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What You Should Do

There are many best management practices that Ohio livestock and poultry farmers can implement on their farms. Some of these practices include: manure handling, storage and field application, as well as conservation practices to protect water and prevent soil erosion. These practices are applicable to all Ohio livestock farms regardless of species or farm size.


Water Quality

High quality and abundant water resources are important to keeping a strong economy, but managing those resources and protecting the quality are critical. That’s why it’s important for all Ohio farmers to manage these resources wisely.

Understanding Water Quality

We all depend on clean water. Ohio uses an average of 11.7 billion gallons of water every day. Our supply for both personal use and livestock/poultry production comes from both surface water (lakes, streams or rivers) and ground water (wells, springs).

Surface Water

Ohio receives an average rainfall of about 38 inches. Each inch of water covering an acre of land contains 27,154 gallons (acre inch), so each acre of Ohio receives an average of more than 1 million gallons of water annually. While most of Ohio’s precipitation is returned to the atmosphere through evaporation and transpiration, about 30 percent runs off the land either directly from the surface or through subsurface discharge (such as tile) after percolating through the soil. This runoff feeds our lakes, rivers and streams.

Groundwater

Groundwater comes from the small portion of rain water that filters through the soil and fills the pore spaces within rock, sand, gravel, and clay below the water table. Over 98% of the fresh water on earth is groundwater. It is the main water supply for most confined livestock and poultry operations and provides drinking water for half the U.S. population and nearly the entire rural population.

Groundwater and surface water are continually linked through the water cycle. Water evaporates; condenses to form clouds; falls as rain, is taken up by plants, or percolates into the soil or evaporates, and the cycle starts over again. Water moving downward through the soil eventually becomes groundwater and is eventually discharged as surface water through springs, rivers, streams and to the ocean.

Types of Water Contaminants

When people think of water pollution, they usually imagine a large industrial plant discharging a toxic sludge into a river. Although this type of pollution is devastating to the environment, it is no longer the major contributor of water pollution. The majority of pollutants that are found in water are not from a direct (point) source, such as an industrial plant pipe, but from sources “dispersed” throughout the environment (non-point source).

Point Sources

Municipal sewage treatment facilities, industries and even some livestock operations are considered “point” sources because they directly discharge their effluent into waterways. For example, milking center wastewater being discharged directly into a road ditch through a manmade pipe would be considered a point source discharge requiring a permit from the state’s environmental regulatory agency.

Non-Point Sources

Non-point source pollution comes from many different sources in both urban and rural areas. Runoff from cropland, parking lots, lawns and household septic systems are common contributors. Non-point-source pollutants are transported to surface and ground water with rainfall. During large storms, the runoff to surface water and infiltration to groundwater increases, and so does the rate of non-point-source pollutant movement. Non-point-source pollution is controllable by various management practices that protect water quality.

How it Moves

Groundwater depth can vary dramatically from one location to another and from one season to another. However, several factors are known to influence the location and depth of groundwater and can be generalized as:

  • Soil texture: Soils higher in silt and clay generally hold water better than sandy soils, and often have water tables closer to the soil surface.
  • Time of the year: Spring and early summer are often the times when groundwater levels are at their highest.
  • Amount of precipitation: Excessive precipitation causes groundwater levels to rise. Lack of precipitation has the opposite effect.
  • Use demands: Irrigation or other uses that reduce the water levels in aquifers (without adequate recharge) can lower the level of groundwater.

In addition, many best-management practices can be used to protect surface water. It is important to understand how manure and nutrients can move into surface water.

  • Direct discharges: Applying manure too close to a ditch, stream, or pond may result in direct discharge.
  • Movement of nutrients attached to soil: The nutrients that are found in manure and mineral fertilizer adsorb to soil particles and move with eroded soil particles and into surface water.
  • Movement of nutrients in water: Water soluble nutrients dissolved in rain or irrigation water can runoff into surface waters

Manure, Nutrients and Water

Natural fertilizers have been used extensively to increase crop production. However, if not managed properly, the nutrients can end up in ground and surface waters, which can negatively impact water.

Ammonia (Nitrogen)

If conditions are right, the effects of ammonia, on fish, in a stream can be recognized within a few minutes.

The toxicity of ammonia to fish depends on three factors: pH, water temperature, and oxygen content.

  • The higher the pH of the water, the smaller the amount of ammonia needed to kill fish.
  • The higher the temperature of the water, the smaller the amount of ammonia needed to kill fish. Because of the temperature factor, ammonia discharged into a stream that may not kill fish in the winter could result in a fish kill in the summer.
  • In addition, the lower the dissolved oxygen content of the water, the smaller the amount of ammonia needed to kill fish.

Organic Matter

Organic matter discharged to streams may kill fish. However, the effect is slower than with ammonia. As orgaic matter is broken down, the oxygen in the water is used up.

The rate at which a stream can recover from a discharge of organic matter depends on its total water volume, flow rate, turbulence, and water temperature:

  • Large streams can accept more organic matter without adverse effects than small streams can because of dilution.
  • Rapidly flowing, turbulent streams can recover faster from a discharge of organic matter because of re-aeration as the water moves downstream.
  • The effect of adding organic matter to cold water is less than warm water, because cold water can hold more oxygen. Also, decomposition of organic matter is slower at colder temperatures.

Farmers should avoid discharging any organic matter into streams because of the short- and long-term effects on water quality and wildlife.

Phosphorus

Phosphorus is an essential element for plant and animal growth, but too much of it can accelerate the natural aging of lakes and streams. The major damage or effect is most often noticed once the nutrients reach a stagnant portion of the stream, lake or pond. The plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus do a good job of growing plants both on land and in water. Lakes rich in nutrients are called eutrophic (take up oxygen) and are green with algae and aquatic plants. The result is oxygen being depleted from the water as plants die and begin to decompose.

Bacteria and Other Organisms

Bacteria from livestock manure rarely cause health problems for people or animals. However, disease-causing organisms may be present in the manure from an infected animal. Fortunately, disease-causing organisms typically do not thrive well in the soil or water and re generally filtered out and die as water passes through the soil. Therefore, it is important to maintain adequate separation (filtration) distances between the potential pollutant and the water source.

Color

Color is a pollutant not often considered. Water can be stained by animal manure or soil, giving it a brown or reddish appearance. The color may not pose an immediate water quality problem, but many alarm people using the water resource for recreation or water supply. In either case, there is a cost associated with removing the color by the water treatment plant, and thorough decreased recreational activity.

Get To Know Your Farm

By getting to know your farm better, Ohio farmers can help protect the waterways and streams on and near our farms.

Determine the Depth to Groundwater

Knowing the depth to groundwater will determine how sensitive it is to contamination. If you do not have records on how deep a well is, check with a local well driller. Well drillers often keep logs on the depth of wells and their locations. Also, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water maintains well log information and can provide general estimates on the depth to groundwater in your area. Additionally, your local OSU Extension office will have fact sheets on groundwater.

