March 27, 2023

Extension Notebook: Small operations need manure management plans, too

The arrival of spring often sparks an increase the contacts looking for information for starting, increasing, or improving livestock production. Most of these focus on design information for grazing system layouts, handling facilities, maternity pens, confinement space requirements, and ventilation. One of the most overlooked parts of planning and starting a smaller livestock operation is a manure management plan. From grazing to confinement systems, all operations need to put some considerations into how manure will be handled. In the absence of a management plan, manure can become a significant source of pollution and liability.

The negative impacts can be avoided by treating this waste product as a resource. Manure contains valuable nutrients for forage and crop production, replacing more expensive commercial fertilizers. The amount of nutrients in manure varies by species, growth stage, and animal diet. The heart of a manure management plan is the application of manure to crop fields, hay fields, and pastures at rates to meet the crop nutrient needs. This is referred to as application at agronomic rates.

Estimating the volume of manure produced is a starting place for a plan. Tables of average manure production are available for various growth stages of common production animals. These values can be used to calculate the manure volumes for developing the storage and land application plans. The percentage of manure to be contained and handled depends on the type of livestock system utilized.

Grazing animals tend to spread the manure across the pasture, effectively recycling the nutrients back into the forages. In this way, grazing systems are a natural manure management plan. However, grazing systems may include handling facilities, quarantine and treatment pens, sacrifice areas, etc. Manure deposited in these areas will need to be managed properly.

A frequent misconception is that state regulations apply only to the larger confinement operations. While some rules are very specific to these larger operations, many of these rules and regulations apply to even the smallest of operations. For example, anyone constructing a livestock building or manure storage should submit a Notice of Intent to Construct form to the Illinois Department of Agriculture prior to starting construction. Working through the form provides a way to consider which rules apply to at operation prior to construction. Submitting the form can head off problems should some contact the department with questions or complaints about your project.

The primary focus of the rules that apply to all operations relate to preventing water or air pollution from the livestock facilities. A manure management plan addresses most of the concerns: it identifies nutrients (manure) that must be contained to prevent runoff, specifies the utilization of these nutrients through application to crops at agronomic rates, and provides a record of the process.

Pens, stalls and dry lots are examples of management systems where a manure management plan becomes very important to the long-term success of the operation. The manure deposited in these areas will need to be contained and land applied at agronomic rates. Outdoor pens and lots are often the sources of complaints against smaller producers. A simple rule to remember: if does not have an actively growing forage cover or has more bare soil than plant residue, then it is not considered a pasture. Thus, any runoff must be contained or filtered before leaving your property.

Developing a manure management plan can help you address challenging areas to avoid ending up on the receiving end of a notice of violation or other legal actions. Visit the Certified Livestock Managers Training page at for links to resources including the Illinois Department of Agriculture Livestock Management Facilities Program.

Stanley (Jay) Solomon Jr. is a University of Illinois Extension natural resources, environment, and energy educator serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson and Winnebago counties.