Why Be Concerned?
When animals are confined outside of housing facilities, the risk to surface water and groundwater quality is significantly increased. Animal concentration areas specifically include barnyards, feedlots, loafing areas, exercise lots, or other similar animal confinement areas. Heavy use areas in pastures, such as cattle access ways, feeding areas, watering areas, and shade areas, are also considered animal concentration areas.
The areas hold common characteristics such as high concentration of livestock or poultry, large amounts of waste deposition, inability to maintain vegetation, and, frequently, close proximity to water. As the concentration of animals in these areas increases, the potential for sediment, bacteria, nitrogen, and phosphorus to enter surface water (and in some cases groundwater) also increases. Mud and manure in these areas are not only a source of pollutants but also of microbes that can cause animal health problems.
Animal concentration areas are very busy places that can be difficult to manage. Good management involves three basic principles. The first is to divert clean water flow (e.g., from upslope fields, pastures, driveways, and barn roofs) away from the animal concentration area. This will reduce the volume of contaminated runoff to manage. The second principle is to divert polluted runoff from the animal concentration area into a storage facility or treatment system where its effect on surface water or groundwater will be minimal. The third principle is to reduce the potential for contaminated runoff by managing the time the animals spend in the animal concentration area to minimize the traffic that can erode soil and create muddy conditions, and/or by stabilizing the animal concentration area surface.
The goal of Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst is to help you protect groundwater and surface water—shared resources that are important to everyone.
How to Rank Groundwater and Surface Water Protection Using This Worksheet
- You can select from a wide range of conditions and management practices that are related to potential surface water and groundwater contamination.
- You can rank the conditions and management practices on your operation according to how they might affect surface water or groundwater.
- Based on your overall ratings, you can determine which of your conditions or practices are reasonably safe and effective, and which might require modification to better protect surface water and groundwater.
How to Complete the Worksheet
Download the Animal Concentration Areas Management worksheet and follow the directions. The evaluation should take 15 to 30 minutes for each evaluation site to complete and determine your ranking. Evaluate each animal concentration area on your farm. There are spaces provided to rank up to three sites. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms used, refer to the glossary provided with this worksheet.
How to Use These Rankings
Step 1: Now that each feature has been ranked, add all these rankings together and put that value in the “Total” box at the end of the worksheet. Transfer that number to the box below.
Step 2: Divide the value in the “Total” box by the number of features ranked.
Step 3: Repeat for the remaining sites. Calculate the average ranking for all sites combined.
Step 4: Evaluate the overall management practices and site conditions:
- 3.6–4.0 = best management
- 2.6–3.5 = good management
- 1.6–2.5 = fair management
- 1.0–1.5 = poor management
This ranking gives an idea of how animal concentration areas conditions and management practices as a whole might affect both surface water and groundwater quality. This ranking should serve only as a very general guide, not a precise diagnosis. Since it represents an averaging of many individual rankings, it can mask any individual rankings (such as 1s and 2s) that should be of concern.
Step 5: Look over the rankings for individual features of each site:
- Best (4s): the current ideal
- Good (3s): provides reasonable surface and groundwater protection
- Fair (2s): inadequate protection in many circumstances
- Poor (1s): poses a high risk of polluting surface water or groundwater
Regardless of the overall ranking, any individual rankings of “1” should receive immediate attention. Some concerns can be taken care of right away; others could be major or costly projects, requiring planning and prioritizing before taking action.
