Did you know that a 1000 lb. beef cow produces about 60 lb./day manure? And the same size horse produces 50 lb./day? That’s a lot of poo!
These numbers are approximate and depend on how much your animal eats. Manure can be a valuable resource but can also be a source of water pollution, odor, flies, parasites, and other nuisances. If not properly managed, manure can contaminate drinking water, harm wildlife, and reduce property values.
Mud and manure can cause abscesses, thrush, and other diseases in livestock. Dried manure produces molds that contribute to respiratory problems in horses and cattle. By adopting simple and low cost best management practices (BMPs) for storing, handling, managing and utilizing manure, the environment and health of farm animals will benefit.
Your manure management goals should be to utilize manure nutrients for the soil, protect the health and safety of people and livestock, and to prevent surface and ground-water contamination.
The following are Best Management Practices (BMPs) for manure management.
- Divert clean water away from manure. Construct berms, terraces or waterways, and/or use downspouts to divert clean water away from corrals and manure storage areas.
- Ensure manure discharge will not enter a water body or leave the property. Limit animal access to ponds, streams, ditches, and wetlands. Collect manure frequently. Stockpile manure at least 100 feet outside a floodplain. Do not stockpile manure in a dry creek bed or ditch.
- Protect ground-water. Locate manure storage piles and livestock corrals at least 150 feet down-gradient from wells. Use a 150 foot buffer around wells when applying manure.
- Reduce nuisances like flies and odor. Stockpile manure downwind from barns and 200 feet away from neighbors.
- Plant trees to reduce wind and odor from stockpiles. Keep a lid on manure dumpsters. Remove manure from corrals and pens every few days to prevent flies, parasites, and worms.
- Cover fresh manure in stockpiles with at least 5 inches of clean bedding, straw, or hay to prevent flies.
Animal owners have a responsibility to manage the manure that is a byproduct of their industry or hobby. Contract or donate compost to crop farmers, community landscapers, parks, neighborhood gardeners, and friends. Offer a discount to boarders if they dispose of manure.
Manure management in pastures depends on getting good distribution of manure across the pasture. To avoid concentration in spots, distribute grazing evenly. Rotational grazing using fencing to split pastures.
Manure is commonly stockpiled prior to use. Proper site selection for the storage area is important, to safeguard against surface and ground-water contamination. Construct a perimeter ditch or berm around the storage area, if needed, to prevent runoff onto or off of the area.
Composting produces a relatively dry end product easily handled and reduces the volume of the manure. Composting at proper temperature kills fly eggs and larvae, pathogens and weed seeds. Compost has less of an odor compared to raw manure and is more easily marketed. Composted manure acts as a slow release fertilizer and an excellent soil conditioner. Microbes that drive the composting process require optimum conditions of temperature, moisture, oxygen, and carbon:nitrogen (C:N) ratio. The addition of grass clippings, hay, or fertilizer can bring the C:N ratio into the optimum range.
When the ratio is correct, microbes work properly and compost temperature will be between 120 and 160 F. When the composting process is complete, the temperature will cool naturally. It is important to have the right balance of moisture and air for the microbes to process the manure. Aerate the compost by turning it regularly. The manure and bedding particles should be about one‐half inch to one and a half inches in size.
Record keeping is an essential factor in land application of manure/compost. It is critical to know how much was applied to each field and when it was applied. Analyze manure/compost regularly and record the lab results. Do not apply manure to land that is highly erodible, frozen or saturated. To protect water sources, do not spread manure within 150 feet of water source (such as a well, creek, or pond). Incorporate manure into the soil as soon as possible.
Incorporating manure (mixing the manure with the soil) immediately reduces losses of manure nutrients to runoff and volatilization, and reduces odor problems associated with manure left on the soil surface.
Base the manure/compost application rate on crop N needs and available soil and manure N levels. Test your soil and manure for N levels at a certified laboratory. In general, the higher a crop yield goal, the greater the N needs.
IT’S THE LAW!
You are responsible for managing manure to protect surface water and groundwater. Federal and state laws forbid discharging animal wastes into water.
*Featured Image courtesy NRCS.