Manure Manager

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Safe manure handling vital

July 21, 2011  by Manure Manager

Pathogens in manure can cause health problems if the manure isn’t managed properly.
Pathogens in manure can cause health problems if the manure isn’t managed properly.

Anne Ehni, Wells County Soil Conservation District manager, demonstrates how to power wash a compost turner.
(Photo courtesy of Anne Ehni


Recent cases of people becoming ill in Europe from vegetables contaminated with human fecal matter remind producers that handling animal manure safely is important.

“Animal manures contain pathogens that can cause health issues in animals and humans if the manure isn’t managed properly,” says Chris Augustin, nutrient management specialist at North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center.


“However, the majority of manure management systems can reduce manure microbe concentrations in excess of 99 percent.”
Pathogens survive longer under wet conditions, and excess manure in a pen can dam water. Cleaning pens every few weeks improves pen drainage and reduces odor. Push-type blades can be used to clean pens; however, these blades can gouge a pen surface and reduce runoff efficiency. Pull-type scrapers seem to work the best and are less prone to damaging pen surfaces, Augustin says.

Pathogens in field-applied manure may run off into surface waters. Applying manure 100 feet or more away from surface water can prevent the spread of pathogens. Augustin recommends producers apply manure to fields used for vegetables and root crops in the fall to allow time for the pathogens to die before spring planting. Producers should use spring-applied manure on fields where they grow grains.

Composting manure is a speedy decomposition process. It not only reduces manure volume and odor, but also the temperatures the manure pile reaches during the composting process (in excess of 130° F) kill pathogens and weed seeds.

The pile needs to be turned three to five times during composting. The pile’s heating cycles usually last a week or more. Each cycle must last at least three days to kill pathogens effectively.

Manure spreaders, loaders and compost turners need to be cleaned and disinfected properly because they come in contact with livestock and manure, and they may harbor pathogens.

“Cleaning and removing material from the equipment is 90 percent of the job, while disinfecting is only 10 percent of the job,” Augustin says.

He recommends producers follow these steps:

  • Clean the equipment in a designated area away from livestock.
  • Remove organic matter because it can serve as an infection reservoir.
  • Power wash the equipment with hot water and detergent. Scrub tight areas with a stiff, hard-bristled brush.
  • Allow the equipment to dry before disinfecting it. Wet equipment can dilute the disinfectant.
  • Follow the instructions on the product label when disinfecting the equipment.
  • Properly wash clothing worn while handling animals because it can be contaminated with and transport pathogens. Washing clothes with detergent and drying them at 140° F will kill harmful pathogens.
  • Clean footwear with soap and water, and disinfect it. A mixture of five tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water works well for disinfecting footwear.

“Manure pathogens can cause health issues, but properly applying manure, cleaning equipment and cleaning pens greatly reduces these issues,” Augustin says. “These practices are all important to protect our food supply.”


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