ELLINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) — An Ellington dairy farm now produces more than just milk. Farmer Seth Bahler is using technology to turn what his cows leave behind into natural gas.
The milk that comes out of Oakridge Farm‘s dairy cows has a lot of great uses. The other stuff from the cows did not have many uses until now.
The 70,000 pounds of manure produced on the farm daily becomes natural gas. A cow’s stomach only extracts about 75% of the energy from its food.
“The other 25% left is actually passing through and comes out as manure,” Bahler explained.
Bahler knows what he’s talking about. He’s a fifth-generation dairy farmer. Oakridge Dairy Farm sends the manure from the barn through underground pipes into a newly-operational methane digester. That huge, two-million-gallon tank replicates a cow’s stomach.
“There are micro bugs in there that are eating all that energy, turning it into methane gas,” said Bahler.
The farm has its own on-site refinery that turns that methane into pipeline-grade natural gas. They estimate they’ll make enough to power 800-900 cars annually.
The methane digester is impressive technology, but Oakridge uses technology in many other ways to make the environment and the cows as healthy as possible.
“We have cow Fitbits. Basically, they are collars for our cows,” explained farm worker Kaylee Hill. “They stay on them 24/7, and it monitors their rumination. It monitors when they’re walking around when they’re lying down, when they eat. Basically, anything a cow is doing, it tells us what is going on.”
Cows are milked on a robotic carousel system, and the barns are covered in solar panels. It’s a long way from the way Bahler’s great-great-grandfather did things.
“Some of their greatest inventions was going from a horse to a tractor,” Bahler said. “You know, we’ve come a long way.”
The digester just opened and needs about three weeks to properly digest, but tankers will soon fill up at the refinery. Eventually, the farm will be hooked up to a natural gas pipeline.