Manure Separation: Bedding and Nutrient Recovery

Why Study Manure Solid-Liquid Separation?

We wished to evaluate a two staged manure separation system for bedding and solids removal. Manure separation can accomplish several purposes on a dairy farm. The two most common goals are to produce a fiber bedding for the animals and the second is to remove as many solids as economically feasible prior to long term storage.

bedding in dairy barn made from separated manure solidsWhat did we do?

We looked at existing and new systems that use manure fiber bedding. Manure fiber bedding or “green bedding” is separated solids from manure collected daily on the dairy that has not been through digestion or other heat process. Manure samples were collected and analyzed for total solids and nutrient content through commercial labs. Questions were asked to dairy personnel regarding stall management practices.

What have we learned?

Separating manure for fiber bedding production is very different than separation for clean liquid. A dry solids cake from the separator does not directly correlate to a good bedding product for the cows. Dairy bedding must provide cushioning for the animal while laying and stable footing during the process of lying down and getting up. A healthy, productive cow will spend 12-14 hours per day lying down. A good bedding must be able to absorb liquid and maintain a clean, dry and comfortable stall for the cow. Typical dry solids cakes contain many small particles that prohibits the solids ability to absorb liquid on the cows lying surface.

Separation equipment does have an effect on overall perceived bedding quality. Longer fibers are preferred to shorter fibers. Longer fibers appear to provide better cushioning and are less prone to sticking to the cow’s legs, flanks and teat ends.

comparison of fibers from two different manure separation systems

Figure 1. Roller press fibers on the left; screw press fibers on the right.

Fiber bedding can be used directly from the separator (often referred to as “green bedding), composted in windrows or aerobically digested in a vessel. Regardless of treatment method, the success of a manure fiber bedding system is dependent on many factors besides the equipment operation. Management of the free stalls including stall grooming, ventilation, re-bedding and frequency of manual manure removal are examples of other critical factors.

In looking at staged separation systems, the owner is willing to sacrifice capture rate efficiency on first stage separation to achieve high quality bedding. By allowing smaller solids to pass through the primary separation system, the quality of bedding often improves. Eventually, as the larger fibers are broken down while in the free stall or by pumping and processing equipment they become small enough to pass through first stage separation.

Having staged separation is extremely beneficial for advanced manure processing. Primary separation systems do more than produce a fiber bedding material, they also act as a foreign material screen for downstream equipment as well as slightly reduce the total volume to subsequent stages. Foreign material such as; plastic bottles, wooden hoof blocks, rocks, pieces of plastic etc. can cause significant damage to more sensitive (and often expensive) downstream equipment, such as a centrifuge, finer separation screen, belt filter press or other mechanical solid liquid separator. A primary separator is often better suited to handle foreign materials without disrupting operations. Furthermore, by removing the larger solids for bedding there is a slight reduction in volume going to secondary separation steps. This can lead to savings by reducing the required capacity of downstream equipment or reducing the total volume chemistry costs when using coagulants or polymers.

Primary separation for bedding has shown some nutrient removal. On farms using primary separated solids for animal bedding, the nutrient content is irrelevant since the nutrients are recycled back into to the housing system, until the fibers are broken down enough to pass. The specific capture rate of total solids and individual nutrients are show in the table below.

Primary Capture Rates Dairy TR Dairy GM Dairy CVT
Total Solids   20 43 55
Total Nitrogen   4.2 15 20
Phosphorus 3.5 5 37
Potassium   2.6 10 15

Total solids capture rates are directly correlated to incoming total solids content. Higher incoming solids results in higher capture rates (Burns and Moody, 2001). The total solids in the incoming material was lowest for Dairy TR and highest for Dairy CVT. It is a general understanding that a majority of the nutrients are contained in relatively small particles which pass through primary separation stream.

Future Plans

Staged separation systems are one example of how to incrementally add equipment and separation capacity as farms expand or field application of nutrients becomes more precise. Farms may initially install a basic separator to re-use liquid for alley flushing or flush fluming. A secondary stage separator can then be added for excess liquid prior to going to the lagoon for additional solids and nutrient removal.

Future investigation steps will be to continue evaluating secondary separation equipment for ease of operation, operational costs and nutrient removal efficiencies. Additionally further uses for the primary solids as a separation aid may prove beneficial as more systems are installed and used.


Andy Lenkaitis, P.E. Environmental Systems Engineer, GEA Farm Technologies

Additional information

Contact GEA Farm Technologies for additional information regarding specific information on equipment or systems for manure separation systems.



The author would like to acknowledge for dairy producers for sharing their insight and information to further the adaption of manure equipment. Additionally, support from key field personnel and local equipment dealers for identifying customers and servicing equipment in a less than pleasant location.

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