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.”
The horticultural industry has been overwhelmed the last 2 years mainly due to COVID. The normal supply chains have been affected. Peat has seen strong sales that eliminated the normal reserve supply. This year the harvest was affected by fires, employee shortages and weather which made the supply even tighter. On the advice of our supplier in Canada, we have purchased and received a full year’s supply here at Cowsmo already. That decision was made in May. Normally we buy it as we need it. There is an expectation that next spring there will not be any available.
Perlite is another ingredient that is being rationed. We use 2-3 semi-loads per year and just unloaded one in early September. Their issue is two-fold. They are having problems getting the raw material from Sri Lanka because of shipping issues and delays at ports. The other issue is a lack of employees at their plant in Appleton, Wi. The owner of Midwest Perlite told us that he has never seen a raw product that was of such low quality. That problem may change for the better soon. Perlite is volcanic rock that is processed using heat that makes it expand. An alternative to perlite is rice hulls that are steamed to kill any rice or weed seeds. The cost of treated rice hulls is greater than perlite.
What does this mean to our customers?
Cowsmo potting soils will be readily available for the next year
Other potting soils may struggle with availability if they have not stockpiled by now.
Perlite may be a limiting ingredient in potting soils. We have 1/3 of our supply here and have another 1/3 due here in January. The last 3rd we hope to get in Spring.
If next winter and spring are post-COVID, we wonder how it will affect demand for plants and horticultural supplies. Will we return to “normal”?
These small notes are an attempt by Cowsmo to help our customers better understand the dynamics of our industry. There will be more.
Hannah Breckbill, Emily Fagan and Jon Yagla wanted to see which potting soil produced the best transplants in each of their farms’ production systems, in order to determine how they should order potting soil in the future.
Cooperators expected Vermont Compost, the most expensive choice, to perform better than Cowsmo and Beautiful Land Products.
At Breckbill and Fagan’s farm, the media did not statistically differ from one another. At Yagla’s, the Beautiful Land Products and Cowsmo soil outperformed Vermont Compost Company in stem diameter and number of leaves, but not in ease of work.
Fagan will continue to bulk-order Cowsmo soil based on these findings, and all farmers have a better idea of what qualities they desire in potting soil.
When growing vegetables that are seeded in a greenhouse and later transplanted into a field, the seed-starting media used is important to the initial resilience of these crops. Three brands of potting soil that are commonly used for these starter media in Iowa: Beautiful Land Products, Cowsmo and Vermont Compost Company. Beautiful Land Products is a local soil company out of West Branch, Cowsmo is a Wisconsin-based company that many farmers use (and is best for bulk orders), and Vermont Compost is an organic, high-quality potting soil and the most expensive of the three. Knowing the potting soil that each farmer prefers most will allow them to determine whether they should bulk order soil, purchase it from their local shop, or invest in a brand that is not local, but produces higher quality transplants….
It is always exciting to introduce our newest animals on the Cowsmo Farm. We can’t think of anything more adorable than our one day old baby calf and our newborn kittens, including this little girl, who live near our milking parlor with their mom.
The coronavirus pandemic and its implications for transmission has caused Cowsmo to adopt precautions for our employees and customers. Effective immediately, please call ahead when coming to the farm to pick up products. If that is not possible call when you get here using the phone numbers that are on the office door. If you do not have a cell phone, use the phone right inside the door. We will get you what you need and load it for you while you remain in the vehicle. If you need to leave the vehicle, remain 6 feet away from us. Payment by check or credit card is preferred. We can do credit card in advance if you know what you want and we will have an invoice ready when you get here. If we are outside that should be extra safe. We believe in personal customer service and this need to keep away from others will be hard for us.
What happens when you use Cowsmo fertilizer with tomato plants? As one of our customers discovered, the result is an amazing crop of Amish Paste Tomatoes, Juliet Tomatoes & Tomatillos. The plants were grown in Minnesota Zone 5 and each reached an amazing height over 6ft 9in!
The yearly produce was as follows:
Amish Paste – 16 pounds
Juliet – 12 pounds
Tomatillo – 9.5 pounds
Tomatillos are a great plant for produce, because the more you pick the more Tomatillos will ripen. According to the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, an average Tomatillo plant will yield 2½ lbs of produce. Wow! That means this plant produced 7lbs more than the average!
Over the last 30 years in the compost business, we have learned a lot about compost. As we look through trade magazines or search the internet to find an answer to a customer’s question, we gain some knowledge.
As I was reading John Deere’s February Furrow magazine recently, I found an interesting article on Microbiome Mysteries. The article says that in a healthy soil there are over a billion, yes with as B, bacteria in a gram of soil, as well as over 100,000 actinomycetes and a million fungi. When you consider there are 454 grams in a pound, those numbers are astronomical. I also heard one scientist say that in a spoonful of healthy soil, there are more organisms than there are people on earth.
To have a healthy biome in your soil, you need to be aware that you are making a good life for them. There are many ways but by adding compost, especially manure-based compost like Cowsmo, you are doing your part to build and maintain a healthy soil.
Why? Microorganisms do not like change such as disturbing the soil. Even tillage affects the biome as does moving soil for construction. They also need organic matter to provide food for their little bodies. Cowsmo compost not only feeds the biome that is already there but also adds microorganisms into the soil.
When you grow plants in pots or artificial beds, you will get better results if the soil you are using has Cowsmo compost in it.
2020 has been a much easier winter so far this year for making and shipping potting soil. Last year we struggled with cold and snow well into March.
The cold especially affects whether we can mix ingredients for our potting soils. Starting and running engines with subzero temperatures is sometimes impossible. On February 24, 2019 in our county there were over 400 roofs that collapsed due to snow load! We had 3 fall in and we shoveled lots of roofs besides. Right now, we only have about 6 inches of snow on our roofs compared to over 6 feet last year. We hope the easier trend continues through March.
“The Minneapolis Home + Garden Show is a vibrant marketplace where you can shop for home-related products and services, experience stunning displays to help inspire your next home project, connect with industry experts, and enjoy informative presentations from renowned local and international home professionals.
Whether you’re joining us at the Minneapolis Convention Center with a specific project in mind or just looking for some inspiration, our local home professionals have you covered. With 600+ booths to explore and several unique feature displays to enjoy, this is a valuable event for all Minneapolis homeowners.”
Cowsmo owner John Rosenow will be joining Mercedes Falk at the MOSA conference in La Crosse WI. Visit them at the La Crosse Convention Center for the 31st MOSES Organic Farming Conference on February 27th – 29th!
Both Mercedes and John enjoy talking to customers or people interested in compost. Meet with them to get answers about technical and logistical questions.