Efficient Manure Management on Small Acreages

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Dr. Daniel Andersen
associate professor
agricultural and biosystems engineering
Iowa State University


Managing manure on a small acreage is crucial to responsible and sustainable agriculture. Efficient manure management helps maintain a healthy environment for both livestock and humans, contributes to soil fertility, and reduces the risk of nutrient runoff. This article will explore practical strategies for handling manure on small-scale acreages, ensuring that it becomes a valuable resource rather than an environmental concern.

1.        Understanding the Scale:

The quantity of manure produced on smaller acreages may be less than on larger farms, but its impact on the immediate environment is equally significant. It is essential to understand the scale of manure production to implement a tailored management plan that meets the property's specific needs.

2.        Collection and Storage:

Most small farms find solid manure the easiest to manage. Begin by establishing a proper system for collecting and storing manure. Consider constructing compost bins or designated areas for manure storage. Well-sited manure storage helps prevent runoff, ensures easy access for adding and removing manure, and creates a controlled environment for the decomposition process.

3.        Composting:

Composting is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly method for managing manure on a small acreage. Composting reduces manure volume, reduces odor, and transforms the manure into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Composting is aerobic, so getting the moisture correct is the most important step. If bedding is added, solid manures can often be composted without amendment. Regular turning of the compost accelerates the decomposition process.

4.        Rotational Grazing:

Implementing rotational grazing practices can have a positive impact. Manure is evenly distributed by moving animals to different sections of the acreage periodically, minimizing the risk of nutrient buildup in one area. Even manure distribution promotes healthier pastures and reduces the need for extensive manure management.

5.        Utilizing Manure as Fertilizer:

Small acreages can benefit greatly from using manure as a natural fertilizer. Before application, it is essential to test the nutrient content of the manure to determine appropriate application rates. Spread the manure evenly across fields to enhance soil fertility, which, in turn, improves crop yields. Use soil testing to prevent adding unnecessary fertilizers to manured fields.

6.        Avoiding Water Contamination:

Preventing water contamination is a primary concern when managing manure on any scale. Small acreages are particularly vulnerable to runoff that can carry pollutants into nearby water sources. Strategically place manure storage areas away from water bodies and implement buffers such as vegetation strips to filter runoff and reduce the risk of contamination.

Efficient manure management on small acreages is essential for maintaining a sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural operation. Farmers can turn a potential environmental concern into a valuable resource for soil health and crop productivity by implementing practices such as composting, rotational grazing, and balancing manure application to crop needs. By committing to responsible practices, small-acreage farmers can contribute to the overall sustainability of their agricultural endeavors and protect water quality.

Date of Publication: 
November, 2023