Determine the Predominant Soil Types and their Characteristics

Does rainwater on your farm percolate quickly to groundwater aquifers, allowing little time for filtering of pollutants? County soil surveys are available through the local soil and water conservation office. The reports provide maps that indicate soil types and interpretations for how the soils will perform for different land uses such as construction, septic systems and others.

Sample Well Water

Sampling well water will provide assurance that the water supply is free from contaminants. Sampling for nitrates and bacteria is the most common type of testing, and more extensive testing for various contaminants can be performed. Many private and public laboratories can conduct a water analysis. You must get specific sampling guidelines and materials from the lab before you begin the process. Some general guidelines include the following:

  • Use a clean glass bottle. Today’s technology is very sensitive and can pick up small amounts of contaminants that may have been in the sampling bottles.
  • Take a uniform sample. Take samples from wells that you or your animals are using for drinking water. Allow the water to run for several minutes before taking a sample.
  • Provide proper information and shipping. It is best to refrigerate the sample if it cannot be shipped immediately. Also, use a rapid form of shipping. Provide at least the date of sampling and what you want the lab to sample for (i.e., nitrates, bacteria, etc.)

There are several labs throughout Ohio that will test private water supplies for bacteria. Also, county health departments may offer a water testing service. Please refer to the Resource Directory for the listing of those approved by the Ohio Department of Health.

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Manure / Nutrient Management and Storage

On individual farms, manure can be a wealth or a waste depending on the ability to recycle the nutrients found in animal manure.

Maximum Nutrient Efficiency

Manure application rates are based on the nutrients present in the manure at the highest level in terms of crop needs. In most cases, this is phosphorus. Manure should be applied at a rate that will meet the crop and soil requirements for phosphorous. Phosphate applications in excess of crop needs may be desired if soil test levels need to be raised to optimize crop production. Only a soil test will tell you if this is warranted. If needed, additional nitrogen and potassium can be supplied with commercial fertilizers. This strategy is least likely to cause undesirable environmental effects and makes the most use of all nutrients in manure.

Maximum Application Rate

The maximum application rate is calculated as the rate that does not exceed the nitrogen needs of the crop. However, this strategy has the potential to cause environmental issues. This strategy maximizes the rate of applications, and will typically over apply phosphorus and potassium. A manure application strategy based on crop nitrogen requirements will almost always lead to an accumulation of soil phosphorus, especially with repeated applications.

A variation of these two systems will most often be employed. That is, a maximum application rate (nitrogen based system) will likely provide enough phosphorus and potassium for the next several crop rotations. Using a modified strategy a maximum manure application rate may be used for year one to meet the nitrogen needs of a corn crop, and only supplemental nitrogen fertilizer will be applied for the next several years while excess soil phosphorus and or potassium levels are drawn down.

Manure, Nutrients and Water

Natural fertilizers have been used extensively to increase crop production. However, if not managed properly, the nutrients can end up in ground and surface waters, which can negatively impact water.

Ammonia (Nitrogen)

If conditions are right, the effects of ammonia, on fish, in a stream can be recognized within a few minutes.

The toxicity of ammonia to fish depends on three factors: pH, water temperature, and oxygen content.

  • The higher the pH of the water, the smaller the amount of ammonia needed to kill fish.
  • The higher the temperature of the water, the smaller the amount of ammonia needed to kill fish. Because of the temperature factor, ammonia discharged into a stream that may not kill fish in the winter could result in a fish kill in the summer.
  • In addition, the lower the dissolved oxygen content of the water, the smaller the amount of ammonia needed to kill fish.

Organic Matter

Organic matter discharged to streams may kill fish. However, the effect is slower than with ammonia. As organic matter is broken down the oxygen in the water is used up.

The rate at which a stream can recover from a discharge of organic matter depends on its total water volume, flow rate, turbulence, and water temperature.

  • Large streams can accept more organic matter without adverse effects than small streams can because of dilution.
  • Rapidly flowing, turbulent streams can recover faster from a discharge of organic matter because of re-aeration as the water moves downstream.
  • The effect of adding organic matter to cold water is less than warm water, because cold water can hold more oxygen. Also, decomposition of organic matter is slower at colder temperatures.

Phosphorus

The major damage or effect is most often noticed once the nutrients reach a stagnant portion of the stream, lake or pond. The plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus do a good job of growing plants both on land and in water. Lakes rich in nutrients are called eutrophic (take up oxygen) and are green with algae and aquatic plants. The result is oxygen being depleted from the water as plants die and begin to decompose.

Bacteria and Other Organisms

Bacteria from livestock manure rarely cause health problems for people or animals. However, disease-causing organisms may be present in the manure from an infected animal. Fortunately, disease-causing organisms typically do not thrive well in the soil or water and re generally filtered out and die as water passes through the soil. Therefore, it is important to maintain adequate separation (filtration) distances between the potential pollutant and the water source.

Color

Color is a pollutant not often considered. Water can be stained by animal manure or soil, giving it a brown or reddish appearance. The color may not pose an immediate water quality problem, but many alarm people using the water resource for recreation or water supply. In either case, there is a cost associated with removing the color by the water treatment plant, and thorough decreased recreational activity.

Developing a Manure Nutrient Management Plan

In order to maximize the value of manure it may be helpful to contact a private nutrient management consultant, your local Ohio State University (OSU) Extension agent, or soil and water conservation district (SWCD) office. Regardless, a basic manure nutrient management plan will address the following areas:

  • Fields to receive manure should be soil tested routinely for available nutrients.
  • It is recommended that manure be analyzed for total nitrogen, ammonia nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other secondary and trace nutrients.
  • Determine the nutrients needed for each field based upon current soil nutrient levels and cropping practices and realistic yield goals based on the productivity of the soil and historic yield data.
  • Develop a manure nutrient application plan for your farm, schedule when, where, and how much manure will be spread. Calculate the remaining crop nutrient needs that will be meet through the application of commercial fertilizer.
  • Develop a record keeping system that will document all of your manure nutrient management activities.

What Is in a Manure Nutrient Application Plan?

Good record keeping is critical to the success of a farm operation and of manure management. A nutrient management plan should include at least the following:

  • Farm and field maps (if possible, aerial photos) showing acreage, crops, soil types, and environmentally sensitive areas, such as water bodies, sinkholes, Karst areas, or wetlands.
  • Realistic yield expectations for the crops to be grown on individual fields
  • Manure nutrient test (optional) from each storage structure (where applicable)
  • Soil test information including pH, phosphorus, potassium, cation exchange capacity, calcium and magnesium and organic matter for each field
  • Manure application rates (gallons/acre or tons/acre) for each field
  • Application rates are based upon: (a) soil nutrient levels; (b) manure nutrient levels; (c) crop needs; (d) previous crops, especially legumes; (e) commercial fertilizer applied; (f) environmentally sensitive areas; (g) presence of subsurface drains or tile and; (h) soil conditions
  • Application records – method of application, amount, dates, and climatic conditions when manure was applied
  • Other sources of nutrients including nitrogen contribution from legumes, commercial fertilizers, or municipal biosolids
  • Records of calibration and operation of manure and fertilizer application equipment.

