From Cow Pies to Clear Skies

Wisconsin dairy farm uses Holstein waste to produce clean energy.

| March 14, 2008

  • Cows

    courtesy Crave Brothers Dairy Farm,

  • Cows

WATERLOO, Wisconsin - One Wisconsin family is taking the green movement to new heights, as they seek responsible ways to make their dairy farm environmentally sustainable

The Crave Brothers Dairy Farm and its cheesemaking enterprise, Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, have a sophisticated, computer-controlled anaerobic digestion system that generates electricity - enough to run their rural Wisconsin farm and cheese plant and power up to 120 homes - from organic waste produced by their 750 Holstein cows.

Anaerobic (oxygen-free) digestion is a biological process in which microorganisms break down organic waste in a process that ultimately produces gas, mainly methane with some carbon dioxide. This gas can be burned just like natural gas, thus generating energy.

Now, even city folks know that on a dairy farm, "organic waste" means "manure." The Craves, already known as agri-business innovators, are industry leaders in using this technology to transform the manure from their herd into a dependable, renewable source of clean and sustainable energy. When the Crave Brothers system was installed in 2007, it was one of only a handful in Wisconsin.

"Our family has a history of working in harmony with the land to produce quality milk and cheeses," says George Crave. He and his family are partners with his brothers, Charles, Thomas and Mark, and their families. George, a licensed cheesemaker, says, "We want to build our business for future generations of our family, and we are committed to doing that in a way that respects the earth."

On 1,700 acres of rich, rolling land an hour west of Milwaukee, the Craves grow soybeans, corn and alfalfa to feed the herd. Each cow produces about 28,000 pounds of milk per year (about 3,300 gallons). The fresh milk is piped from the dairy across the road to the 6,000-square-foot cheese plant, where cheesemakers use a combination of modern-day equipment and Old World techniques to craft the award-winning Crave Brothers Farmstead Classic Cheeses.

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