Alternative Technologies to Manage Open Beef Feedlot Manure

Beth Ellen Doran, Field Specialist-Beef, Northwest Area


Open beef feedlots are required to have solids settling systems in place, but handling of the effluent is dependent upon feedlot size.  Non-permitted feedlots, less than 1000 head, can discharge effluent through filter strips.  Permitted yards are required to have total containment, which can cost in excess of $110 per head space.  A less expensive alternative is vegetative treatment areas (VTA) with or without a vegetative infiltration basin (VIB).  However, there is limited research documenting the effectiveness of alternative technology systems for maintaining water quality.  Coupled with this, open beef feedlot producers and agri-business staff do not understand the potential of these systems to manage feedlot effluent.  


Iowa State University, the Iowa Cattlemens Association, Department of Natural Resources and Natural Resources Conservation Service received a cooperative grant to explore the use of alternative technology systems to manage beef feedlot effluent and selected six Iowa feedlots to pilot this technology.

The grant required accurate and consistent monitoring of feedlot effluent by ISU.  Because of distance, Lara Moody (ISU Agricultural Engineer) asked for help in identifying someone in the community to conduct monitoring.  In a totally independent project, researchers at the US Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) near Clay Center, NE are using electro-magnetic imaging coupled with GPS (another monitoring method) to monitor soil nutrient profiles and nutrient flow at the two sites.  Two agricultural engineers from MARC obtained baseline readings on June 19, 2006 and will do so again this spring.

An important part of the grant requires outreach education.  A field day, co-sponsored by ISU Extension and the Iowa Cattlemens Association, was held on August 1, 2006 at the John Fluit, Jr. feedlot near Inwood and Rolling Hills Feedlot near Hawarden, with 58 people attending.  There was a mix of participants (governmental agencies, universities, legislators, agri-business staff and producers) present.        


Nancy Chapman, near Hawarden, was selected to conduct the monitoring by ISU.  She was a good choice because she is a local cattle feeder and member of the Sioux County Cattlemens Association. Local beef producers have felt comfortable in visiting with her about the monitoring process.

There are similarities and differences in the two monitoring methods.  Currently, both methods utilize expensive, sophisticated equipment.  ISU monitoring has averaged 3 hours per site per visit; whereas, the MARC system involved 5 hours per site per visit.  The ISU monitoring has involved 24 visits per site; the MARC system has involved 2 visits.  The method of monitoring that a producer will select will depend upon the level of skill required, time and expense.  The ISU system might be conducted by the producer if the detail in monitoring, amount of time and equipment expense can be reduced.  The MARC technology would probably need to be commercially available, with the producer contracting for this service.

There was a multiplier effect on the field day education due to the mix of participants and media coverage.  Feature articles were published in the LeMars Sentinel, Agri News, and the Iowa Cattleman (the official publication of the Iowa Cattlemens Association).  All of the feature articles included pictures at the host sites.         

Participants at the field day viewed two feedlots that are land-locked and learned how alternative technologies could maintain water quality within a confined area.  One ag lender commented, After seeing how practical a VTA is, I would have recommended it to my producers earlier.  Many in the beef industry are looking at alternative technology as a more cost effective way to expand existing operations past the 1,000 head level. 

March 30, 2007
POW #140 Iowa Beef Center

Page last updated: April 11, 2007
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