Soil Testing

Laboratory analysis of soils, or soil testing, is a way to determine the nutrients available for growing crops. Below are best practices – from sampling tools to plant tissue analysis.

Sampling Tools

Several different tools, such as an auger, soil sampling probe, or spade, may be used. Sample tubes or augers should either be made of stainless steel or be chrome-plated. If a pail is used to collect the soil, it should be plastic to avoid contamination from trace elements (like zinc). Most soil testing laboratories will provide sample bags that have been tested for contaminants to ensure accurate test results.

Sample Preparation

A subsample should be one to 10 cups of soil, taken from a well-mixed composite from 10 to 20 random locations in the field. Mix the various cores or slices together in a clean plastic container and take a subsample to be put into the sample bag. It is advisable to air-dry extremely wet samples before they are bagged. Identify the sample bags with name, sample number, and field number, which should correspond with identification on sample information sheet.

Sample Area

The area to be sampled should generally not be more than 25 acres. Soils that differ in soil type, appearance, crop growth, or past treatment should be sampled separately. Additionally, farmers should avoid small areas that are not representative of the field, such as dead furrows, end rows, or poorly drained areas. The sample area should also be away from, roads, lanes and fencerows.

Plant Tissue Analysis

Use of plant tissue analysis in conjunction with soil testing allows for a more thorough monitoring of nutrient use by plants. Soil analysis indicates the relative availability of nutrients in the soil for crop use, and plant analysis provides an indication of the nutrients that are actually used by the plants. In addition to this information, it is important to consider other factors that may be preventing proper nutrient uptake (compaction, pH, etc.). By using both of these processes, the farmer can have a better idea of how efficiently manure is used by the plant. Your crop consultant or county extension agent can assist you with your specific plant tissue analysis needs.

Manure Sampling

A laboratory analysis is one way to determine the nutrient value of manure. The analyses should include, at a minimum, the moisture content, ammonium nitrogen, total nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium concentrations in the manure.

To get the best possible results from the analysis, it is necessary to have proper mixing of the manure material and sampling. A considerable amount of variation in the analysis can be expected if the sample is not properly obtained.

For liquid manure, the manure pit should be agitated to obtain a well-mixed sample. Sometimes, the most accurate samples are those obtained directly from the application equipment while spreading or applying the manure. Follow lab collection procedures to ensure proper sampling, but in most cases place the sample in a quart-size plastic container with a screw-on lid and tighten and keep on ice or refrigerated.

For solid manure, sample several areas of the manure source. Place the samples in a plastic bag and seal it. Preserve the sample by freezing or refrigerating and ship the sample in an insulated container using the fastest shipping method practical.

Considerations for Setting Realistic Crop Yield Goals

With any crop management system, realistic yield goals should be the baseline of management decisions. Because manure is a nutrient source, its value must be evaluated similar to other nutrient sources. When setting crop system goals, Ohio farmers should consider the following:

  • What is the nutrient value of the manure that is going to be applied?
  • How much manure is available for crop production?
  • What is the total land area available?
  • What type of crop rotation is available, and what is the fertility contribution from the crops in the rotation (soybean, alfalfa, etc.)?
  • What are the historical yields?
  • What factors have prevented maximum economic yield in the past?
  • What is the baseline soil fertility level (i. e., soil test levels)?
  • Can the desired yield goal be maintained with current soil fertility levels?
  • What is the most limiting soil nutrient factor? For example, pH, low P levels, critical soil nutrient ratios, other

Historic harvest records, crop consultant, OSU Extension agent, local SWCD office or fertilizer dealer can help you to identify realistic yield goals for your particular operation.

Environmental Factors Affecting the Application of Manure

There are many environmental considerations for applying manure to the land, including the following factors:

  • Soil texture: the amount of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter influences the binding potential of the soil to hold nutrients from leaching.
  • Soil erosion potential: nutrients that are bound to soil can move into water.
  • Depth to groundwater: the closer groundwater is to the soil surface, the greater the potential for contamination from various land use activities.
  • Amount of precipitation: greater amounts of rain increase the potential for leaching and runoff of soluble nutrients such as ammonia nitrogen.
  • Temperature: higher temperatures increase volatilization of some manure nutrients into the air (especially ammonia nitrogen).
  • Wind direction: direction of the wind influences when and where manure applications should be made where neighbors are a consideration.
  • Manure storage system: capacity and type of system influences the amount of nutrients available; in general, systems such as anaerobic lagoons considerably reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in the treated manure.
  • Manure application method: application influences the amount of odor and susceptibility to nutrient loss by volatilization, leaching, or runoff.
  • Crops grown: different crops have varying nutrient needs and rates of nutrient uptake.

Additionally, many Ohio farmers embrace the principles of the “4R Nutrient Stewardship” program to help define the right source, rate, time and place for nutrient application. The 4R Nutrient Stewardship program requires the implementation of best management practices to optimize the efficiency of fertilizer use.

For more information, visit http://www.nutrientstewardship.com/4rs.

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Odor Management / Air Quality

Odors from farms are an issue of concern for many communities and livestock farmers. Since rural development continues, it is more essential than ever for Ohio’s livestock farming community to find adequate solutions to minimize odors.

Ohio livestock and poultry farmers help protect air quality by properly managing manure and maintaining clean farms. Below is more information about the factors impacting both odor and dust concerns attributed to air quality.

Understanding Air Quality and Odor

Odors and gases are emitted from livestock and poultry farms as by-products of the microbial decomposition of manure and other compounds. Anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition of organic matter by microorganisms generate odorous compounds. Metabolic processes within the gastrointestinal tract of livestock also generate some of the odorous compounds. More than 160 of these compounds have been identified as contributors to odor on livestock farms and are often identified as: ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, mecaptans, fatty acids and amines. Because of the vast number of compounds contributing to odor, their individual contribution under various conditions is not yet clear.

On many animal operations, odor is likely to be an issue of concern for farmers and the general public. When people detect a smell they find offensive, they assume there is an environmental problem.

Sources of Odor & Dust

There are three primary sources where odors are generated on the farm:

  1. Buildings that include animals and dust
  2. Manure storage
  3. Spreading/application of manure and or wastewater

Feedlots and livestock barns should be cleaned frequently and be well bedded. As manure begins to decompose, odor compounds are released into the air. Also, keep animals clean and dry. Animals provide a warm, moist environment conducive to odor production; keeping them clean and dry reduces this problem.

Additionally, dust has been found to be one of the major contributors of odor. Dust particles can absorb odor compounds and are readily transported long distances on air currents leaving animal housing buildings. Regular cleaning of the building and fans can control dust. Also, feeding pellet-style feeds or feeds with oil/fats added to them can reduce dust.

