July 17, 2017, Ames, IA – You might wonder what dry weather and feedlot runoff would have in common. On the one hand, the recent spell of hot, dry summer weather has caused expanding areas of moderate drought and excessively dry soils in Iowa and Nebraska. But this spell of dry conditions also makes for an excellent time to maintain your feedlot runoff control system.

Extended dry periods create the perfect opportunity to remove settled solids from your settling basin or other areas where manure solids collect during runoff events. Whether it’s a settling basin, a settling bench or terrace, or even the bottom end of feedlot pens, now is a great time to get out there with the loader, box scraper, or other equipment to remove those accumulated solids and dress up the area for the runoff that is sure to return. Land apply those solids if you have application areas available now, or stockpile them in a controlled area if they need to wait until after harvest for application. Make sure the stockpile area is either within the runoff control boundaries for your feedlot, or in an area that is protected from runoff and water flow when it rains. High and dry is the short description of a good stockpile location.

While you’re removing separated solids, be sure to check the liquid outlet from the settling area. If you’re using a picket dam or perforated riser to control the outflow, make sure the openings are clean and in good condition. Remember, the purpose of the controlled outlet is to hold liquid in the settling area until solids can settle, and then slowly drain the settled effluent off to an area where it can soak into the ground. Too much opening can let liquids through before solids can settle. Plugged openings can prevent dewatering and drying of the solids to a consistency you can handle.

While you’re tending to the settled solids removal, take the opportunity to evaluate the other parts of the system as well. Check the clean water diversion portions: rain gutters on buildings, clean water diversion terraces, and clean water tile drains. Then check your runoff controls beyond the settling area. If you pump your effluent to an application area, check the pump, controls and piping. If you let gravity do the work, follow the flow path down the hill from your settling area and see where it ends. If it ends on flat ground in a pasture, field, or treatment area, you’ll see a few more manure solids that settle and accumulate there, with no eroded gully beyond. If it ends in a waterway, ditch or stream, your manure could be causing negative impacts and putting your operation in regulatory and financial risk.

Assessment tools and advice are available in print, online, and from experts who can help. Check out the resource links on the Small Feedlot & Dairy Operations website or contact your industry representatives or an Iowa State University Extension dairy, beef, or engineering field specialist. Kits are even available from selected County ISU Extension offices to help you test water quality.

Managing manure runoff centers around more effectively collecting and storing manure, reducing the amount of clean water that mixes with manure, and capturing runoff so manure nutrients can be held and used as fertilizer. The good news is that each of these practices generates additional fertilizer value for your farm at the same time it lowers your risk exposure. So seize the opportunity to maintain your system and take some positive steps to put your manure where it pays.

June 20, 2017, Edmonton, Alta – The Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) is seeking nominations for the 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award (ESA).

The ESA recognizes cattle producers whose natural resource stewardship practices contribute to the environment and enhance productivity and profitability. The ABP are asking producers to take this opportunity to share the unique environmental practices employed on their operation and to present the positive story about cattle producers' contribution to the environment.

Nomination forms are available on the ABP website, from the ABP office or from any local delegate. All cattle producers are encouraged to either enter or nominate another producer who is taking strides towards sound environmental production practices.

A team of judges made up of ABP delegates, the 2017 ESA winner and an industry associate will review the submissions and tour the nominated ranching operations. Each applicant will be scored on predetermined criteria unique to the practices they implement in their business.

The winner will receive a commemorative gate sign, a video highlighting their ranching operation and an all-expenses paid trip from anywhere in Alberta to the 2017 ABP Annual General Meeting in Calgary, where the award will be presented at a formal banquet. The competition is open to all cattle producers. Deadline for nominations is July 15, 2017, and the winner will be announced December 2017.

Contact the Alberta Beef Producers at 403-451-1183.

April 11, 2017, Dixon, IL — Taking safety precautions is vital for cattlemen working with barns that have pit manure storage.

