Reducing Waste Streams: A Tale of a Heavy-Duty Paper Shredder

empty feed bags

Here at BOTL Farm, we’re not short on ideas. It’s like my mentor used to tell me: it’s important to have ideas, whether they’re good ideas or not, because eventually even a blind squirrel finds a nut. 

Let’s talk about one of our latest ideas.

We feed our pigs and laying hens this amazing-smelling, super-hippy-nutritious feed from New Country Organics. The pig feed comes in a giant, one-ton plastic tote bag, but we generally get the chicken feed in 50 lb bags because we use the feed for our own flocks but also function as feed resellers. The feed bags have three layers of brown paper (that the delivery company pallet jockeys love to puncture) and instructions printed on the outside that we should compost the bags after they’re emptied.

Broken Feed Bags

However, as a rotation-based pasture farm that raises only livestock and no crops, we don’t produce compost on any significant scale. We have a bit of household compost that we put in a pile, but it’s a weird mix of coffee grounds, pork bones, and eggshells. One time we put 100 lbs of boiled pig heads in it, but we vowed to never do that again. Don’t ask why [Editor says: It was the flies and the smell]. Not really the thing for hot composting.

Some farms have centralized compost piles filled with animal manure, but BOTL Farm employs a large number of manure spreaders.  We call them the animals.  The animals spread their manure evenly around the farm as they rotate through paddocks and move fast enough that it’s deposited in nurturing instead of deleterious (<- is that a real word? [Editor says: yes proofreader, it is a word, Google it]) amounts.

This whole time we’ve been living with only our tiny household compost pile, reading the instructions on the feed bags that clearly say to “compost after they’re emptied”, and we’ve been stacking them to be recycled at our local facility instead of composting, hanging our heads a little the whole time.

shredded feed bags

Now BOTL Farm is no stranger to doing weird things to compost paper products. One time we had this idea to store all of our paper products in a bucket of water, and then strain the water, and then compress the paper into “logs” that we could burn in our fireplace. This really works about as well as you think it won’t, but we tried dutifully anyway.  This and other experiments lead to much contemplation about how to fulfill the destiny of our feed bags and their manifest composting afterlife.

Because the NCO feed bags are all paper (an unusual find anymore in these days of abundant polymers), we needed a way to compost large quantities of paper. Given the constraints of not having a large compost pile and the difficulties experienced by previous large-scale paper composting attempts, we began to think of other ways to break down the paper, in a composting-like fashion, but maybe without the requisite chemical processes.  Shredded paper seems a lot like chicken bedding.  What if we could shred the paper and make chicken bedding?  Shredding paper sounds like a lot of work.  What if they made a machine that could do that for us?  What if we could hire a Ninja Turtle villain [Editor says: supposedly there’s a villain named “Shredder.” There’s also one named Krang but that’s not relevant here] and employ him in the manufacture of sustainable chicken bedding??

Luckily, we know basically nothing about paper shredders but that was no real obstacle since the internet exists and so does that “Amazon recommends” section. It quickly pointed us to the standard farm household industrial paper shredder, with a 4hp motor and a 110V hookup, we ordered it, and our very obliging (and dog-loving!) UPS delivery person delivered our latest piece of farm equipment a few days later (and a dog treat for Pup).

It’s a thing of glory: matte black, electric, with a supposed run time of 50 minutes of continuous shredding without overheating. How had we ever survived without a farm paper shredder?

Amazon Basic 24-Sheet Shredder

A few nights later, we were the proud owners of 35 less feed bags and two big sacs of crinkly coop bedding. We’ve started using the shredded feed bags in the chicken coops, along with wood chips, planer shavings (from our saw mill), and commercial hemp bedding that we’d been using previously. 

Pup hiding in a pile of hard wood shavings

Initial results seem promising with the shredded feed bags, but we hope to gather more data and provide an update on how it goes in the next few months. If this continues to work, we’ll submit a new definition of “composting” on Urban Dictionary. Onto our next adventure!

paper shavings in coop

Last Updated on 2023-06-06

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