To maintain a clean farm, cut the grass and any weeds around the production area to reduce sites for dust collection.

Manure storage facilities can affect the amount of odor released into the air. Odors produced from an under-building deep-pit type of storage unit can be very intense. However, these compounds are not readily picked-up by air currents because of the pit being covered. An earthen storage structure can also produce intense odors. These compounds are more likely to volatilization because of their exposure to the elements. Even dry manure can cause odor problems if it is not managed correctly. Dry stacks should be removed frequently and kept from getting wet as much as possible. If it is allowed to become too wet, it will become anaerobic and also provide a breeding place for flies.

Special care should always be taken in locating storage facilities. It is best to locate them down wind and as far away from residences as possible, and out of sight of local traffic and neighbors.

Application of manure is usually the number-one cause of odor complaints. This is because the manure is being spread over a large surface area releasing odor compounds into the air. A low-pressure application close to the ground will help reduce odors being transported by the wind. The use of injection equipment or incorporation immediately after application will also reduce odors and reduce the loss of valuable nitrogen (ammonia) into the atmosphere.

Odor Reduction Strategies

Make sure your manure storage is adequate, and designed to meet the needs of your operation. Odor complaints can be minimized by proper site selection. Below are a few best practices to consider:

    • Minimize odor-causing compounds by covering manure storage structures or using additives to help minimize the smell.
    • Limit the amount of moisture entering solid manure storage systems. Limiting moisture reduces the manure breakdown process. Generally, manure needs to be less than 40 percent moisture to reduce these processes. Redirect clean rainwater away from the manure storage area.
    • Keep animals clean and dry.
    • If lagoons are used, they should not be overloaded. Handling systems should be located as far as possible from neighbors. Landscaping, particularly windbreaks, can also be used to reduce the perception of smell and possibly block and redirect wind movement of odor and dust.
    • Use proper manure handling and application practices. Be aware of wind conditions and locations of sensitive areas. Afternoon applications are more desirable than evening applications because manure dries more quickly and rising air currents distribute odors upward. Incorporation or injection into the soil can also reduce odor.

Additional odor reduction techniques include the following:

  • Nutritional Techniques: Anything you can do to increase the feed utilization by the animal, such as adjusting feeders to reduce feed spillage reducing excess nitrogen or phosphorus in the diet, will reduce the amount of nutrient being excreted in the manure or spilled into the manure storage facility.
  • Physical Treatment: Manure can be treated to reduce the intensity of odor. One method is physical treatment, which includes manure separators, bio-filters, injection application, and windbreaks.
  • Biological Treatment of manure involves the use of microbes that help in the breakdown of manure nutrients into less offensive odor compounds. Examples include anaerobic digesters/lagoons, aerated lagoons, and air scrubbers!
  • Chemical Treatment: Review the information regarding these treatments prior to utilizing them to ensure their performance and results.

Air Quality Considerations

Good management and safety considerations need to be used to ensure that manure storage facilities do not become hazardous. The major concerns are toxic gases that can be produced as the result of anaerobic decomposition of manure. These gases include:

Ammonia (NH3) is released during manure storage and decomposition. NH3 is generated because inefficient conversion of feed nitrogen to animal products resulted in excess N excretion in the urine of pigs and cattle and in the uric acid produced by poultry. Ammonia has a sharp pungent odor easily detectable by most individuals at 5 to 18 ppm (parts per million).

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a part of natural air, is odorless, and is a byproduct of animal and microbial respiration. CO2 concentration in a well ventilated swine confinement building may be 2000 ppm, about 7 times the normal atmospheric level of 300ppm.

Methane (CH4) is an odorless gas, produced by microbial degradation of organic matters under anaerobic conditions. The primary source of CH4 in livestock operations is from ruminant animals. In addition, CH4 emissions occur during anaerobic decomposition of manure and organic matter. Manure management affects the generation of CH4 significantly. Liquid anaerobic systems tend to produce more CH4 than aerobic systems. High temperature and moist anaerobic conditions also promote CH4 production.

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a colorless gas, heavier than air, highly soluble in water. Hydrogen sulfide is classified as an irritant at sub-lethal levels, the least detectable odor occurs at 0.01 to 0.7 ppm. An offensive odor is detectable at 3 to 5 ppm with eye irritation at 10 ppm. Irritation to mucous membranes and lungs occurs at 20 ppm. Olfactory-nerve paralysis occurs at 150 ppm, followed by headaches, dizziness and nervous system depression at 200 ppm. Nausea, excitement, insomnia and death may occur after 30 minutes of exposure at 500 to 600 ppm. It is rapidly fatal at 700 to 2000 ppm.

Farmers and their employees have become ill or died due to asphyxiation from entering manure storage facilities. Health risks from deadly manure gases can be reduced by:

  • Using proper ventilation when agitating and pumping manure from confined storage.
  • Leaving at least one foot of air space between the manure level and the bottom of a slotted floor in a under building pit system.
  • Using a pit recharge system. Pit recharge uses a valve that is opened to drain the manure out of the pit approximately once a week. Immediately after the pit is emptied, the valve is closed, and about 12 inches of treatment lagoon water or fresh water is added back to the pit. The extra water adequately liquefies the manure to reduce solids and gas buildup.
  • Monitoring ventilation systems. The purpose of ventilation is to provide satisfactory air for breathing, to control room temperature in mild weather, to provide for animal comfort in hot weather, and to remove gases, odor, and moisture produced by the breathing of animals during cold weather. Ventilation safeguards the health and welfare of both animals and caretakers.

To avoid potential fatalities or illnesses:

  • Post all confined spaces with Keep Out signs and other placards that alert employees and families to potential dangers;
  • Do not enter confined spaces without a self-contained breathing apparatus and/or proper safety equipment and training on the use of this equipment; and
  • Educate local emergency officials about these facilities and conditions that may cause potential problems.
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Pest Control

The majority of Ohio livestock and poultry farmers implement pest control measures on our farms to minimize insects and rodents.

For large livestock farms, the Insect and Rodent Control Plan is required in order to minimize the presence and negative effects of insects and rodents at the farm and in surrounding areas, including land on which the manure may be stockpiled or applied.

The Insect and Rodent Control Plan includes an integrated pest management narrative; pest monitoring and control methods; maintenance activities; equipment and other devices for pest control and maintenance; storing, stockpiling and land applying manure; emergency pest control procedures; and operating record requirements.

For more information, visit the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s website.

