Animal Housing
October 13, 2017, Indianapolis, IN – Indiana lawmakers will meet Oct. 19 to continue hearing testimony as they consider updating regulations on the state’s livestock feeding operations.

The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, which has members from both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly, has already met twice this fall to discuss industrial confined feeding programs. READ MORE
Published in State
October 12, 2017, Deschambault, Que – The Canadian government is prioritizing science and innovation and the competitiveness of the agriculture industry as a whole to create better business opportunities for producers and Canadians.

Funding was announced recently for two projects by the Centre de recherche en sciences animales de Deschambault (CRSAD), including $665,546 aimed at developing sustainable strategies for standardizing the manufacturing and use of recycled bedding in dairy production to improve the sector’s environmental performance without reducing the profitability of businesses, as well as to respond to consumer concerns.

With the funding, the CRSAD will be able to determine the best methods for manufacturing recycled bedding from manure and to make recommendations for the adoption of the best management methods, practices and technologies, with the welfare of animals and workers and the safety of products also taken into account. Dairy producers will be therefore able to reduce their operating costs and reuse or sell the energy produced by the biodigesters, which will provide farms with an additional income stream.

“The investment in research to improve livestock housing conditions in the dairy industry will enable Canadian producers to differentiate themselves, be more competitive, improve their businesses and, especially, enhance their living conditions and those of their livestock,” said Jean-Paul Laforest, president of the CRSAD.
Published in Dairy
September 18, 2017, Des Moines, IA – Iowa has about 5,000 more pig confinements and cattle lots across the state than originally believed, a report to the federal government last month shows.

That's nearly 50 percent more animal feeding operations than the state initially inventoried.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered the facilities through satellite imagery, used to complete a comprehensive survey required under a 2013 agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. READ MORE
Published in State
August 16, 2017, Des Moines, IA – The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical and financial assistance to eligible livestock producers to assist with manure and nutrient management from their operations.

This article provides updates of interest to producers and technical service providers who may be interested in or are pursuing assistance from NRCS.


  • Open feedlots are an inexpensive but potentially environmentally risky way to operate an animal feeding operation. IA NRCS offers potential incentives to producers to decommission/remove open lots and convert to a roofed, confinement operation. A recently published pamphlet: "Open Feedlot Management – Best Options" offers information regarding open lot to confinement conversion.
  • IA NRCS is in the process of updating the Waste Facility Storage-313 standard. This standard provides technical guidance for planning, design, and installation of agricultural waste containments. Some of the changes include: modification of structural design requirements to account for changes in accepted concrete and timber design, improvements in safety criteria, changing requirement of staff gauge from optional to required, and the addition of criteria specific to solid manure stacking facilities. Specific proposed changes include the removal of the IDNR Open Feedlot Effluent Alternatives for Open Feedlot Operations as an acceptable design alternative to meet NRCS requirements. Also, a minimum design period is being considered for storage facilities to better integrate animal waste systems with current management and cropping systems.
  • A recently published IA Instruction: "Requirements for Subsurface Geologic Investigations for Animal Waste Storage Facilities" provides requirements that apply to technical service providers and other non-NRCS engineers who are providing technical assistance for NRCS programs. Compliance with this instruction will help ensure geologic investigative requirements have been fulfilled as noted in the deliverables of the appropriate conservation practice statement of work.
  • Another instruction of interest for technical service providers for NRCS programs is the "Technical and Financial Assistance for an Animal Feeding Operation and the Associated Land Application of Manure Through a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP)." This document provides guidance for the specific procedures, roles and responsibilities, and administrative and technical checklists to be used when technical service providers are involved in the conservation planning process for animal feeding operations.
For more information regarding NRCS technical and financial assistance visit your local NRCS field office or visit the NRCS website.
Published in State
Horses tend to fall under the radar when we think of manure management, says Les Ober, certified crop advisor with Ohio State University Extension in Geauga County.

“That is until somebody makes a mistake and pollutes someone else’s water, or they offend their neighbors with flies or odor,” he says. “That’s when the neighbor calls up the water conservation district and says, ‘Hey, this guy is piling manure up and he isn’t doing anything with it.’ Most of the cases in our county, where the guys (inspectors) have been called out, have not been on dairy farms or livestock farms, they’ve been on horse farms.”

Ober’s county, just east of Cleveland, has the second-highest horse population in Ohio, and he has worked extensively with equine professionals. His clients generally have small farms, small lots, with a relatively small number of animals. He advises them on hay quality, pasture management, and manure and nutrient management.

