Have a Horse in Your Backyard? You Need a Manure Management Plan

Recently revised Pennsylvania environmental regulations require all animal operations, large and small, to have either a Manure Management Plan or a Nutrient Management Plan.
Have a Horse in Your Backyard? You Need a Manure Management Plan - Articles
Have a Horse in Your Backyard? You Need a Manure Management Plan

Manure Management Plan

Until recently, horse operations were not required to develop any type of manure or nutrient management plan. That all changed in 2006, when Pennsylvania's Nutrient Management Act was revised to include horse operations. Under Act 38, all animal operations, production and non - production, are required to complete a Nutrient Management Plan if the farm is defined as a Concentrated Animal Operation (CAO) or a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). Additionally, in fall of 2011, revisions to the Clean Stream Act, were released by Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). These changes mandate that all horse and livestock operations (that do not fall under Act 38 regulations) and farms that apply manure must have a written Manure Management Plan.

Even operations with one or two horses in their backyard are required to have a plan. The number and density of animals on the farm determines which plan is required.

Nutrient Management Plan vs. Manure Management Plan

Everyone keeping livestock on their property in Pennsylvania is required to have a plan to manage farm nutrients. The animal density of the farm will decide which plan is required. Farms that have over 8 Animal Equivalent Units (AEUs) and exceed an animal density of 2 Animal Equivalent Units per acre are required to have a certified nutrient management plan. (1 AEU = 1000 lbs. of live animal weight). Farms under this threshold are required to have a written manure management plan.

To determine which plan is needed, it is necessary to calculate the animal equivalent units for the farm. Animal equivalent units take into account how many animals are on the farm, what the average weight of the animals is, and how many days a year the animals are on the farm. The number of days may vary for breeding farms that may only have mares on the farm for part of the year and some show and training barns. The formula below can be used to determine AEUs.

  • AEU = average number of animals x average animal weight (lbs.) ÷ 1000 lbs. per animal unit x number of days on the farm ÷ 365 days per year.

Farm density (AEUs per acre) takes into consideration how many animals are on the farm and how many acres are suitable for manure application. Suitable land consists of pastures and field crops that receive manure applications.

  • AEUs per acre = AEUs ÷ number of acres suitable for manure application

Nutrient Management Plans need to be written by a certified nutrient management specialist, and must be submitted to the local county conservation district for review and approval. Writing a nutrient management plan has an associated fee and the price will vary depending on the intensity of the plan. Farms with an approved and implemented nutrient management plan will have limited liability for civil complaints.

Manure Management Plans, on the other hand, do not need to be written by a specialist, and can be written by the farmer. The cost of having a manure management plan may be little to none. Manure Management Plans do not need to be approved and hold no liability protection. Manure management plans must be kept on the farmstead and be available upon request.

Both plans focus on regulating animal concentration areas (ACAs), pastures, manure storage and mechanical manure application.

What is Involved in Completing a Manure Management Plan?

The majority of Pennsylvania farms are not concentrated operations and are only required to have a Manure Management Plan. The Manure Management Plan consists of seven sections that must be completed by the farm operator.

  • Section 1: Operator Information. This section contains contact information, and general information about the farm features and practices.
  • Section 2: Farm Maps. A farm map must be included in the plan. Maps may either be hand drawn or computer generated, but must consist of the following: field boundaries and acres, environmentally sensitive areas (streams, ponds, wells, and sinkholes), manure storage and stacking areas, pastures, animal concentration areas (bare ground, barnyards, sacrifice areas), and access roads.
  • Section 3: Mechanical Manure Application. If manure is mechanically spread on the farm, maximum manure and fertilizer application rates must be determined. Records must also be kept to show the amount of manure applied to each field/crop group. Mechanical manure application setbacks must be documented near environmentally sensitive areas. Winter manure application is discouraged and therefore has additional requirements.
  • Section 4: Manure Storage and Stockpiling. All manure storage and stockpiling areas must be identified on the farm map. Manure on the farmstead must be stored on an improved base or be covered. Manure that is stacked in field, must be covered after 120 days, be located at least 100 feet away from environmentally sensitive areas, and cannot reside in the same location each year.
  • Section 5: Pasture Management. Pastures must be managed to minimize bare spots and maintain a dense cover of vegetation that is at least 3 inches high during the growing season. Farms can also have an NRCS grazing plan for their operation. Pastures neglecting to meet either of these requirements will be considered animal concentration areas and must meet all of the requirements associated with animal concentration areas.
  • Section 6: Animal Concentration Areas (ACAs). ACAs include barnyards, feedlots, loafing areas, exercise lots or other areas that do not maintain dense vegetation. Designating an area as an ACA requires: diverting clean water around the area, collecting or treating dirty water flowing from the ACA, maintaining vegetative buffer strips around the ACA, routinely removing manure, and limiting animal access to streams. ACAs can be a large source of sediment and nutrient pollution. The Manure Management Plan requires farm operators to contact their local conservation district for assistance in correcting any potential or existing problems.
  • Section 7: Record Keeping. Farms are allowed to use their current record system, or forms provided in the manual. Records must include: manure application, crop yield, manure export and manure storage.

Where do I go from here?

Environmental regulations for farms are not new. But with increasing pressure to prevent agricultural pollutants from entering local watersheds, agencies are now focusing educational and regulatory efforts on not only large operations, but also small farms with just a few horses.

The first step in developing a plan is to determine if the farm is an animal operation (AO) or a concentrated animal operation (CAO) (using the equation above). If the farm is a CAO, then the farm owner can contact the local County Conservation District to locate a certified nutrient management specialist. A list of specialistscan also be found on the PA Nutrient Management website.

If the farm is not a CAO, then the farm owner will need to invest some time in writing a Manure Management Plan. The manual and workbook can obtained from the local Department of Environmental Protection or County Conservation District office, or found online.

Penn State Extension, Conservation Districts and DEP are offering workshops to help farm owners write their manure management plan. Contact your local Conservation District or Penn State Extension Office to locate a workshop near you.


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