Step 6: Consider how to modify farm management practices or site conditions to better protect water quality. For more information, contact the local conservation district, Penn State Extension office, or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service for ideas, suggestions, or guidance
Estimating Animal Density In An Animal Concentration Area
The definitions of “low,” “medium,” and “high” can be used to complete Feature #14, Stocking Rate (square feet per animal).1
Concentration of Animals on Animal Concentration Area2
|Dairy cows||Paved surface (>75 sf/a)1||Paved surface (>50 sf/a)||Paved surface (<50 sf/a)|
|Earthen surface (>700 sf/a)||Earthen surface (>400–500 sf/a)||Earthen surface (<400 sf/a)|
|Each of three vegetated paddocks (>2,400 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (>1,800 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (<1200 sf/a)|
|Dairy replacements||Paved surface (>50 sf/a)||Paved surface (>30 sf/a)||Paved surface (<20 sf/a)|
|Earthen surface (>400 sf/a)||Earthen surface (>200–400 sf/a)||Earthen surface (<200 sf/a)|
|Each of three vegetated paddocks (>1,400 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (>1,000 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (<1,000 sf/a)|
|Beef feeders||Paved surface (>60 sf/a)||Paved surface (>40–60 sf/a)||Paved surface (<40 sf/a)|
|Earthen surface (>600 sf/a)||Earthen surface (400 sf/a)||Earthen surface (<400 sf/a)|
Earthen surface with mounds (>400 sf/a)
|Earthen surface with mounds (>200 sf/a)||Earthen surface with mounds (<200 sf/a)|
|Each of three vegetated paddocks (>1,800 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (>1,200 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (<1,200 sf/a)|
|Beef cows/heifers||Paved surface (>75 sf/a)||Paved surface (>50 sf/a)||Paved surface (<50 sf/a)|
|Earthen surface (>650 sf/a)||Earthen surface (>400 sf/a)||Earthen surface (<300 sf/a)|
|Each of three vegetated paddocks (>2,400 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (>1,800 sf/a)||Each of three vegetated paddocks (<1,800 sf/a)|
|Sheep/ewes||Paved surface (>20 sf/a)||Paved surface (<15 sf/a)||Earthen surface (<10 sf/a)|
|Earthen surface (>40 sf/a)||Earthen surface (<25 sf/a)|
|Feeder lambs||Paved surface (>10 sf/a)||Paved surface (>5 sf/a)||Earthen surface (<10 sf/a)|
|Earthen surface (>25 sf/a)||Earthen surface (>10 sf/a)|
|Hogs/sows||Paved surface with shed (>30 sf/a)||Earthen surface with shed (<15 sf/a)||Earthen surface with shed (<10 sf/a)|
|Horses||Earthen surface with no pasture (>2,500 sf/a)||Earthen surface with no pasture (>1,500 sf/a)||Earthen surface with no pasture (<1,000 sf/a)|
1 Square feet per animal is abbreviated “sf/a.”
2 Animal concentrations derived from Midwest Plan Service publications and other sources.
3 > indicates “greater than” and < indicates “less than.”
Animal concentration areas: A livestock confinement area outside of housing facilities including barnyards, feedlots, loafing areas, exercise lots, or other similar animal confinement areas that will not maintain a growing crop. Also included are significant heavy use areas in a pasture system such as cattle access ways, feeding areas, watering areas, and shade areas.
Best management practices: Practices designed to control erosion and runoff, manage nutrients, and address other public health and safety issues associated with agricultural operations.
Constructed wetland: A wastewater treatment system consisting of one or more shallow impoundments planted with wetland vegetation designed to retain and treat wastewater through biological processes.
Direct discharges: Any flows of stormwater contaminated with manure to surface waters without prior filtration or other treatment, such as grassed filter strips.
Drainageway: A part of the landscape, usually vegetated, where surface water occasionally collects and moves from an upslope area.
Ephemeral gully: Well-defined converging channels in the soil that result from water runoff. Ephemeral gully channels are deeper than rills, can be crossed by field equipment with some difficulty, and/or can be repaired with common field operations.
Exercise lot: A grassy or impermeable area intended to give the animals a place to move around, but is not intended as a source of forage.
Feedlot: An area where feed and water are provided for livestock.
Filter strip: A strip or area of permanent herbaceous vegetation situated between cropland, grazing land, or disturbed land and environmentally sensitive areas.
Groundwater: Water beneath the earth’s surface that supplies wells, springs, and base flow to streams.
Gully erosion: Soil detachment and movement causing converging channels in the soil as a result of water runoff. They are well-developed converging channels that form in the soil as a result of water runoff and cannot be crossed by farm equipment. Gullies are deeper and more pronounced than ephemeral gullies. Field equipment alone cannot be used to repair the damage. Once gullies form, they generally continue to grow longer, deeper, and wider.
Normal climatic conditions: Includes rain events up to a 25-year, 24-hour storm event but does not address a major flood event.
Pastures: Crop areas managed for forage production that are harvested by livestock or livestock and haying.
Pennsylvania Nutrient Management Law, Act 38 Regulations: The regulations supporting Pennsylvania’s nutrient management law that provides for the management of nutrients on certain agricultural operations to abate nonpoint-source pollution.