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Mortality Disposal

Ohio livestock and poultry farmers should follow best management practices for disposing of deceased animals at all times.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which regulates the disposal of dead animal carcasses, approves five disposal methods, including:

  • Burning – Burning dead poultry and small animals is biologically the safest disposal method. The incinerator should be sited in a convenient location that will avoid potential problems and be downwind of livestock housing, farm residences and neighbors. Owners or operators are encouraged to contact the Ohio EPA for information regarding incineration.
  • Burial – Burial involves excavating a grave or pit, filling the bulk of the excavation with dead animals, and then covering them with soil until the grave or pit is filled. Where regulations allow burial, there are generally strict siting requirements. Common siting requirements include locating the burial where it will not create an actual or potential public health hazard.
  • Composting – Composting is similar to the process of natural decomposition except that it is enhanced and accelerated by mixing organic waste with other ingredients in a manner that optimizes microbial growth. Owners or operators are encouraged to contact their local Ohio State University Extension or Soil and Water Conservation District for information.
  • Rendering – The use of rendering services recycles the nutrients contained in dead animals. Proper biosecurity measures must be utilized to minimize the spread of disease from farm to farm by rendering plant vehicles and personnel. If animals are rendered they should be transported within 24 hours of their death. An area must be designated outside the perimeter of the facility for pick-up by rendering personnel. The owner or operator is encouraged to contact the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
  • Sanitary Landfill – Sanitary landfills are engineered burial facilities for disposal of solid waste. Disposal of dead poultry and/or animals in a sanitary landfill is permitted in some areas. Some incinerators and off-farm composting operations may require permits with the Ohio EPA. Check with the Ohio Department of Agriculture before beginning these disposal programs. An OSU Extension certification course is required to be completed prior to using the composting option.

Mortality composting has real merit as a practical and effective on-farm recycling method. There are several different versions of composters available, but all must be managed to achieve the following goals:

  • Be practically odorless.
  • Operate at a temperature high enough to destroy pathogenic bacteria (130-150 degrees F. for five continuous days).
  • Provide for complete decomposition of carcasses (including feathers and bones).
  • Protect the compost area from vermin and other scavengers.

Some Ohio farmers use a storage and treatment shed that has primary and secondary composting bins, and ample room for temporary storage of broiler and turkey litter. These facilities allow ready access to the storage and compost bins. Materials can be added or removed as often as necessary for their effective treatment and land application.

Application rates, calibration and timing, and record keeping for composting should be handled similar to manure. OSU Extension and local soil and water conservation offices can provide information on composting as well as other disposal methods.

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Grazing Management

Grazing management is one of the most powerful tools to maximize gain with the available resources. Improving grazing management will result in more grass cover and improved soil structure that will allow a higher percentage of the rainfall to infiltrate the soil, where it can be used for plant growth, rather than running off resulting in soil erosion and sedimentation problems.

The environmental benefits of a well-managed pasture include:

  • Reduced soil erosion;
  • Improved air and water quality;
  • Better plant diversity, vigor and production; and
  • Improved fish and wildlife habitat.

Additionally, water quality improves as the pasture vegetation becomes denser and the soil conditions improve. Studies reveal that pastures are the best “crop” for reducing runoff, erosion and phosphorus pollution over any other land use. Pasture soils are a terrific biological filter to recover nutrients passing through the soil. Grass roots are active nearly year-round and thus can recover nutrients efficiently from pasture soils that can leach from other land uses.

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Grazing Management Systems

Good management is the key to maintaining healthy, productive pastures. Management methods vary across farms based on the pasture characteristics and the farmer’s individual goals.

Continuous Grazing

Set stocked or continuous grazing is a system where the animals are maintained on a single pasture during the grazing season. This system allows the animals to selectively graze, unless the stocking rate is too high. If the animal numbers or the pasture size is not adjusted as pasture conditions change, this system will lead to some plants being overgrazed and others under grazed. Loss of desirable forage species, the invasion of weeds, erosion, and the uniform distribution of manure by the grazing animals are the management concerns.

Simple Rotational Grazing

Rotational grazing systems have multiple pastures. An example would be a four-pasture system in which the animals graze a pasture for seven to 10 days then are rotated to the next pasture. This system does allow for some rest period during the growing season for the plants. The actual length of the grazing time and rest periods depend on the size of the herd and the pasture and the weather. The pasture plants benefit from the rest with more growth and vigor, and animals gain from a more stable and nutritious forage supply. Manure is spread more uniformly by the grazing animals than in a continuous grazing system.

A well planned and operated grazing system:

  • Improves the vegetative cover, reducing erosion and improving water quality.
  • Increases harvest efficiency, forage utilization and helps ensure adequate forage throughout the grazing season.
  • Increases forage quality and production, which helps increase feed efficiency and can improve profits.
  • Distributes manure nutrients more evenly when rotated.

Management-Intensive Grazing

Management-intensive grazing differs from conventional grazing systems in that livestock are moved frequently among pasture divisions called paddocks or cells. The animals are moved based on forage quality and quantity and livestock nutritional needs. This system provides a rest or recovery period for the growing plant and the soil. This system does not need to be a labor-intensive system, but it is a management-intensive system. The frequency, intensity, timing and duration of grazing events, as well as the livestock stocking rate and the class of animals, will affect the ecosystem and the land management.

Best Management Practices

There are many best management practices that Ohio livestock and poultry farmers can implement on their farms.

Access Roads

Livestock lanes or access roads can aid in livestock movement or the transportation of livestock feed. Access roads that are properly planned will allow for livestock and vehicle movement. Livestock can be moved from paddock to paddock with lanes much easier than by moving through paddocks. Livestock will tend to stop moving when they enter a new paddock and start to graze even though you may want them to move on to a different paddock. Grassed lanes can be grazed with adjacent paddock. The locations of lanes should avoid potential erosion, concentrated water flow, wet areas, and flooding. Avoid placing lanes up and down hills in wetlands or on organic soils. Stabilized lanes can be prepared for heavy traffic areas, areas subject to erosion, or unstable areas with geotextile fabric, a suitable subgrade material, and fine material on top to protect the animals’ hooves.

Stream Crossings

A stream crossing will control animal and vehicles crossing the stream. It can also be used to control access point for livestock watering. Pastures with streams have areas where the animals have chosen spots to cross the stream. These areas are usually the best locations to construct the stream crossing. The animals choose these areas because of stable footing and ease of crossing. Improving the existing crossing with the livestock’s needs in mind will encourage the livestock use. Livestock avoid soft, muddy and rocky streambeds. They prefer a firm gravel bottom to walk on. They need to be able to see the bottom in order to use the area as a water source.

The primary component of a stream crossing is a heavy layer of gravel thick enough to support the animals. The size of the gravel affects how long the cattle spend in the crossing. Aggregate with about 1.50-inch diameter is large enough to keep the animals from loitering, but small enough to allow the animals access. The flow of the stream has to slow enough not to wash the aggregate away. Geotextile material can be used in streams with unstable streambeds. Stream crossings should be at least 10 feet wide. The ramps entering and exiting the channel should not be steeper than a 4:1 slope.

