ourselves. 

This is way above my technical ability to describe, but kudos to our team for all their effort.  Generator 1 has run over 30,000 hours since we installed it!  Currently, Generator 2 is carrying the electrical production, but tomorrow that will change.  

The best news is there is very little wear on the overall engine, with some “minor” engine repair this engine is expected to be like new again, and we learned a lot about the operation of these engines in the process.  After some exercise time on Generator 1, we will likely shut down Generator 2 for its overhaul.

Confused about how generating green energy off cows might be a dirty job?  Ask Mike Rowe.  Dairy Cow Midwife provides some great examples of the differences between animal care and digester care!   Or if you know someone on our farm, just ask them about the great digester clean out event last year.  


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