In his work, he has found that there are some common problems in the industry.

“When I talk to horse owners, of course the first thing they’re looking at is a nice new arena, or increasing the number of stalls. But what are you going to do with the manure?” he asks. “You have to think of that problem before you move ahead or move horses into the stalls. You can’t just pile it up at the back door and hope it goes away. Manure is a problem, it can offend the neighbors and it can definitely compromise water quality.”

The two areas of environmental concern are the manure produced inside the stable, and also the manure that is produced outside.

“In our area we normally have guys with four or five acres trying to keep six horses. That’s bad business, you can’t do that, especially if you’ve got a boarding stable. You’ve got to turn them out year round. What are you going to do with those horses when you turn them out? If you’re lucky the ground will be frozen but most often it’s just covered with snow and you’re going to turn it into a quagmire.”

“Here’s two things you have to look at; first, the manure inside the stable. What are you going to do with that?” he asks.

Of the manure produced outside, “what about the water quality issues outside that barn?”

“The first thing we’re going to look at is grazing, which is the traditional pastime of horses. They are just like sheep. They will graze right to the ground. Eventually, they will graze it down till everything is gone and then they will go after the grass under the fences. That is when you know you have hungry horses,” he says.

“One thing you have to understand about horses is that they are pretty much like a conveyor belt – food goes in, poop comes out and it’s continuous. Horses graze 22 hours out of 24.”

Artificial measures can be taken to protect pastures from excessive erosion due to weather, grazing or turnout.

“It is part of the real solution to all weather turnout. This has been a real boon for the horse industry, it’s not cheap but it is definitely part of the solution,” Ober says.

He explains that they take a pasture area that has been cordoned off and make sure it drains well, tiling it as needed. Then they bring in geodesic cloth and put it down as a ground cover to provide some support and so gravel is not lost. Then they cover it, first with a very coarse limestone, working up to a very fine limestone cover.

“This creates a pad that the horses follow and that solves the turnout problem,” he says. “They don’t need to be out on pastures in the middle of December punching the pasture up, then there’s a good rain and all the manure and soil that’s out there washes into the creek. That’s a problem you’ll have to deal with.”

The choice of bedding can be another issue.

“The big problem is that the majority of that bedding that is choosen is sawdust and wood chips,” he says. “It takes too long to break down, so you’ll need more microbial activity and that will suck up all the available nitrogen in the soil to break down the carbon in the shavings and bedding and you’ll have stunted grass.”

Ober notes that nitrogen ratios for wood chips, sawdust bedding are 200 to 750 to one.

“For straw bedding it’s 50 to 150 to one, which is not too bad to have to break down,” he says.

“You need to source the right bedding; straw is about $4 per bale, shavings $4 to $8. Overall cost is going to be about $45 to $46 for straw and $35 to $40 for wood shavings. Another factor to consider is that cleaning sawdust and wood shavings out of a stall is labor intensive and expensive.”

Ober points to an OSU fact sheet on nitrogen enhancement and says that if you are going to haul manure on a daily basis, you will want to add about a half cup of ammonium sulfate into your wheelbarrow load.

“This should give you enough nitrogen to start that break down process,” he says. “I would like to see maybe half to a full cup added, and I will tell you that it does work very, very well.”

Another option that people have used is the dumpster.

“This is a popular way because people today just don’t know how to get rid of horse manure. In one situation there is one dumpster for six horses that is picked up and emptied every three weeks. That works out to about $3,000 per year. If you are boarding horses, you have to consider the $250 to $300 a month for manure. That’s a major cost.

“Many farmers are using this system simply because their backs are against the wall,” Ober says. “You will save money during the summer months (when turned out) as opposed to winter but this is still not a good system for dealing with manure.”

Composting is another solid option for manure.

“We don’t see it used that much but there are definite advantages,” he says.

Make a pile about three feet high and seven feet wide, and aim for the optimal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We want to maintain the moisture so that when you grab that material you feel the moisture. Too much water kills the bacterial action. You need to keep rotating the pile and aerating it. You will end up with a product that is very, very good and you’ll be able to save most of the nitrogen. If you bring it into a nitrate form it will not leave the ground as fast. This is another sound management tool.”

Ober explains that the reason composting is not yet popular in the horse industry is due to the carbon to nitrogen ratio.

“If you can get ahold of some other materials to get in there, some green materials, some other animal material, source all the green clippings or straw then bring it all together and bring it into a compost pile,” he says.