“There are many good reasons for using liquid manure systems,” said Ted Funk, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois. READ MORE

March 13, 2017 – Steve Eickert, of Andover, Iowa, is planning ahead to ensure safety for employees, pumping contractors and himself a few weeks from now when work gets underway to transfer and apply 1.2 million gallons of manure stored in the pit under his cattle confinement building.

Eickert is among several livestock feeders and commercial applicators working together to improve safety and increase awareness of deadly hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas released during manure handling. READ MORE

March 2, 2017 – Over the past three years, Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and the Intensive Livestock Working Group (an alliance of eight of Alberta livestock and poultry organizations) have been collaborating to build a simple, personalized farm management decision-support tool designed to help manage phosphorus run-off.

The Alberta Phosphorus Management Tool, expected to be available in late spring, is a free, Excel-based tool for assessing phosphorus run-off risk. The tool will also provide producers with management solutions that include both a relative cost and environmental efficacy ranking. READ MORE

February 2, 2017 – Hydrogen sulfide gas is a serious issue both in and around barns with liquid manure storage.

The decomposition of organic matter in manure results in the release of several gases: ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane and hydrogen sulfide among them. Most of the time these gases are emitted at low levels, but any time manure is being agitated or pumped, or the surface is disturbed, hydrogen sulfide can be rapidly released. READ MORE


Wood chip pads were already part of the Irish, British and New Zealand waste management scene, but it wasn’t until Tom Basden – an extension specialist with West Virginia University – noticed many beef producers were having winter time pasture issues, that the system was introduced to the U.S.

In the mid-Atlantic, there are many small to medium farms (50 to 200 head) that are pasture-based, cow-calf operations. The cows go out to pasture spring through fall, but when they are brought back into the barnyard to be confined for the winter, environmental issues arise, leading to potential regulatory issues. But, if the farmers were to put the animals back in their pastures it would create damage to the fields.

“There were a number of issues, both from a production standpoint and from an environmental and regulation standpoint,” says Joshua Faulkner, farming and climate change co-ordinator at the University of Vermont. “Tom noticed that in Ireland, Scotland and the U.K., they were using what they call ‘wood chip out-wintering areas’ – which we’ve shortened to wood chip pads – for managing cattle in the winter time. Then after a little more research, we found these are actually used in New Zealand too. Instead of a concrete barnyard, they have a wood chip barnyard on small to medium size dairies.”

The West Virginia University Extension Service decided to build two wood chip pads, based on information gathered from Ireland. One was constructed on a private farm and the second at the West Virginia University animal science research farm. Later, when Faulkner left West Virginia University to take a position at the University of Vermont, he continued the work on the project, having three more wood chip pads installed, including one at a buffalo farm in New Hampshire.

The construction of all the sites was similar to the one constructed in Ohio County, West Virginia, which was approximately 80-feet by 80-feet and next to a feeding barn. It was excavated to a depth of roughly 20-inches with the subgrade having a 0.5 percent slope to the west. Broad parallel ridges crossing the width of the area were formed into the subgrade of roughly 10-foot intervals to encourage drainage into perforated drainage pipe, also placed at 10-foot intervals between the ridges.

The subgrade and drainage pipes were covered by a layer of drainage stone (maximum one foot in depth). The drainage system directed effluent away from the heavy-use area via gravity to a holding tank, which was buried to prevent freezing.  (In some of the other sites, the effluent to drained to grass filter strips.)

A mixture of regional hardwood species were chipped and placed on the drainage stone (about 10-inches thick) to provide a trafficable, durable, and well-drained surface.

“The first one we built was directly adjacent to a roofed winter feeding barn,” says Faulkner. “Then the second one is the biggest by far and it’s on the university research farm, which is a dairy farm, but it’s all dry cows and heifers.”

These first two pads have been in operation for about five years. The newer pads were built further north, and Faulkner and his team are still waiting to see the results after they have gone through a hard winter, with sub-freezing temperatures for weeks.

