Cash Cow Crap


As a research-focused institution, the University of Calgary contains a variety of laboratory facilities that produce unique types of waste. For the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary (UCVM), organic waste produced by animals at the Spy Hill Campus contributes significantly to the faculty’s waste footprint and is expensive to remove, costing tens of thousands of dollars every five to six years. Rather than perceiving the waste as a necessary cost, graduate students in UCVM applied entrepreneurial thinking skills to identify a potential revenue-generating opportunity. If successful, their project would divert funds from waste removal to large animal care by converting organic waste to nutrient rich fertilizer – or “cow crap to cash.” The project considered three different alternatives for how to remove the compost while utilizing its benefits, extensively researching the best options. The alternatives included partnering with local farmers and institutions, utilizing compost at the university, and working with landscaping supply companies. The UCVM incorporated economic, environmental and wellbeing factors in their decision-making processes, evaluating ways to reduce waste removal costs, decrease environmental impacts, and improve animal welfare. This project also had to meet rigorous standards like the City of Calgary’s bylaws surrounding the spreading of compost and quality assurance regulations to ensure that the compost was fit to distribute.


  • Conducted interviews with different organizations to determine if there was interest in the compost. The project ran into roadblocks when potential partners lacked the infrastructure to take the compost, even though they were interested. It was concluded that if the compost was going to be used for commercial purposes, then necessary measures to improve its quality had to be undertaken.
  • Provided all interested parties with compost, this included Highfield Farms, YYC Growers and Distributors, and Soil Kings Inc. This allowed the university to save money by offloading unwanted waste for free to receptive local partners.
  • Learned about requirements for breaking into the fertilizer market. A composting permit needs to be acquired to distribute it for commercial use, the lease agreement for the use of the land needs to be renegotiated, and the students have to weigh the benefits of spending funds on this project compared to the amount of demand there is for the material.

Next Steps:

  • Based on the feedback received from the interested parties, the UCVM still has a few details to sort out. Logistics that have yet to be finalized include:

  • How much compost will be allocated to each party.

  • Whether the UCVM will continue to provide the organizations with compost on a long-term basis.
  • Upon completion of the tasks listed above, the deals will be ratified with each of the four parties. At that stage, the products will finally be delivered.

  • How the compost will be transported and delivered; and

  • Liability and risk waivers to gain access to loaders.