When it is done, the compost has been through a complete cycle and the product is very good and can be used in landscaping and throughout parks.

“The process kills pathogens, flies and bacteria,” Ober explains. “The difficulty is the high carbon to nitrogen ratios, and if you use just saw dust it could take up to two to three years to get that pile of compost down just right.

“We’re talking about horse manure. And, we can haul it to landfill sites or we can get it back out to the farm where it can do some good. It is a good product and full of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus.”

The first thing you have to do if spreading horse manure on the field is to take a soil test.


Published in Other
August 14, 2017, New Richland, MN - Hi-Way 30 Hogs proposes to double its swine facility located about four miles west of New Richland from 2,400 to 4,800 hogs.

Due to the proposed expansion, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is conducting an environmental review and is accepting comments through August 23.

The facility in Section 15 of Byron Township currently has one barn that holds up to 2,400 swine. Keith Schlaak of Hi-Way 30 Hogs proposes to build a second barn and double the size of the rural New Richland operation. READ MORE 
Published in Companies
August 9, 2017, Lake Mills, IA – Eric Christianson – a 30-year swine industry veterinarian who also operates a contract hog finishing site for Christensen Farms – has a unique perspective on the controversy brewing in nearby Worth County over the prospect of seven concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) being built.

Christianson, whose hog site is a $1.5 million operation with computers monitoring and regulating every phase of the operation, said he understands the concerns of the opponents in Worth County.

"But the science isn't there to validate their concerns," he said. READ MORE
Published in Swine
August 9, 2017, Kensett, IA – An organization calling itself Worth County Against CAFOs recently drew a crowd of about 60 at a meeting about the possible construction of several CAFOs throughout the county.

The CAFO opponents are hoping public pressure will lead to a moratorium on construction of CAFOs until Iowa’s Legislature can fix what the group alleges are “loopholes” in the state matrix that allows for easy approval of permits. READ MORE
Published in Swine
August 1, 2017, Ames, IA – Summer is here and it’s brought dry weather throughout much of the state. This type of weather is a great time to check over your manure management systems and make sure it will keep doing its job. A great place to start is with your manure storage. Fall application season is still a ways away, but a little planning now can make sure you have the flexibility to manage your manure like the fertilizer resource it is, and to make sure your storage will keep functioning for years to come.

Proper management and maintenance is necessary to prevent manure from overflowing or discharging from a storage system. Whether the manure storage is in an earthen tank, a slurry store, or a deep pit, the basic principles to maintaining and managing the storage structure are similar. In any case, frequent evaluation and preventative maintenance will significantly reduce your risk and keep your manure where you want it.
  1. Monitor the operating level of your manure storages. Have a staff gauge or a method for determining how much manure is already in your storage. Keeping track of how much manure is there can give insight into if you have enough capacity to make it to your next land application window. If you are worried you may run short this will give you an early opportunity to evaluate how you are going to handle the situation when your storage gets full. Monitoring the level can also alert you to if anything unexpected is occurring, for instance, your manure storage isn’t filling up or filling up really quickly because of a water leak or outside drainage water getting in.
  2. Visual structure inspection. A quick look over the storage can tell you a lot about how your structure is holding up – as you walk around, pay close attention to inlet points, connections, and where the sidewalls connect to the base. To make this easier make sure you are mowing around your storage and cutting down trees, watching for animal burrows, and making sure clean water is being diverted around your manure storage structure.
  3. Odor evaluation. I know odor can be a stink of a topic, but it’s something we have to deal with. Make it a part of your routine to go around your farm once a week and make a note of the odor intensity and what neighbors may be smelling. Unfortunately there usually are not easy fixes, but for those of you interested in learning more about potential odor options check out AMPAT.
  4. Safety check. We all recognize there are some safety challenges to working in and around manure storage systems. Take the time to review your safety protocols and update as needed. Taking the time to go over them will remind everyone that they are important and to protect us. While you are at it make sure to check any fences, escape ladders, and warning signs you have posted to make sure they are still in good shape, readable, and present.
  5. Clean water diversions. Minimizing outside water entering a manure storage helps keep nutrient concentrations higher making it an economic fertilizer for a farm to use. Check over the clean water diversions around your farm to make sure things like silage piles, mortality compost piles, and in-ground manure storage piles aren’t receiving water from other areas.
  6. Application equipment. Manure equipment lives a tough life, it gets used quick for a month and then put away. Take the time to check it over now before you need it again this fall and get that one last part that you’ve been meaning to fix.
Published in Storage
July 26, 2017, Des Moines, IA - As one of 12 legislators who drafted the bill in 2002 that created the Master Matrix, a current member of the Floyd County Board of Supervisors tasked with reviewing Master Matrix applications, and a lifelong Iowa farmer, I have a unique perspective on the Master Matrix, its failings and how it could be improved.

