Storing Manure on Small Farms

Storing Manure on Small Farms

Systems for manure storage

Why Do Small Farms Need Manure Storage?
Accumulated manure can cause health, odor, pest, and water quality problems if not properly managed. One option is to collect the waste daily, load it in a spreader, and spread it on cropland, hayland, or pasture (often referred to as a "daily haul" system). This is time consuming and also has to be done regardless of the soil moisture, weather, or time of year. Spreading during rain, on saturated or frozen soils can cause compaction or lead to offsite runoff of manure. Growing crops can also be damaged during spreading.

The 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. Even though the number of livestock on your farm may not be large, enough manure will be generated to pose a problem if planning is not done.

Example: A single horse can produce 50 pounds of manure per day which translates to 11 cubic yards and 9 tons annually. The manure and bedding produced by this horse in a year can exceed 25 cubic yards. This would require a storage area of about 12 feet by 12 feet with an accumulated depth of 3 to 5 feet for one year of storage, depending how much decomposition and compaction of the manure takes place.

For more, see Manure Production and Characteristics to calculate the amount of manure produced by common farm animals.

Principles of Manure Storage
Regardless of the type or size of manure storage, there are a few basic principles to always follow:

Keep the clean water clean. Any up-slope surface run-on should be diverted around the manure storage or animal lots by creating a small berm. Rooftop water can be directed via gutters, downspouts and possibly underground outlets so that it goes around animal lots and manure storage.
Treat the dirty water. Any rainfall landing on the manure pile or the livestock concentration areas should (preferably) be retained in the structure or settling basin. Over time, the water evaporates, leaving behind the solid materials to be collected and spread on fields. The liquid can also be directed to a treatment area, such as a well vegetated filter strip. The plants will slow the flow, settling solids (filtering the runoff) and utilizing the nutrients as they grow. This option requires regular management as the liquid flow may eventually cut a channel and create an unobstructed path to creeks, streams, ponds or other clean water. The solids from the manure may also accumulate and smother the vegetation. The goal is to direct the drainage over the vegetated area as evenly (like a sheet) as possible and regularly harvest the vegetation as hay or silage to remove prevent build up of nutrients.
Avoid flood-prone areas. Flood waters that can reach a manure storage location will transport manure downstream and cause extensive water quality problems.
Accessibility. Store the manure where it is easily accessible to load and unload. Efficiency is important in order to properly manage the manure facility. Make sure you can access the site in all types of weather conditions. If it is difficult to access the site, you are less likely to regularly manage or maintain it.
Avoid steep slopes when siting your storage location. The steeper the slope, the more difficult it is to manage the storage area, and the greater potential for offsite runoff. It may be necessary to build a small dirt berm (do not use manure for the berm) to prevent storm water from leaving the area and running downslope.
If you spread the stored manure on your own land, do so following a nutrient management plan that establishes the spreading rate per acre to match the nutrients available in the manure to the needs of the crop.