Manure Management and the Small Farm

Posted: March 12, 2012

Proper Manure Management is a good idea for several reasons. Proper manure applications save you money by reducing fertilizer costs. Proper manure management protects water resources. Finally, proper manure management in Pennsylvania is now the law.
Photo by Tim McCabe NRCS Photo Gallery

Photo by Tim McCabe NRCS Photo Gallery

 In the past, regulatory bodies have focused on large animal units such as concentrated animal feeding operations. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has recently trained Extension Educators and Conservation District employees on the use of a revised Manure Management Manual that is targeted at smaller animal operations.

If you own a horse or a few sheep or a few beef cows, etc. and you mechanically apply the manure to your property (you load a manure spreader and spread it) or you own property that has manure applied to it, these rules apply to you. “All” farms generating or using manure must have a manure management plan. This manure management plan must be a written plan including a farm map and it must be kept on the farm or the property where the manure is applied.

A simple eight page worksheet has been developed to make the development of these plans easier. In addition, you can look for local trainings that will be offered by Penn State Extension and local conservation districts. These plans do not need to be approved or even submitted, but they will need to be shown if a pollution incident occurs. The goal is to keep the manure, or more importantly the nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous in the manure, out of our water resources.  These plans can be written by the farmer or a non-certified individual, but they must be written.

The agricultural industry is the leading source of nitrogen and phosphorous in our water resources. We need to think about all the aspects of how manure is generated and used on our properties, including in the barn, barnyard, crops and pastures. We also need to think about all the aspects of how water flows through our property, including groundwater, streams, rivers, ponds, and surface runoff. For example, in the case of snowfall, manure applications to ground covered with snow lead to water contamination. The snow melts and the water runoff carries the manure with it contaminating water resources. Do not make manure applications to snow covered ground. The goal should be for the quality of water that enters your property to be the same or better when it leaves your property. The Pennsylvania Nutrient Management website, for which Penn State Extension is a main contributor has many resources to help you, including a copy of the revised Manure Management Manual.