Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst Worksheet 5: Milkhouse Waste Management

This publication helps farmers evaluate groundwater and surface water protection related to milkhouse wastewater conditions and management practices.
Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst Worksheet 5: Milkhouse Waste Management - Articles


Why Be Concerned?

Milking center wastewater is usually considered a dairy sanitation problem. If not carefully managed, however, dairy wastewater can contaminate surface water or groundwater. Milkhouse wastewater may contain paper towels, detergent, milk solids, fats, manure, and other organic materials that reduce oxygen levels in water as they decompose. Fish and other aquatic life need this oxygen to live. If milk is frequently poured down the milkhouse drain, milk fats can cause premature aging of a wastewater septic system due to clogging of the drain field.

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 Milkhouse Waste 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 site on your farm affected by milkhouse waste. 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.

Information derived from Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst worksheets 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.

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 each additional site. 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 how milkhouse wastewater conditions and management practices as a whole might affect both surface water and groundwater quality. This ranking should serve only as a very general 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 water 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, ideas, or guidance, contact the township or municipality sewage enforcement officer, local conservation district, Penn State Extension office, or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Belowground absorption field: A wastewater treatment system that applies effluent to the soil through a trench, bed, or pit, often preceded by a settling or septic tank.

Dedicated vegetative area: An area of vegetation designed to serve as a filter system for milkhouse wastewater. The more manure solids in the wastewater flow, the less effective the filter will be, as the solids overload the vegetation.

Field application: Application of wastewater to croplands and pastures by irrigation equipment or a liquid manure spreader.

First rinse: The small quantity of water used to remove milk from the pipeline or bulk tank before the washing procedure begins.

Groundwater: Water beneath the earth’s surface that supplies wells and springs.

Holding tank: A tank that holds wastewater for a short period of time before wastewater is released to the absorption area.

Liquid manure storage: A structure to collect and hold the solid and liquid portion of manure until it can be applied safely to land. May also contain barnyard runoff and milking center wastewater.

Milking center: Area of a dairy barn where milking, and milking system cleanup equipment, are located. Includes the milkhouse and parlor, if there is one.

Milking center wastewater: Mixture of water and chemicals used to clean and sanitize the milking system and bulk tank. Wastewater may also contain small amounts of animal feed and manure from clean-up or wash down procedures.

Sediment or settling tank: Slow-flow container to provide time for materials to separate and to collect settled and floating solids from washwater. Similar or identical to a septic tank.

Surface water: Water at the earth’s surface, such as ponds, lakes, streams, or ditches.

Upslope/downslope: Refers to the position of the well in relation to the direction of water flow.

Material for the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was developed by revision of Farm-A-Syst material from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and the National Farm-A-Syst/Home-A-Syst Program. Additional format and style features for the Pennsylvania package were adapted from 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.

The development of this worksheet revision was supported by funds from the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission through the Nutrient Management Education Program.


Original Version

Preparation: Shelly Ogline, project assistant, Penn State Extension; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Department of Agronomy, Penn State.

Project Coordinators: Barry Frantz, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Department of Agronomy, Penn State; 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 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, park manager, Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks.

Revised Version

Preparation: Jerry Martin, senior extension associate, Penn State Extension. Project Coordinators: Doug Beegle, professor of agronomy, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Penn State; Jerry Martin, senior extension associate, Penn State Extension.

Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst is a cooperative effort among Penn State Extension, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.