Table scraps a boon to region's dairy farmers

Ottawa table scraps composted by Orgaworld will help keep dairy cows warm and comfortable this season in lieu of straw.
After a day of grazing, some local dairy cows are enjoying compost bedding which farmers say is improving the animals' health, increasing milk production and saving them money. (CBC)

Some local farmers have turned to compost made from Ottawa table scraps, not only as fertilizer, but as a substitute bedding for livestock to supplant straw.

But the demand for compost from Ottawa's green bin program exceeds supply, and Orgaworld — the company contracted to handle the capital’s organic waste — has sold out this year and next.

For Metcalfe dairy farmer Wilfried Raats, who managed to secure a supply of Orgaworld compost, he and his cows could not be happier.

"They love it, you see them laying there. They’re comfortable," Raats told CBC. "Comfortable cows always make more milk … they make most of their milk while they’re laying down. So it gives you more yield and healthier cows."

Dairy farmer Todd Nixon also opted for compost bedding this year — a decision that he hopes will lower infection rates of his cows and cut expenses.

"One reason was to try and improve udder health," said Nixon. "And the other reason was to reduce cost. Straw was getting expensive and hard to find."

Nixon said the change could save him up to $10,000 a year in straw costs alone.

Organic waste goes through a multi-step process before it is safe for consumer use, including shredding, aging and the removal of any inorganic material.

 "We’ve caught out brake rotors, we even had a propane tank once so we have to be very careful," said Greg Mariotti, Orgaworld’s site manager.

The problem is that farmers can’t get enough and Orgaworld can’t produce more until Ottawa residents do. Only about 40 per cent of area households compost their organic waste.

In a multi-million dollar deal with Orgaworld, the City of Ottawa committed to supply 80,000 tonnes of organic waste and will pay Orgaworld $7.5 million annually to convert it to fertilizer and bedding.

In 2010, the city provided just 53,000 tonnes and last year that figure climbed slightly to 55,000 tonnes.