I support the recent petition presented by the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch because it is needed to restore balance to a system that has failed to adequately protect the rights of all Iowans, and certain precious natural resources unique to different counties, such as Karst topography in northeast Iowa.

The Master Matrix is a scoring system that awards points for livestock producers who adopt additional practices greater than the minimum required by state law.

Points are awarded for increasing the minimum separated distances between concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and churches, residences, public-use areas, and bodies of water. More restrictive manure management practices score additional points. The Master Matrix has a total of 44 questions that could result in a perfect score of 880 points, but only 440 points are required to get a passing grade.

The Department of Natural Resources' analysis of the Master Matrix shows that certain questions pertaining to separated distances are easy to score points on and nearly every application does.

Points are also awarded for practices, such as concrete manure storage structures, that are the industry standard. Other questions requiring air-quality monitoring, the installation of filters to reduce odors, demonstrating community support, implementing a worker safety and protection plan, or adopting an approved comprehensive nutrient management plan are almost never answered. READ MORE
Published in Regional
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.

Published in Beef
June 16, Winnipeg, Man. - The Manitoba Pork Council has been fighting the same battle for more than a decade.

In 2006, the provincial government issued a moratorium on hog barn construction, saying it was necessary because hog manure was polluting Lake Winnipeg. That message has stuck with the public, despite strict regulations around manure management and hog industry efforts to change the narrative.

The pork council plans to launch another information campaign this summer to try and make its case to urban Manitobans.

George Matheson, council chair and hog producer from Stonewall, said the organization would be buying ad space in Winnipeg. The promotion is needed because anti-livestock groups and journalists are spreading incorrect information about Manitoba's hog producers.

Matheson didn't specify which media but there have been many stories this spring, mostly in Winnipeg, suggesting the hog industry and its manure could endanger Lake Winnipeg. READ MORE
Published in Regulations
June 5, 2017, PA - Pennsylvania is offering a limited number of $1,000 grants to dairy farmers to help pay for the cost of developing plans to meet baseline agricultural compliance.

The grants can be used to offset some of the costs of preparing Nutrient Management, Manure Management and Agriculture Erosion and Sediment Control Plans. Time is of the essence, however, because grant money must be spent by June 30.

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), those with 1,000 or more animal units, already must have Nutrient Management Plans in order to operate. But all Pennsylvania livestock farms, regardless of size, must have Manure Management and Agriculture Erosion and Sediment Control plans.

In fact, the requirement for a Manure Management Plan has been on the books since 1972.

Having basic manure management plans in place has been an expectation for decades. However, inspections are now occurring in Pennsylvania. READ MORE
Published in Dairy
May 26, 2017, Raleigh, NC - Several university presentations at the 2017 Waste to Worth Conference featured research into ag-related uses for gypsum, including using recycled drywall for dairy barn bedding and livestock housing air filters, and applying gypsum in field buffer strips to reduce phosphorus runoff into streams.

Gypsum is a common mineral mostly used in the United States to make drywall for homes, offices and commercial construction, and worldwide for concrete in highways, bridges and buildings.

Synthetic gypsum (calcium sulfate hydrate) is a byproduct of the coal industry's process to clean emissions from coal boiler burners.

A main drawback found in the cattle bedding research was a very strong odor during waste hauling when urine-soaked drywall is replaced with fresh bedding.

Penn State University research has documented 50 percent reductions of unpleasant odor emissions when iron oxide (another waste byproduct of the coal industry) is combined with the recycled drywall in a final mix ratio of two parts iron oxide to one part gypsum to one part manure. READ MORE
Published in News
May 23, 2017, Saratoga, WI - The developers of the proposed Golden Sands Dairy in Saratoga have filed papers with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in hopes that justice will hear their case.

On Monday, the Wysocki Family of Companies submitted legal documents to overturn a recent decision by the Wisconsin District IV Court of Appeals that stated the farm would not be able to use more than 6,000 acres of nearby land for manure spreading or other agricultural purposes because of a local ordinance instituted by the town board.