Livestock Stream Exclusion

One area of concern in grazing management is the impact of pasture management on streams within the pasture. Streams with continuously stocked and overgrazed pastures often have little vegetation on the banks and are wide, shallow and muddy. These types of pastures have an erosion concern and nutrient run off into the stream. Complete exclusion of the livestock from the stream seems to be the solution, but the winding nature of many of the streams, flood damage to the fence, and the need for livestock water make complete exclusion impractical.

There are other alternatives to fencing livestock out of streams. These include rotational and management-intensive grazing systems that provide alternative water sources. Cattle given a choice will drink from a spring-fed water trough 92 percent of the time compared to drinking from a stream. Providing an alternative source of good clean water in a trough and adequate forage will reduce stream bank erosion, sediment and sediment-bound pollutants, including nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal bacteria.

Coshocton Ohio Research on Stream Exclusion

Ohio has a research station where agriculture practices can be studied for their impact on soil erosion, surface water and groundwater quality. There is a greater infiltration of rainfall in pastures than in the wooded areas. When a fence is added to exclude livestock from the stream and water is provided from a trough, annual soil loss from the pasture was reduced from 70.4 tons on the 64 acres (1.1 tons per acre) to 38.4 tons (.6 tons per acre). This pasture includes slopes from 2 percent to 35 percent on soils that are predominantly silt-loam.

Livestock Use Area Protection

Livestock Use Area Protection are areas that are paved with asphalt or concrete or constructed with, and surfaced with, aggregate. These areas are designed to protect the pasture, soil, and water quality from being abused. Pastures can be trampled by the grazing animals during the spring or other extended wet periods. This trampling can lead to plant death or thinning of the stand. The resulting mud can reduce animal performance. Mud 4-8 inches deep will reduce gain by 14 percent and mud 8-24 inches deep will reduce gain by 25 percent. The damaged pastures are susceptible to soil erosion. Runoff from damaged pastures can degrade surface waters with sediment and manure. Excessive soil compaction will reduce rain infiltration and plant growth.

Livestock heavy use areas or pads should be located outside the flood plains. If the pad is located close to a watercourse, runoff and manure from the pad should be managed to protect the stream from pollution. These areas should be located at least 300 feet away from neighboring residences and away from wells. A manure management system should be designed to handle any accumulated manure on the pad.

Winter Feeding Options

Winter feed costs are the largest single expense in most livestock grazing production systems. Extending the grazing to reduce the cost of feeding stored feed will greatly increase profits. In addition, labor can be reduced 25 percent or more depending on the feeding option used. Rotational grazing takes about three hours per acre per year as opposed to hay production, which takes seven hours per acre per year.

The first step is to evaluate the potential, available and existing feed. Crop residue is the least expensive and most abundant winter feed. Corn, soybean and small grain residue and small grain and hay aftermath can all be utilized. Corn stalks can maintain a spring calving cow in good body condition for about 60 days after corn harvest. The feed value will decline quickly after the 60-day period.

Cattle will select and eat grain, then husks and leaves, and last cobs and stalks. Strip grazing increases utilization, rations the feed, and reduces the need for supplementation. The crop fields should be grazed so that adequate residue remains soil erosion control. The summer growth after harvest of small grain fields and fall growth of hay fields can be utilized in a winter grazing system.

After crop residues, stockpiled grasses are the least expensive feed option. Stockpiled perennial grasses can be grazed in the late fall/early winter. The general recommendation is to clip or make hay in the field during the end of July, and apply 30 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. High-producing, clean, well-drained fescue and orchard grass meadows would be a good choice. Let the forage grow until you need it. Strip grazing will also increase utilization.

Winter annual forage crops can be used to provide grazing. They have a higher cost of production because there is seed, fertilizing and planting cost associated with growing the crop. Winter cereal rye is the most winter-hardy and will produce the most dry matter production with both fall and spring growth. Oats will generally winter-kill but will provide the highest yield in the fall with excellent quality and palatability even after killed.

Brassicas are easy to establish, fast-growing, high-yielding, and high-quality and can withstand cold temperatures. Turnips can reach maximum quality in as little as 60 days. The tops can tolerate temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and the bulbs down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Cows and sheep will eat both the tops and bulbs.

Grazing and presetting round bales prior to feeding can reduce trampling and extend the grazing season. Setting rounds 20 feet on center in the fall when the weather is fit and moving a temporary electric fence to feed them reduces winter feeding time. Hay should be fed away from drainage ways and near livestock watering sources. Feeding hay in low fertility areas will improve the fertility and future pasture quality.

Site Selection for Winter Feeding Areas

Care needs to be taken when deciding which areas of the farm are to be utilized as winter pastures or feeding areas. Soil erosion, damage to plants, soil compaction, excessive buildup of nutrients in the soil, and poor animal performance or health are all potential issues if outdoor winter feeding is poorly planned.

Click here to read factors you should consider when deciding if outdoor wintering will work on your farm.

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Facility Management

Farmers who are in the planning stages of developing or modifying a Concentrated Animal Feed Facility (CAFF) are required to obtain a Permit to Install (PTI) license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The license helps assure the proposed building, its facilities and location will adequately support such an operation.

The second step in the process of operating a CAFF in Ohio is to obtain a Permit to Operate (PTO) license from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. This permit helps assure the proposed facility has developed appropriate best management plans in the areas of manure management, insect and rodent control, animal mortality and emergency response.

There are many factors to consider when planning new construction or modifying existing livestock facilities – from location to site drainage and manure utilization options.

Considerations for New Construction

There are several factors that should be considered when planning new livestock facilities. Some of these include:

  • Taking water and soil samples to determine baseline information before you build. Well monitoring or regular water well testing is recommended. A soil evaluation by a professional soil scientist should be performed before storage or lagoon structures are built.
  • Thoroughly evaluating the impacts of the facility on the environment, including ground and surface water resources and wildlife habitat, as well as surrounding neighbors and communities. Access to the manure-handling facility is also important. Good planning allows the facility to be loaded and unloaded in a convenient manner, but limits access by visitors or farm animals.
  • Evaluating the site drainage, topography, hydrology, geology and possibility of future development. Also, consider any natural buffers, such as wetlands or woodlots.
  • Evaluating manure utilization options and soil types.
  • Determining manure storage setbacks. This distance depends on the size and type of manure storage structure, proximity to neighbors and local regulations. As a minimum, do not locate manure storage structures within 100 feet of any well used for human consumption.

Considerations for Improving Current Facilities

Most farmers would change something about their operation if it were economically feasible. The change may be as major as the location of a building or as minor as the direction a door opens.

Regardless, there are some environmental sound facility management considerations for current facilities, including:

  • Appearance of the operation. How a facility looks has a large impact on what people think and their perceptions of odor.
  • Cleanliness of the operation. Having a clean facility improves herd health, reduces odor, and makes management easier. Dead carcass disposal is critical for good sanitation and the impression it makes on the neighbors.
  • Maintenance. Having a routine building maintenance program helps reduce environmental mishaps and keeps the farmstead looking attractive.
  • Record keeping. Having a manure management record keeping system lets you monitor manure analysis, soil fertility levels, dates of nutrient application, and location of nutrient application.
  • Water use and drainage. Understanding the locations of surface waters, drainage patterns, soil types and tile lines will reduce the chance that surface and groundwater will become impacted.