Pennsylvania Technical Guide: Publication of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) providing the standards and specifications used by technical specialists to plan and apply best management practices.
Runoff control system: A combination of management practices that can be used together to prevent water pollution from livestock yard runoff. Practices may include diversion of runoff from the yard, roof runoff systems, yard shaping, settling basins, upslope diversions, and filter strips or buffer areas.
Soil drainage (natural): The frequency and length of time when the soil is free of excessive water. For example, water drains quickly through well-drained soils. In poorly drained soils the root zone is water logged for long periods of time unless some form of artificial drainage is installed.
Soil permeability: The ability of air and water to move through the most restrictive layer of the soil or the immediately underlying layers.
Soil texture: The relative proportion of sand, silt, and clay in the soil.
Surface water: Water at the earth’s surface, such as ponds, lakes, streams, ditches, and so forth.
Treatment systems: See “constructed wetland” and “wastewater treatment strip.”
Upslope/downslope: Refers to the position of the animal concentration area in relation to the direction of water flow.
Vegetative cover: Grass or a mixture of grass and other vegetation covering the soil surface that is effective in protecting the surface from runoff.
Wastewater treatment strip: A sloping grass area used to filter runoff from an animal concentration area. Runoff is distributed uniformly across the high end of the strip and allowed to flow down the slope, or is irrigated with sprinkler heads. Nutrients and suspended material remaining in the runoff water are filtered through the grass, absorbed by the soil, and ultimately taken up by the plants. To maximize effectiveness of the wastewater treatment strip, the vegetation should be removed through grazing or harvesting. Waste-water treatment strips must be designed and sized to match the characteristics and wastewater flow of the animal concentration area.
Waterway: A grass or rock-lined channel to collect water and direct clean water flow to a safe outlet to reduce erosion. Helps avoid large amounts of water running through a field or barnyard, which would carry sediments and manure with it.
Material for the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was developed by revision of Farm-A-Syst material from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and the National Farm-A-Syst/Home-A-Syst Program. The format and style for the Pennsylvania package were based on the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan published by Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition, Ontario, Canada.
Partial funding for the development of the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was provided by the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts through the Chesapeake Bay Program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and by USDA-EQIP funds from the USDA-NRCS. The development of this worksheet was also supported by funds from the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission through the Nutrient Management Education Program.
Preparation: Shelly Ogline, project assistant, Penn State Extension; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Penn State Department of Crop and Soil Sciences.
Project Coordinators: Barry Frantz, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Penn State Department of Crop and Soil Sciences; Jerry Martin, Penn State Extension.
Advisory Committee: Larry Martick, district manager, Adams County Conservation District; Lamonte Garber, agricultural specialist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Lori Sandman, project leader, Dairy Network Partnership; Amanda Ritchey, ridge and valley coordinator, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; Tom McCarty, multicounty water quality extension educator, Penn State Extension; Susan Fox, extension educator, Penn State Extension, Bedford County.
Technical Review: Peter Tarby, nutrient management specialist, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; Norm Conrad, Penn State Extension and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture; Jeff Mahood, environmental planning specialist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Bill Bowers, state conservation engineer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Robert Graves, professor of agricultural engineering, Penn State; John Miele, parks manager, Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks.
Preparation: Jerry Martin, senior extension associate, Penn State Extension; Tim Murphy, conservation engineer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Project Coordinators: Doug Beegle, professor of agronomy, Penn State Department of Crop and Soil Sciences; Jerry Martin, senior extension associate, Penn State Extension.
Advisory Committee: Tom McCarty, multicounty water quality extension educator, Penn State Extension; Kelly O’Neill, agricultural policy analyst, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Carl Rohr, conservation program specialist, Bureau of Watershed Protection, Department of Environmental Protection.
Technical Review: Hosea Latshaw, conservation engineer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Bill Clouser, nutrient management program supervisor, State Conservation Commission; Kevin Seibert, nutrient management program manager, Lancaster County Conservation District; John Zaginaylo, area engineer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Information derived from the Farm-A-Syst worksheet is intended only to provide general information and recommendations to farmers regarding their own farmstead practices. It is not the intent of this educational program to keep records of individual results. However, they may be shared with others who will help you develop a resource management plan.