Manure Management Options for Hobby Farms
Hobby and other small-scale farms are a great source for food and resources in local communities. But with those resources comes a less-then-pleasant product: poop.
As a farmer, managing livestock waste is one of the most important things you can do to ensure the health of your livestock, land, and nearby water resources. Runoff from improperly managed livestock waste can run off into lakes, rivers, and streams, polluting them with excess nutrients and harmful bacteria. The Scott Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) offers free manure management consulting to all producers in Scott County, which includes everyone from large-scale operations and to the smallest hobby farm.
There are several ways to best manage livestock waste, each method with their own pros and cons. No single option will work in all circumstances, and all strategies can be paired and combined to work best with your land.
Manure Management on Pasture
Keeping your animals on well-maintained pasture is typically the most low-maintenance strategy if done properly. Livestock will need large areas to graze, with temporary fencing in place if rotational grazing is needed. This will result in land rich in plant growth that can handle the nutrients of raw manure. Dense green vegetation will also help keep the manure stable, reducing the chance of waste runoff to local waterbodies.
It’s important to note that grazing sites should always be kept away from waterbodies. Whether it’s a creek, river, or pond there should always be distance between where livestock graze and where a waterline begins. Fencing and un-grazed grass strips may be needed to achieve this.
If you have animals in confined areas—chickens in a coop, horses in stalls, or cattle in one defined area—it’s easy to remove waste and put it to use through composting! Composting speeds the breakdown of organic matter into a form more useful to soil microbes and plants. It also reduces manure odors and compresses its volume.
At its core, composting is the art of getting the right balance of inputs with regular aeration. No matter the size of your farm, your equipment options, or the amount of time you can dedicate to it, composting can be done on any scale. The most common options for small-farm operations are static piles, windrows, and three-bin units. Conservationists at the Scott SWCD can discuss each option to determine the best one for you.
Stockpiling for Later Use
Properly storing fertilizer allows for use on a later date while also preventing manure runoff via rainwater. Proper storage can be achieved in several different ways. This can be done with concrete or compacted soil, as long as the surface is firm and tightly packed together to prevent water from seeping through cracks.
Additional water protection from manure stockpile areas may also benefit from reinforced walls and a roof to keep the manure dry. Roofs can be as simple as a tarp secured around the edges, but it should have a slope of 1-3% heading towards a grass buffer so runoff from the roof can efficiently be redirected. Always keep storage away from waterbodies, well heads, and active floodplains.
When spreading the manure after its storage, break up clumps and expose as much area as possible to the elements. Grazing animals can also help break up and spread clumps effectively, but—unless the manure was previously dried—keep livestock off the pasture for several weeks to allow parasites to die off if animal species have sensitivity to manure parasites.
If there is excess accumulation of manure, then removal of that excess waste might be the best option. You can hire manure haulers, but other options are available too. If the manure is composted, you can donate or sell it to gardeners, landscapers, or farmers without livestock. For information on removing hazardous waste, visit the county's household hazardous waste navigator website.
Picking the best plan for you
Manure management can be done in many different ways. When done properly it protects our waterbodies from harmful bacteria pollution! For FREE manure management consulting, contact the Scott Soil and Water Conservation District at 952-492-5425.