But there are plenty of findings being collected from the mid-Atlantic wood chip pads.

“The biggest advantages we’ve seen are those compared to concrete,” says Faulkner. “With these, we see about half of the runoff with wood chips compared to concrete because the wood chips tend to soak up the water. As the water evaporates, the chips become dry and sponge like and will soak up the next rainstorm and evaporate it. With concrete, everything runs off.”

Also, the effluent that drains off wood chip pads is weaker than the effluent that drains off concrete slabs.

“Most of the phosphorous and nitrogen seem to stay in the manure solids and stay in the wood chips, so you kind of capture it that way, and you get this really diluted wastewater.”

In some cases, the runoff is collected and then used on the fields later or directed to a grass filter strip.

“The phosphorous [in the waste water] doesn’t seem to be high enough that we have to worry about it building up in the soil like you would with stronger wastewater,” says Faulkner.  

He also sees the wood chip pads as a good possible fit for small dairies that already have storage structures for runoff in place.

The chips that have absorbed the nutrients are also a key piece of the system’s value.

“Our recommendation is that at the end of the winter, just after you’ve released cattle back on the pastures, when pastures are ready for grazing, you scrape off the top two or three inches of the wood chips. Those chips should have most of the manure,” says Faulkner. “The chips can then be composted through the summer and then spread and used as a fertilizer on your fields. Then top dress with another couple two or three inches of wood chips before you stock it again – in the fall before you go into your next winter season.”

There hasn’t been much testing on the quality of wood chip compost, but Faulkner says from what data he has seen it’s a fine source of fertilizer.

“It’s not like a straight manure because it does have the wood chips in it. So, it takes longer to compost. And, you also want to make sure it composts long enough that you’ve broken down the wood chips before application on your hay field.”

Faulkner and his team are already seeing keen interest by farmers in the wood chip pads, in part because of their resistance to concrete.

“Concrete is fairly permanent, and farmers are concerned about general cow comfort. The wood chip pads have been documented to lead to higher weight gain in beef cattle, and it just seems to be better for animal health and comfort.”

Faulkner has seen the cattle’s reaction firsthand.

“At the farm in Ohio County, WV, where we first installed, and the gates were open, so the cattle could leave the wood chip pad whenever they wanted. They would just be hanging out on there, lying down. It wasn’t muddy like the rest of the field. It wasn’t slick and wet. It was just really nice, well-drained, comfortable, and firm.”

There are other reasons the wood chip pad might be a good alternative to concrete. Besides animal comfort, muck doesn’t build on top and require continual scraping, like it does with concrete. Instead the manure works its way into the chips.

The wood chip pad is also much less expensive to install.

“Based upon the two West Virginia systems, we saw that a wood chip pad would cost about $163 a cow, and a concrete about $463 per cow,” says Faulkner. “You do have the cost of replacing wood chips every year to top dress it, but I think there’s reduced management cost because you’re not scraping the concrete every few days with a wood chip.”

Faulkner and his team also think there is a value in raising livestock outside. He says studies from the U.K. have shown that unless it’s bitter cold or extremely wet, cattle are perfectly adjusted to being out in the weather and the farmer can avoid air quality issues and potential respiratory problems.

Some farmers, however, are concerned that if they move from an all-pasture system to a wood chip pad system, they could be exposing themselves to environmental regulations that they are currently exempt from.

“That’s true,” says Faulkner. “Some farmers would rather damage their pastures than risk some sort of environmental consequence. And I understand that. But we feel like the wood chip pad is healthy for the animals and if it’s constructed, designed, and managed well there’s no risk.”

In fact, during spring 2016 in Vermont, the state actually helped cost share and pay for the wood chip pad.

“Its was paid with environmental conservation funds and the only stipulation was that we needed to capture the wastewater – all the drainage water needed to into a small holding pond instead of sending it to a vegetated grass buffer strip,” says Faulkner. “It did raise the cost of the project, but they paid for most of it, so it worked out pretty well.”

