Rather than adding more cows to their Rosenholm Dairy near Cochrane, Wis., John Rosenow was looking for a different challenge and a way to diversify the operation. During a conversation with some friends years ago, one of them suggested composting and selling manure and Cowsmo Compost was born.
During a panel discussion at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) Business Conference, Rosenow explained that it took a while to grow the business they started in 2005. They ran into some hiccups as they learned to perfect their product and process early on and sales started out slow. Over time, though, demand grew for their composted manure product, and now they are making sales all year long and in 22 states.
Their current composting site includes a blacktopped pad. Manure is flushed out of their freestall barn, then separated manure solids are put into windrows and are turned when they reach 131°F. Once the composting process is complete, the product is piled and ready for sale. Their compost and potting soil meet all organic standards, and they have become a major supplier for the organic vegetable industry.
One of Rosenow’s keys to success is his farm team. While he still very much enjoys his work on the 600-cow dairy, he said that age is catching up with him, and he relies on his valued employees to get the work done.
For Rosenow, promotion has also been necessary to drive his business. The first few years, he said they would sit by the phone, waiting for it to ring, but it never did. After some changes with their leadership team, Rosenow took over the marketing, and all of a sudden, people were interested in their product. This highlighted the importance of publicizing their product.
“You become a marketer,” he noted. “You develop a skillset you didn’t have before.” Early on, he said he got into his truck with a load of compost on the back and drove from place to place, asking if they wanted to try his product. Over time, some of these connections become valuable retailers for them, he said.
Now, with the presence of the internet, he said many customers reach out by email or text. They are also actively exhibiting at trade shows. Just recently, he participated in a trade show in Minnesota where they handed out 4,000 samples.
Rosenow was looking for something different to do with his business, a new challenge to tackle, rather than managing more cows and more manure if they had expanded their herd. The compost market has been successful and enjoyable for him. “One criterion we had when we started was it had to be fun,” he said, and based on his comments during the panel discussion, it is. “This has been quite a ride,” he summarized.