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Happy Cow Creamery Uses Solar Hot Water

Credits: ©2010 Happy Cow Creamery

by Justin Cooper - They say a happy cow is a productive cow. And saving money on energy can make a farmer happy too. We visit an organic dairy farm that’s going even greener. This glass tube, cool on the outside, is actually almost 500 degrees inside and it's helping to heat the water at a local dairy. “It's a wonderful feeling to be on the cutting edge of this type of thing that this country's got to go to.” "Farmer" Tom Trantham knows quite a bit about being cutting edge. He's won awards for "green" farming at his Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, South Carolina. “To know someone is as passionate about something as they are as I am about what I am. I think that's a great thing.” “Tom is the rock star of organic dairy farms.” Larry Jordan of American Micro Solar made Happy Cow the first dairy in the country to heat water with their solar water heating system. “Here at Happy Cow, Tom was using water that was coming out of a well at 50 degrees. He's got to get it up to 160 degrees. Well that's a big boost,” says Jordan. And hot water is extremely important to Tom's dairy. And hot water is extremely important to Tom's dairy. “We can't make one little mistake. So the hot water can't fail,” explains Trantham. The Thermosyphon system takes the infrared rays from the sun to do the job...even if it's cloudy. “Just like when you go to the beach and you don't put sunscreen on and it's a cloudy day at the beach, you still get sunburned...well that's how this works.” “This unit will actually boil water which is just unheard of. It's just that efficient,” says Jordan. Which makes Tom and his cows...happy. “If it keeps on like its going and does better than it's doing already and they think even better, I imagine almost all of our water heating will be done with the sun.” Another way that the Happy Cow Creamery goes green is by being chemical free in the pasture, where the cows are all grass fed.


Happy Cows Creamery Grazing

At Happy Cow Creamery in South Carolina, the owner developed a system whereby his cows eat just the tops of the plants in the field, then move on. Every day, they move until they are rotated back to the original area. Thus, they are always eating the best part of the plants. Happy Cow is also the first dairy in the country to heat water with a solar water heating system. ©2010 Happy Cows Creamery

Cheesemaking.com had a discussion with owner Tom Trantham, (who calls himself a cow whisperer) and the interview results follow:
When was the last time you had the opportunity to see how milk is produced, from beginning to end? At the Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, SC, you can do that every weekday in the summer if you get a small group together (20 or more) and arrange a tour.

Happy Cow Grazing System
There's a story here: Despite being the top producer in the state, Farmer Tom was about to go bankrupt in 1986, farming the traditional way with chemicals and fertilizers. One day, his cows got out of their pen and grazed in a nearby field. Later that day, they produced significantly more milk than usual. He let them graze for the next few days and he noticed that the cows were eating only the top part of the plants and moving on. He had the plants tested and discovered that most of the nutrients were in the top part of the plants.

He developed a system whereby his cows eat just the tops, then move on. Every day, they move until they are rotated back to the original area. Thus, they are always eating the best part of the plants. (Most farms mow the grain down to the bottom and this is fed to the cows.) Farmer Tom stopped using chemicals and fertilizers (other than his own organic mix) and called his system "12 Aprils Grazing." Since then, he has taught this system to farmers around the world, and it is now being used in a USDA educational video at agricultural colleges around the country.

He keeps his herd below 90 cows because that is what his fields can support.

Happy Cow Bottling Plant
After finally becoming profitable with this system, Tom converted a silo to a bottling plant and it is the only one of its kind in the world. The beauty of it is that the milk is pumped once and that's for only 48 feet. The rest of the movement from one area to another is gravity-fed. (In larger plants, milk is pumped 3 or 4 miles, up to 20 times. This is what Tom calls "bruised milk.")

Happy Cow Highly Nutritious Milk
The milk is low temp pasteurized (145F) and never homogenized. It has no additives. Yet, the nutritional value far exceeds that of "normal" milk. In fact, this milk has 1 1/2 times the amount of CLA in raw Organic Pastures milk. (CLA is the subject of new research which indicates that it may actually help to reduce body fat. It is already proven to be an anticarcinogen and to prevent atherosclerosis.) Happy Cow milk is so nutritious that 11 doctors travel 126 miles to buy this milk.

Happy Cow Creamery
The Tranthans have been in the creamery business for 7 years, and every month has been better than the last. They have 11 employees, and, as Tom says, a good life and good food to eat. In the store, they sell their own whole milk, chocolate milk, and buttermilk, Wisconsin butter and cheese, Vermont maple syrup, raw unfiltered local honey, jams and jellies, fresh whole hog sausage and free range chickens and eggs, organically grown. They even sell a children's book which explains how the farm works.

Tom said they are thinking about making cheese soon. It breaks his heart when he has to sell some of his milk to the big corporate dairies instead of his own customers. If he was making cheese, there would be none of that. So, we're looking forward to helping him with that and all we can say is, "Look out, Wisconsin! There's some competition coming!"

Solar CalFinder also reports on Happy Cow:
They say that happy cows produce the best milk. Well, if the milk-making bovines at an organic dairy farm near Greenville, South Carolina knew anything about energy production, they’d be the happiest cows ever. While that possibility is a bit of a stretch, the Happy Cow Creamery, being the first dairy in the nation to utilize a solar hot water system to heat their water, is not.

Tom Trantham owns the farm, which has already won awards for green organic farming. The super efficient thermosiphon solar water heater he installed on the roof of his dairy heats 50-degree well water up to at least 160 degrees — the temperature he must achieve for his operation to work smoothly.

The system passively channels a fluid (water or an anti-freeze solution) between glass tubes and an integrated storage tank at the top of the system. Gravity and thermal convection does all the work in a thermosiphon system.

Water is contained at the top in a long, insulated tank. Because hot water has a tendency to rise and cool water to fall, the cooler water is drawn down into the glazed tubing to be solar-heated, at which point it rises back into the tank. This creates a sort of natural pumping system that efficiently heats water without the need for any electrical devices. Cold water can be naturally pulled up from the Happy Cow’s well to one end of the system and pushed out the other as hot water for the dairy’s operations.

Because solar thermal systems can utilize infrared rays of solar energy, they work even when it’s cloudy. And Tom Trantham’s system is incredibly efficient. According to Larry Jordan, owner of American Micro Solar and installer of Happy Cow’s system, “This unit will actually boil water, which is just unheard of. It’s just that efficient.”

Trantham speculates that nearly all of his hot water needs could be supplied by the new system.

As mentioned, the Happy Cow Creamery is an organic dairy farm, using chemical-free pasturing and harvesting milk from only grass-fed cows.

How the Thermosiphon Creates a Natural Pumping System
Thermosiphon is a type of passive solar water heating that utilizes convection to heat water. Water passes through a closed-loop circuit that is vertical and thus needs no mechanical devices or pumps.

It is convection that is key to the proper function of a passive thermosiphon system. Convection, from solar heated water, forces the hot water up to the top of the loop while gravity pulls the cooler water down. This constant exchange of heat and energy creates a natural pumping system. Water for household use is then drawn into the home from the top of the loop.

Solar collectors may heat the water directly (i.e., water passes directly through the collector) or indirectly (i.e., a heat transfer fluid, such as antifreeze, is used to exchange heat between the collector and the water in the thermosiphon loop).

Gravity is essential for the proper functioning of a thermosiphon system. Therefore, orientation of the system is of vital importance. Furthermore, because the flow and interchange of hot and cold water is vital, water must be stored in a tank at the top of the collector. In this way cool water is able to flow down and warm water forced up into the tank, completing the cycle.

Relevant books:
Solar Hot Water
Solar Water Heating