Faulkner and his team are pleased with the ongoing support of the West Virginia and Vermont Extension Services, and will continue to look for funding to continue the studies.

“Top of the list will be an in-depth economic analysis and to also look at animal comfort, and try to quantify those,” says Faulkner. “But even without additional research dollars, we’re doing outreach, and workshops at our extension system, both in Vermont and West Virginia and just generate interest. And we will assist with design for any farmer who is interested.”

Faulkner would love to see many more wood chip pads being built around the country.

“I’d love to see farmers start to transition away from concrete as the only options, and start to consider these types of barnyards for winter ‘heavy use’ areas.”





Forget about cleaning cattle pens. An Ohio feedlot owner has taken the approach of housing his herd in a well-ventilated barn on slatted concrete floors. Manure collects in pits below the cattle pens, with the partially enclosed barn offering the cattle shelter from the elements.

Rom Hastings – co-owner of Hastings Farms General Partnership, along with his wife, Jodi, and son, Cody – says he doesn’t need to clean the barn except to pump out the collection pits below the concrete slatted floor once a year. The movement of the cattle within the pens propels the manure through the slats.

“As far as a slatted floor and manure collection pit operation, that is kind of unique for this area,” says Hastings. “At the time that the barn was built, it was probably state-of-the-art in the county … the cattle sleep and stand on those concrete slabs and the slabs have never been scraped since the barn was built, no power washing, nothing.”

Nor is there is any bedding used in the barn pens, which Hastings says is what he appreciates most about the barn enclosure. There is no need to handle and haul bedding out of the facility with this management system. And because the barn is well-ventilated, there is no requirement for fans or fly control. Also, in terms of potential accumulation of frozen manure on the floor in cold weather, Hastings says it has to be zero degrees for several days before he notices any accumulation.

A technical review of slatted concrete flooring suppliers shows that today, there are a number of suppliers aiming their products primarily at the hog and dairy industries, however, there is little or no mention of the beef cattle industry. For its time, it appears that this manure management method adopted by the Hastings for raising beef cattle was definitely breaking new ground.

The barn enclosure was designed by Hastings’ father and the landlord who owned the farm back in the early 1980s, with the expressed purpose of having a facility big enough to house a fairly large herd but with the need for minimal effort to manage the manure. At the time, Hastings, his father, and the landlord were partners in the cattle business, with Rom purchasing the farm in the early 1990s, eventually setting up a partnership with his wife and son.

The building design came about from investigating other barn enclosures as well as working with experts at Ohio State University (OSU).

The structure cost about $1 million to build in the early 1980s. Hastings says to build the same structure today, depending on the approach and who builds it, he estimates that it could be built for about $1.5 million.

When people think of raising cattle, they often picture places like Alberta or Texas. But Hastings says the part of Ohio where he is located has a long history of cattle farming, although like so many other branches of agriculture, cattle businesses have had to get bigger to survive. Hastings Farms is probably the largest beef cattle endeavor left in their county, with many smaller operations having shut down.

The approach of raising cattle in an enclosure with a manure collection system below the floor is markedly different from places like Texas, where large cattle herds sometimes numbering in the thousands are typically raised in open pens in feedlots. The accumulated and packed manure is scraped out and usually land applied as needed. Hastings says his approach of providing an enclosure offers his cattle herd with protection both winter and summer in an area that really needs it. The Ashville, Ohio, area where the farm is located typically accumulates about 25 inches of snow per year. Ashville is about 15 miles south of the state capital of Columbus.

“In the summer time, the barn offers protection from the heat and in the winter time its protection from the elements,” he says.

Feeding the cattle is also easier. Storage silos were constructed right next to the enclosure and in addition to the cattle, the barn roof protects an alleyway that is wide enough to accommodate a tractor and mixer wagon used to fill the concrete feeding bunks daily.

