Cowsmo Inc. is a compost business associated with Rosenholm Dairy near Waumandee in Buffalo County. John Rosenow is the fifth– generation on his family’s 600-cow dairy farm. John and his wife, Nettie, manage the dairy while selling and distributing organic compost and potting soils in 20 states and four foreign countries. Demand for their compost grew dramatically during the pandemic.
An interest in conserving natural resources and using them wisely drove the Rosenows to compost their cow manure. By composting the separated cow manure solids and transforming them into a quality byproduct that has value for their customers, the Rosenows are utilizing a valuable resource while preventing harm to the natural resources around them.
The Rosenows make a conscious effort to reduce their environmental impact and operate sustainably.
Their cows are bedded with sawdust, a byproduct of Ashley Furniture Industries located within twenty minutes of the farm. This waste product of furniture production would otherwise be sold or burned but is instead used for bedding the cows. Once used, the sawdust becomes part of the manure stream. The sawdust is incorporated in the compost, which is then purchased by employees of Ashley Furniture.
John Rosenow believes in the product he sells. “I’m not a very good salesman, but I have a good product,” he said.
It takes about three months to create a consumer ready compost product. Using cow manure for fertilizer on their farm and transforming manure into compost has reduced the Rosenows reliance on commercial fertilizers.
They also utilize a barn flushing system, unique to the Midwest, which helps achieve proper moisture consistency for composting while also reducing fossil fuel consumption because they do not have to use machinery to clean out the barns for most of the year. The alleys are filled with recycled water, which carries the manure out of the barns and into the manure pit. The water used to flush the barns is recycled from the manure separator and wastewater from the parlor.
The flush system helps to aerate the manure pit which lessens the odor from the manure.
“It took some trial and error to learn the best moisture to make the best compost,” John said.
Rosenholm Dairy has been enrolled in the NRCS Conservation Stewardship program for five years. Their acreage is entirely no-till and have improved streambank protection with buffer strips. The farm is in the driftless region.
“We farm both sides of the acre,” John said.
No-till practices and cover crops help to ensure soil stays in place. John doesn’t worry about the soil running off during heavy rains and storms.
Cowsmo Compost meets organic standards. The pile must get to 131 degrees in 15 days and must be turned five times. Cowsmo’s product is turned roughly 20 times over three months to ensure the highest quality product for their customer.
When the compost is turned, heat is released and oxygen is reintroduced into the pile.
Composting helps the Rosenows be sustainable by exporting nutrients off the farm. Half of the nutrients generated on the farm are sold to landscapers, gardeners and organic vegetable growers. The cows produce more nutrients than John needs to support growing crops. Transforming manure into compost offers a creative solution for manure management and addresses the nutrient needs of garden enthusiasts across the Midwest.
“Sustainability means you are able to farm continue to farm for many years,” John said. “We are on our 50th year.”
Rachel Gerbitz is WFBF’s Director of Sustainability Communications and Partnerships. In this newly-created role, she oversees the organization’s sustainability communication efforts. Rachel grew up in Rock County where she was involved in 4-H and the Wisconsin Junior Holstein Association. She now lives in Kaukauna. In her spare time, Rachel manages her small herd of registered Jersey cattle.
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