March 28, 2014

Turning poop into profit

Brattonsville facility lets nature turn horse manure into compost

A side job of scooping poop has become a full-time career for Dan McQueen of Rock Hill.

Dan McQueen, born and raised in Rock Hill, has his preferred location for the upcoming Come-See-Me parade – walking behind the Wells Fargo stagecoach with his wagon.

While he might be waving to the crowd, McQueen, 52, is there to work, scooping up the horse poop. When he’s done, the streets will be mess-free for Come-See-Me patrons.

McQueen is doing more than scooping poop. He hopes to turn poop into profit.

It takes more than a few Come-See-Me scoops, however. It takes tons of poop to fuel McQueen’s composting business. Sixty percent of what arrives from area horse farms at his Brattonsville Road operation is consumed in the all-natural process.

What remains is then spread on residential yards, sold in bags or in tubes called GardenSoxx which allow people to garden anywhere there is sunlight. The selling point for the GardenSoxx is when the weather turns bad, it’s portable.

It’s a business that is more than two years in the making. McQueen is now a regular on the garden show circuit, promoting his product. Now, he says, people seek him out at shows to place orders. His products are for sale at 85 stores in the Carolinas, including several places in York County.

McQueen recently made his television debut on “Making It Grow” on the South Carolina ETV network.

It’s a far different TV debut than McQueen ever envisioned. As a high school student, McQueen dreamed of TV stardom on the basketball court. He was a center on the Northwestern High School team. He then played at Winthrop University – scoring the first basket ever in the Winthrop Coliseum.

But McQueen’s first job wasn’t on the basketball court. He briefly worked construction and then was hired as a chemist for Duke Energy, working there for 29 years.

One job, however, was never enough for McQueen, and he went through a series of side jobs before founding Scoop-D-Doo in 2008. He started cleaning up dog poop from various places including apartment complexes.

His poop-scooping business resulted in an inquiry from a horse farm. Would he be interested in taking the muck from barn stalls, muck filled with hay and poop?

The more he investigated the idea, the more he became intrigued. Dog poop is full of germs and disease because dogs are meat eaters. The only option McQueen had was to double bag it, cover it with lime to kill the bacteria, and dispose of it.

But horses eat hay and the poop has the microbes that break it down. If McQueen could get enough poop and enough space to let it compost, poop could be profitable.

One of his business partners set aside 5 acres for composting. McQueen shares the land with an inquisitive herd of cattle. “We constantly have to run them off,” he said.

After working with York County – composting businesses were not initially allowed on agriculturally zoned land – McQueen and his partners began the Brattonsville operations.

He solicited horse owners, charging little more than the cost of gas to come and remove their muck. His two dump trucks now haul about 20 loads a month, 8 tons per truck.

The poop is spread into 180-foot-long windrows. Each windrow is about 12 feet high. Over time it shrinks to 5 feet high.

The secret is to closely monitor the interior temperature of the windrows. The higher the temperature, the more work the microbes are doing. When the interior temperature reaches 130 to 140 degrees the pile needs to be “turned” to reintroduce oxygen into the mix. Sometimes water is added if the pile gets too dry and sometimes hay is added if more nitrogen is needed.

To turn the pile, McQueen purchased an $85,000 machine for only $15,000 at a Rock Hill city auction. “No one knew what it really was,” he said.

The machine with large blades is pulled over a windrow to till the poop. The tilling is done multiple times over a six- to eight-week period as the poop decomposes.

When the windrow reaches a dirt-like consistency, it is put through a screening process that removes rocks, twigs and a forgotten horseshoe or two.

The horseshoes are nailed – with ends up for good luck – over the doors of the company’s headquarters – a small, pre-fabricated wooden shed with room enough for a desk, refrigerator and tools.

The screened compost “looks like dirt, smells like dirt, even tastes like dirt,” McQueen said. McQueen won’t vouch for the taste, but said a compost expert once grabbed a sample at the Southern Home Show in Charlotte, popped it into his mouth and said, “That’s good dirt!”

The compost stays in piles until it is applied to land or bagged or stuffed into the GardenSoxx. Making the GardenSoxx is much like making sausage. A hopper with an auger fills the fabric, and when it is about 2 feet long, the mesh is cut, sealed and the sock is tagged with the GardenSoxx label.

The entire process is largely odorless, McQueen said. Samples are also tested at Penn State University so the compost can be certified by the U.S. Compost Council. The end product is weed free, McQueen said.

“It’s awesome to have a job that’s more like a hobby,” McQueen said. “I believe in what I do.”

And he predicts things are only going to get better.

“The world is going organic. The business is ready to bust wide open. After all, you are putting life back into the soil.”

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