Currently, Hastings Farms manages a cow-calf operation essentially for breeding stock consisting of two herds with 30 head of cattle per herd raised on pasture – one being on rotational grazing and one not. The maturing calves from this operation are raised in the barn enclosure. The farm also purchases 300 yearlings annually that it raises within the barn. They consist of about 90 percent Black Baldy cattle, the rest being some Herefords and cross Charolais. Each yearling comes in at about 800 lbs and they feed them to 1,350 lbs. The cow-calf herd on pasture are a Black Angus cross breed.

Hastings says he purchases the yearlings from beef cattle farmers who don’t have the land base to grow the food necessary to raise their cattle to full maturity. He does have that capability.

Hastings Farms also manages a large, no-till, cash crop business on 4,300 acres of corn and soybeans, and about 200 acres of winter wheat. Of that cropland, the farm owns 1,600 acres, with the rest rented. All the feed used in the cattle operation is grown on the farm, and the manure pumped from the barn collection pits is applied and rotated typically on a four-year rotation as organic fertilizer on Hastings cropland.

The all-wood barn structure which houses the yearlings and maturing calves from the breeding herd measures 60-feet wide by 300-feet long. It is enclosed on three sides with the south side of the barn left open. The north side is walled in and windows installed about five feet above ground. Where the north sidewall meets the roof, there is about an 18-inch space for good ventilation from the rising manure fumes. The roof is metal and insulated to control how much the enclosure heats up in summertime. Inside the barn, there are eight pens. Each pen, measuring 30-feet by 36-feet is capable of housing 40 head of cattle, meaning that there typically are about 320 head of cattle in the barn at a time. An alleyway runs along the front of the pens so that feeding equipment can drive into the barn to deposit feed into concrete bunks placed in front of each pen.

The cattle in the pens stand on concrete slats, with the manure they generate dropping into 10-foot deep pits below each pen. There are a total of four pits below the entire cattle pen space, with each pit collecting manure from two pens.

The concrete slats – manufactured by United Precast Industries located in Mount Vernon, Ohio – are replaceable, and fit together in segments. Each segment measures 4-feet by 10-feet and there are 216 concrete slabs in the entire structure. Hastings says they went about 28 years before having to replace some of the concrete slabs, and that was only because the edges on some of the slabs were starting to chip off, making it harder for the cattle to walk on. Since the barn was built, they have replaced about 25 slabs.

There is spacing on each concrete segment of about 1.5-inches for the manure to fall through. Although beef cattle are hooved and can sometimes become nervous about certain types of materials beneath their feet, which is why Texas gates are so effective, Rom says that the cattle in his barn don’t react nervously walking on the slatted concrete floor. However, he is careful about how mature the animals are before he houses them in the barn to avoid the potential of younger cattle catching their hooves in the openings.

“The slatted floor is flat,” says Hastings. “The only thing is that the cattle need to be 500 lbs or bigger to be housed in there. You don’t want any small, weak calves in this facility because the smaller animals tend to have more hoof damage.”

Once a year, Hastings uses a Houle agitating pump to mix and remove the manure from each pit and load it into a 5,300-gallon Houle tank for land application. There is no water added to the manure collected in the pits, which have a capacity to collect manure for an entire year before needing to be cleaned.

The pits are pumped out either in July or September, with the manure surface applied either on harvested hay or wheat crops. Hastings says luckily the farm is still allowed to surface apply the manure in his county without incorporation because his farmland is generally flat, with not a lot of concern about potential surface runoff. The entire process of pumping out the pits and land applying the manure only takes about 40 hours, or four 10-hour days.

The manure is land applied at 4,000 to 5,000 gallons per acre on a four-year rotation. The manure feeds about 100 acres per year.

“On farms where the manure is surface applied, I’d say that it cuts down my fertilizer costs by 30 percent or more,” says Hastings.

The organic fertilizer is supplemented with commercial fertilizer as needed, based on soil sampling conducted every 2.5 acres.

