Up at 6:30 as usual for the last round of checks peering through the biogas windows and everything seemed to be going fine, levels were perhaps a little lower than had been the case previously but nothing too serious. Then, when heading to take the readings from the transformers to document the electricity sold to the grid in the last 24 hours, Thorsten called us to the engine room where a bit of a problem had unfolded.

TIm looking a bit happier now that we'd managed to clean most of the oil off the gas engine

TIm looking a bit happier now that we’d managed to clean most of the oil off the gas engine

When filling the oil it seems that the cap hadn’t been fully locked back into place and over the last day had managed to spray about half the engine’s oil reservoir all out of the tiny gap. Since the oil was warm and expelled at pressure it creates a mist (which was responsible for covering my jacket last week without me really noticing). So, as well as the lagoons of oil that had pooled under and around the engine, a fine covering of oil was to be found on pretty much every surface. Tim and I set about getting stuck in to mopping up the oil and managed to get the vast majority on the floor and in the engine’s base plate. We broke for breakfast before grabbing the ladders and starting the long job of carefully wiping down all exposed surfaces of the engine avoiding the sly hot surfaces that creep up on you and scold you and trying not to let the paper towels get drawn into the intake.

Thorsten had to pick up some crop feed and fertilisers but once he returned we then got shown around the pig barn. Like most of the farm the feeding system is completely automatic with ground corn and barley mixed with water and a weak acid to reduce the pH to optimum feed conditions. The feed slurry is then pumped to each of the troughs that are empty (automatically detected) running completely automatically. We suited up in overalls and wellies (for the pigs’ benefit more than our own) and were shown how the pigs are kept, how the slurry is collected for the biogas and how heat from the house and biogas output is integrated into the pig barn to minimise wasted energy. I was unsure how I’d feel about seeing the pigs but to be honest it didn’t affect me anywhere near as much as I thought it might. Certainly to my, albeit untrained, eye all of the pigs looked healthy (except one which the vet had visited yesterday) and all seemed inquisitive, playful and to be fairly happy despite the relatively small conditions. In fact, as was said during the tour before our arrival sparked the interest of the pigs they tended to group together using only about half of the available space rather than spreading out. I’m not saying I’ve been converted to the benefits of farming animals but here with Thorsten playfully patting the pigs and telling us how in addition to government welfare visits, as a group of farmers they audit each others’ livestock to ensure good standards, it’s clear that while the animals are alive they are well cared for. Like I said though, I don’t think I’m switching back to meat-eating any time soon!

After the tour of the pig barn I grabbed a quick shower and packed the last of my things before being presented with a packed lunch and a bottle of Franconian wine by Christa. Thorsten, Suzie and Tim drove me back to Ansbach and we all shook hands and agreed to keep in touch. I’m now off on the train to meet an old school friend (who popped up in Tokyo when I was there too!) in Leipzig before catching the morning train back to the UK on Monday (the price was the same from Leipzig as from Ansbach).

27 PLATFORMS!!! Bye bye Ansbach

Bye bye Ansbach

I hope in writing this blog I’ve expressed my deep gratitude to the Sturms (and Suzie, Christian and Tim) for making the last fortnight so memorable and helping me learn such a great deal about biogas, German culture and life on a farm. If anyone reading this is wondering whether to take the plunge and for a work-away placement, I’d suggest you jump at the chance and hope that you get to meet such kind, welcoming and interesting people as I have.