The dairy wants to house 5,300 animals on the site, which would generate 55 million gallons of liquid manure and another 25,000 tons of solid waste each year. But neighbors are concerned that the manure would contaminate local drinking water and increase traffic on their local roads. READ MORE
Published in News
May 11, 2017, Madison County, OH – A new hog barn in Madison County has thousands of color-changing LED lights, sophisticated computer ventilation controls and an automated feeding system that can serve thousands of pigs with the flip of a switch, but it is what lies 10 feet beneath the 733-foot-long barn that is exciting.

Two large pipes jutting out of one end of the barn – the visible piece of a system called mass agitation – allow the farm team to pump 7,000 gallons of water a minute into the pit beneath the barn where the excretions of 5,000 or so pigs collect.

The water, which feeds through the two pipes and into other branches throughout the pit, stirs things up, which should make for better manure to spread on farm fields and also reduce the smell. READ MORE
Published in Manure Handling
May 5, 2017, Winnipeg, Man – An effort to automate the cleaning and disinfection of swine transport vehicles is about to move into the next phase.

A team of engineers and scientists, working on behalf of Swine Innovation Porc, is preparing to move into phase three of an initiative to adapt hydrovac technology to speed up and reduce the cost of washing and disinfecting swine transport trailers.

Dr. Terry Fonstad, a professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, explains swine transportation has been identified as the primary risk for transferring disease-causing pathogens.

Prairie Swine Centre is involved in doing a trailer inventory.

They went out and looked at all the trailers that are being used and then looked into both animal welfare and cleanability aspects of those trailers," Dr. Fonstad says. "PAMI is developing with us a cleaning system based on a concept of using vacuum and pressure washers."

"VIDO is working on the side of pathogen destruction and giving us the engineering parameters that we need to destroy pathogens and verification of that."

"Then, on the engineering side at the University, we're looking at measuring those parameters in the trailers to verify that we're meeting the conditions that'll destroy the pathogens," he says. "I think this is a bit unique for research in that it's industry led, industry driven."

"One thing that we did made sure that we put in is an advisory team that's everywhere from producers to veterinarians to people that actually wash the trucks and we get together every six months and have them actually guide the research," Dr. Fonstad adds. "I think that's been part of the success, is having that advisory team that's made up of that diverse group of people."

Dr Fonstad says a less labour-intensive prototype hydrovac system, which requires less water that cleans the trailers to a level that facilitates effective disinfection and pathogen deactivation using heat has been developed.

He says the next step is to automate or semi-automate the system.
Published in Equipment
May 5, 2017, Winnipeg, Man – On May 2, 2017, Manitoba's Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) confirmed positive test results for PEDv from a sow operation in southeast Manitoba.

The CVO has activated Manitoba Agriculture's Emergency Operation Centre to assist the affected producer and conduct a full disease investigation. Control measures were implemented immediately, and a plan has been developed for restricted site access, barn cleanup and animal care. Producers within a 5-km radius of the infected site have been alerted, and are monitoring their herds and collecting samples for testing. All swine veterinarians with producer clients in the region have been notified of the site's location so that those producers are aware of the disease potential.

Sharing of the site location information was made possible by the affected producer voluntarily providing permission to his herd veterinarian to share the information at his discretion with Manitoba Pork and other swine veterinarians through signing this Sharing of Information Waiver. Providing this permission through the waiver allows the CVO and Manitoba Pork to assist the producer in a more comprehensive and timely manner, while concurrently protecting the broader pork industry. Manitoba Pork urges all producers to sign the waiver with their veterinarian – and encourages all veterinarians to ask their clients to sign it and keep it on file – ahead of a disease outbreak.

With a new case of PED in Manitoba, producers should take this opportunity to review and further strengthen their biosecurity practices, paying particular attention to the following:
  • Ensure that the trailers you allow on your farm have been thoroughly washed, disinfected and dried.
  • Exercise extreme vigilance with trailers coming back from assembly yards (known hotbeds for all swine diseases) and other major collection points.
  • Ensure that people coming onto your site follow strict biosecurity guidelines, with only essential service people being allowed into the yard and preferably parking outside of it if possible.
  • For trailers returning from the U.S., request that a second wash and a complete dry be done in Canada at a trusted facility.
All producers are encouraged to work with their veterinarian to review their biosecurity plans and ensure that their herds have the best practical protection from PEDv and other diseases.
Published in News

 

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.”

 

 

 

Published in Beef

 

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.

 

 

 

Published in Beef
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