Silage Storage Management

Silage is grass that has been compacted and stored in airtight conditions, typically in a silo, without first being dried, and used as animal feed in the winter. Silage can be made from any number of feedstock, including whole plants, grains, processors wastes (e.g. sweet corn processing) and other materials that provide needed nutrient(s).

Controlling Silage Leachate

Silage leachate is an environmental concern if it is not managed properly. There are many potential environmental impacts that occur from the leachate generated during the fermentation process. Silage leachate is the liquid runoff from silage piles in upright structures, such as a silo. Leachate is an organic liquid that is the result of pressure in the silo or the presence of excess water.

Silage leachate can impact profitability through increased feed costs. Valuable nutrients are lost with silo effluent, which may have to be replaced with other sources. In addition, silage leachate or effluent generally has a pH of about 4, which is very corrosive and can deteriorate various components of the silo and feeding system.

Environmentally, silage leachate contains high concentrations of plant sugars and soluble proteins (nutrients), which make it an ideal media for growing microorganisms. These rapidly growing organisms require large quantities of oxygen to grow and develop. This demand for oxygen is measured as the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), and is the ability of a substance to reduce the available oxygen in a water sample. BOD can be viewed as a measure of biological “food” available in a sample. The more food available, the greater the biological activity and the more oxygen needed before the food source is depleted. The term BOD5 is simply the quantity of oxygen demanded by these microorganisms over a five-day period.

When silage leachate gets into the surface water it causes a reduction in oxygen available. Silage leachate can require between 12,000 – 90,000 mg of oxygen per liter, which is about 10 times that of septage found in a typical residential septic tank, which has a BOD5 requirement of about 7,000 mg of oxygen per liter (Bulletin 854). The high concentrations of BOD, acid and ammonia in silage leachate will cause foul odors, vegetation burning, and fish kills.

How to minimize silage effluent

The quantity of silage effluent generated each year is directly related to the moisture level of the harvested crop. Effluent from bunker silos is virtually eliminated when the crop is harvested below 70 percent moisture.

For upright or tower silos, effluent is produced more slowly, but at greater quantities compared with bunker silos because of the pressure generated from overlaying silage. Greater pressure exists at lower levels in the silo. Most effluent production occurs at the bottom of the upright silo, with little or no production from the top 10 feet or so. A layer of wet forage at the bottom of the silo will yield effluent, but the same layer near the top will not produce effluent. Thus, moisture content of the forage going in the bottom of the upright silo is most critical.

Silo location

To minimize the risk of well contamination, silos should be located as far away as practically possible from drinking water wells — upright silos should be located at least 100 feet down slope and bunker silos located 500 feet down slope. All surface water should be draining away from the water well into a vegetative cover. These factors will minimize the risk of contaminating a groundwater well from silage leachate.

Silo design and construction

Silos built today are generally made from concrete (horizontal and vertical), steel with a glass-liner (vertical) or are a single-use temporary type of storage (plastic). Generally, oxygen-limiting silos can store feedstuffs at a lower moisture level, which translates into little or no effluent generated and a lower risk of contaminating water resources. However, it is possible for leachate to leak out of these types of structures as well. Maintain the liners of these structures to minimize air and water movement is critical for feed quality and leachate control.

Many bunk silos are built into the ground in a cut and fill operation on a side hill. This is done to reduce the cost of supporting the sides of the bunk and to facilitate loading by dumping incoming silage. By being in the ground, drainage is often needed to intercept ground water. If drainage is not provided there is a potential for the ground water flow to mix with the silage in the bunk and add to the effluent. Bunk silos built on flat land often include a drainage system under the concrete floor. Caution should be used with these drainage systems as leachate can easily enter these drainage systems and contaminate clean water being diverted away from the leachate treatment system.

Bunker or trench silos may affect groundwater, especially in coarse soils and sites close to the water table. Properly compacted clay liners and concrete floors will limit leachate seepage. Check floors and aprons periodically for cracks, make sure covers fit tight to minimize rainwater infiltration. Many operations utilizing temporary storage systems, such as silo bags, which typically store forages at high moisture levels. Liquids can accumulate in these bags and leak out when opened or through puncture to the bag from rodents and movement of equipment.

Silo Maintenance

Routine inspection and maintenance of any silo is critical. Well maintained structures are less of a risk to the environment and maximize feed quality.

Leachate collection and disposal

The easiest way to dispose of silage effluent is incorporate it into the manure handling system. This will dilute the leachate to acceptable levels. The nutrients are recycled and the potential to pollute is reduced. However, the addition of silage effluent can increase the available energy of the manure in storage. Do not add effluent to storage tanks, reception pits or sumps located inside livestock buildings; other enclosed spaces; or any covered underground manure storage. The leachate may cause an increase in biological activity and gas production that may result in objectionable odors or even dangerous gases (hydrogen sulfide) in an enclosed area. However, most open-air manure storage structures will not be affected by the addition of silage leachate. Safety measures need to be installed and observed to prevent injury to people (and animals).

Collecting all the runoff from a bunker silo is not practical because of the volume of water generated by rainfall runoff. The low flow generated by leachate production should be collected and stored in a temporary storage structure or piped to a liquid manure storage facility. However, high volume, low concentration runoff should bypass the leachate collection system and be diverted into a grassed filter area, grassed waterway, or constructed wetland to protect the environment and reduce leachate storage requirements. A general rule of thumb is that silage leachate storage facilities be designed to accommodate one cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of leachate for each ton of storage. If feedstuffs have a moisture level greater than 80% larger quantities of leachate can be expected.

Feedlot Management

Feedlot runoff control systems are important practices for collecting, storing and treating livestock manure and feed wastes to reduce runoff and water pollution. Controlling runoff from feedlots and other livestock facilities helps prevent excess nutrients from reaching rivers and waterways.

Preventing pollution from feedlot runoff can be achieved through maintaining distance from the well to considering site characteristics and creating a clean water diversion and implementing a runoff control system.

Distance from Well

Wells should be located in an elevated area above the livestock yard to avoid runoff and ponding in the vicinity of the wellhead. With good farmstead planning, livestock facilities would be 300-400 feet from the house. Since the well is often near the house, it is likely that there would be more than 200 feet between the well and the livestock yard.

Site Characteristics

Consider soil characteristics when siting a livestock yard. Important soil characteristics include surface and subsoil texture, soil depth, permeability, and drainage class. The best site has a deep, well-drained silt loam/clay loam soil with low permeability. A very poor site has shallow soil, a high water table, or a very sandy/gravelly soil with excessive drainage and high permeability.

