Winter Manure Management

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Daniel Andersen
Assistant Professor - Manure Management and Water Quality
Iowa State University

dairy cowsManure can cause odor and water quality concerns if it is not properly managed. One option is to collect the manure daily, load it in a spreader, and apply it on crop or pasture land. However, this can present challenges during winter as soils are often frozen or snow covered, which can lead to increased manure nutrient runoff.

An alternative to daily spreading is to stockpile or store the manure for a period of time, at which point it may be spread or hauled away and utilized beneficially elsewhere when soil and weather conditions are suitable. Even though the number of livestock on your farm may be small, enough manure will be generated to pose a problem if appropriate planning is not done. For example, a single horse can produce 50 pounds of manure per day which translates to 11 cubic yards or 9 tons annually.

The first thing to decide when contemplating storage is the location. Manure associated with livestock production includes stall waste (feces, urine, bedding) and manure collected from exercise lots. Manure storage areas may simply be well-drained areas where manure is stacked or stockpiled. Manure should be stored in areas accessible to tractors and other manure equipment and near enough the facility to encourage timely cleaning throughout the winter.

It is also important to pick your stockpile location based on environmental conditions. It is important to prevent manure from being washed offsite to streams or lakes; picking locations that are well drained and away from areas of concentrated flow will help minimize this risk. A vegetated filter strip to treat the runoff water coming from a manure pile will reduce nutrient losses as well. Two other important considerations are odor management and aesthetics. Look at wind direction as related to houses locations; try to avoid locating stockpile locations upwind of homes. If possible, keep the facility out of view of neighbors and passers-by. The presence of trees around the facility will help to dissipate odors and keep it out of sight.

In some cases, winter manure spreading may be necessary. If it is try to choose days and locations most suitable. Look for periods when there is little to no snow cover on the ground. Avoid periods where melting conditions or even rainfall is predicted to occur. When picking locations to apply look for fields that are flat and away from areas of concentrated flow like waterways, streams, or tile intakes. If applying in fields with these features leave setbacks, or no apply zones so that manure nutrients can be filtered out before reaching these locations.

Date of Publication: 
November, 2017