Over the 35-year history of the barn enclosure, it has proven its worth for manure management as well as providing a comfortable environment for the herd. Because the enclosure is properly ventilated, the cattle raised inside have experienced no health issues.




December 20, 2016, LaSalle, CO – The Heartland Biogas Project looks different from anything else you’d see in rural Weld County. The six white domed digesters stand out among oil and gas wells, farms and fields.

Ask any of the residents in the surrounding prairie and they’ll tell you there’s something rotten about the green energy plant: the smell. READ MORE

December 20, 2016, Lincoln, NE – Eight Nebraska Extension offices across the state will offer workshops in January and February providing livestock and crop farmers with information on how to turn manure nutrients into better crop yields while protecting the environment.

Livestock producers with livestock waste control facility permits received or renewed since April 1998 must be certified. READ MORE

December 6, 2016, Ames, IA – Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, in cooperation with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, will offer manure applicator certification workshops for dry/solid manure operators on six different dates and locations in February.

These workshops meet manure applicator certification requirements for both confinement site manure applicators and commercial manure applicators that primarily apply dry or solid manure.

“The information in this workshop will benefit tractor and dry manure spreader in field not only those needing certification, but anyone using dry or solid sources of manure as a nutrient resource,” says Dan Andersen, assistant professor in agriculture and biosystems engineering at Iowa State University and coordinator of the manure applicator certification program

The workshops are free to attend and open to all. Applicators will be required to submit certification forms and fees to the Iowa DNR to meet manure applicator certification requirements.

Please register for one of the workshops by calling the number listed with the selected site. All workshops begin at 1 p.m.

  • Feb. 7, Washington County, ISU Extension and Outreach office, Washington. Call 319-653-4811 to register.
  • Feb. 8, Wright County, Heartland Museum, Clarion. Call 515-532-3453 to register.
  • Feb. 15, Hamilton County, Kamrar Lions Community Building, Kamrar. Call 515-832-9597 to register.
  • Feb. 16, Sioux County, ISU Extension and Outreach office, Orange City. Call 712-737-4230 to register.
  • Feb. 21, Adair County, Warren Cultural Center, Greenfield. Call 641-743-8412 to register.
  • Feb. 22, Buena Vista County, ISU Extension and Outreach office, Storm Lake. Call 712-732-5056 to register.

November 9, 2016, Charleston, WV – Some water quality advocates think getting big industrial polluters to pay for farm runoff prevention projects is an innovative way to control water pollution. But critics of the Ohio River’s pollution credit trading system say it’s just another pay-to-pollute scheme.

There are about 55 cows and 10 pigs on Ken Merrick’s farm in eastern Ohio. It sits on a hillside above a creek that leads to the Tuscarawas River, a tributary of the Ohio River. It’s a part of the country Merrick is plenty familiar with. He grew up milking cows at his grandma’s place, which is right next door to the property he and his wife have farmed since 2005. READ MORE

October 12, 2016, Bismark, ND – I would like to look past harvest today and discuss manure application and valuation to give you something to ruminate on while sitting in the combine.

Rate of manure application will vary depending on crop nutrient needs, soil type, and the manure nutrient concentration and availability. READ MORE

August 12, 2016, Grand Island, NE – For years, JBS has struggled with the handling of waste material from its meatpacking plant in Grand Island. The paunch and waste have been used as fertilizer on area farm fields.

However, the application has often been met with complaints about odors, flies and spillage onto roads. Now, the company has proposed a 90-day test that looks promising. READ MORE

July 15, 2016, Fairfield County, OH – After years of hauling liquid manure from their Fairfield County beef operation, Robert and Andy Wolfinger decided they needed to do something different to spread their nutrients over more ground.

“We talked to our agronomist and he had a friend who had started composting. We went to see him and see what we had to do to get in the business. We had the manure and we had trouble getting enough places to haul it every year close enough to home,” Robert Wolfinger said. READ MORE

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