Clean Water Diversion

One way of reducing water pollution from livestock yards is to reduce the amount of clean water entering the area. Below are common facilities for diverting clean water away from the yard. In all cases, these structures need to be maintained.

  • Waterways, small terraces, and roof gutters direct water away from livestock yards.
  • An earthen ridge or terrace can be constructed across the slope upgrade from a livestock yard to prevent runoff from entering the yard.
  • If a diversion terrace is not practical, a catch basin with a tile outlet could be installed above the livestock yard.

Runoff Control Systems

Livestock yards typically have an earthen surface that has been compacted by animal traffic. The soil is sometimes dry and sometimes muddy. Manure typically accumulates on the surface, and decaying manure is mixed into the soil by foot traffic.

Water running off concrete pads and water from roofs and upslope areas can flush manure from the yard and create mud holes.

This type of facility is difficult to manage, and the absence of runoff controls may lead to water quality problems. Contaminated runoff from an active feedlot that accumulates in areas adjacent to the lot may flow through the soil and threaten groundwater quality. This risk is particularly high on sites with high infiltration and percolation rates, such as sandy soils.

Runoff control systems can help remedy problem situations. These systems collect livestock contaminated yard runoff, settle out manure solids, and direct the remaining water to vegetative filter strips, and away from streams, ditches, waterways, and areas of permeable soils and creviced bedrock. Clean water is diverted away from the system to avoid contamination and further treatment. Another option is to collect and store contaminated open lot runoff for later land application.

Yard Cleaning or Scraping

Proper management of livestock yards helps reduce potential contamination of surface and ground water. Livestock yards should be cleaned regularly, preferably, once a week. Heavy concentrations of animals may require more frequent cleaning. Concrete surfaces are easier to clean than earthen lots. Earthen yards are difficult to clean when wet, and tend to accumulate more solids than is desirable.

The surface of an earthen feedlot is actually a series of layers due to density differences. The top manure layer is 40-60 pounds per cubic foot, while the compacted manure/soil layer immediately below has density of 60-100 pounds per cubic foot. Compacted layers of manure and soil can provide an effective seal. Careful removal of the upper, partially decomposed manure in unpaved lots is a critical step in groundwater protection. Before scraping, consider using a screwdriver (or other device) to determine the depth to the hard layer. Push until you feel resistance. Repeat the test several locations throughout the pen and use these measurements as a guide to control the depth of scraping, and actually scrape an inch or two above the hard layer to maintain the soil/manure layer as well. The entire pen does not always have to be scraped. Much of the manure falls within about 50 feet of the feedbunk.

Reducing manure wetness and feedlot ponding is an important aspect of groundwater protection and odor control. Manure accumulation beneath fence lines can impound water. Fill any low areas via scraping to reduce the potential for ponding. Ideally, pens should be scraped prior to wet weather to help maintain a firm manure pack and prevent ponding.

Concentration of Animals and Type of Yard Surface

In addition to the condition of your livestock yards, your farm animal manure management plan should consider manure storage and utilization.

The amount of manure on a livestock yard depends on the number of animals and the time spent on the lot. The amount of concrete surface area needed is much less than that required for an earthen lot.

The amount of concrete area needed will balance traffic on the open lot and the resting area provided for animals. Too large an area (concrete resting) results in manure freezing to the surface for long periods and unnecessary expense, while too small an area will result in dirty animals that have difficulty moving around. Heavy-use pads constructed of geotextile material and gravel can be used as an economical way to help stabilize the surface of open feedlots.

A combination of yard surfaces can offer the most flexibility in adapting to weather conditions. The type of surface also affects management. Earthen yards, for example, may be cleaned only once or twice per year. If bedrock is close to the surface where your livestock yard is located, pave the surface with concrete or totally confine the livestock.

Abandoned Livestock Yards

With active feedlots or yards, the layer of organic matter mixed with soil at the surface lies over compacted subsurface soil, forming a layer through which water moves very slowly. Therefore, leaching of nitrate and bacteria through the surface seal and compacted layers is not likely within the feedlot or livestock yard. Studies have found little nitrate in the soil of active feedlots. Nevertheless, abandoned yards can pose a particular groundwater contamination risk. As the compacted soil layer breaks up from lack of use, water can leach through and reach the groundwater.

If you have a permanently abandoned yard, spread the manure, work up and remove the compacted soil, and refill the former yard with other material. Another option is to till and plant the yard to a high-nitrogen-using crop, such as reed canary grass which will use the nitrogen released by soil and the manure decomposition process. Remove manure from a feedlot that will not be used for an extended period. Otherwise, cracks developing in the subsoil may allow leaching of nitrates.

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Emergency Management Planning

The potential impact of an incident or emergency on the farm can be significant. Ohio livestock farm owners should develop emergency plans to help protect employees, animals, property damage and the environment.

Communication between the farm owner, supervisors and employees generates ideas and awareness that leads to accident prevention and quick response if an emergency occurs. Additionally, education programs, response plans, and regular inspections are essential links in maintaining a safe, accident-free operation.

Emergency Action Plan

An emergency action plan is a basic, yet thorough, common-sense plan that will help you make the right decision during an emergency. Emergency action plans are needed to minimize the environmental impact of manure spills, discharges, or mishaps. In several states, these plans are required to be developed and maintained on all livestock and poultry operations, especially those with liquid manure management systems.

According to Don Jones and Alan Sutton of, Purdue University and Charles Gould of Michigan State University there are 4 Cs to an Emergency Action Plan.

The Emergency Action Plan should be readily available to and understood by all farm employees. The main points of the Emergency Action Plan along with the relevant phone numbers should be posted by all telephones at the site. A copy should also be available in remote locations and in the glove compartment of vehicles. An Emergency Action Plan should cover potential manure discharges, high animal death loss, silage leachate, and if livestock, manure or feed create a road hazard.

The 4 Cs of a Spill

Control the source

  • Stop manure application or pumps
  • Close valves
  • Separate pipes, creating an air gap and stopping flow due to siphoning
  • Transfer manure liquid to another basin, lagoon or tank
  • Plug holes, or shut off the water in case of a waterline break

Contain the spill

  • Build containment dam in field, ditch or stream. Check for tile flows
  • Limit the area impacted
  • Construct a temporary holding basin down slope from the release
  • Use absorbent material such as sawdust to absorb the release
  • If accessible, place soil over the point of seepage

Comply with reporting requirements

  • Did the release reach any surface waters, streams, well casings or other sensitive areas?
  • You must immediately report manure spills on public roads (county sheriff) and those that threaten surface waters (state environmental management agency)
  • For other spills, prepare a summary report for your files to document your actions

Clean up – assess and restore the affected area

  • Collect spilled manure and spread or return to storage
  • Aerate the stream to provide oxygen to aquatics and minimize further kills
  • Restore damaged area
  • Prepare a summary report

For a sample Emergency Action Plan, click here. During an accident or emergency, all farms should reference the Who to Call contact list.

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