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Livestock Production and Animal Waste

Livestock Production and Animal Waste

by Robert C. Schiffner, Resource Conservationist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Hays, Kansas

There are an estimated 904,544 farms with livestock and poultry in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2007 Census of Agriculture. This number includes all operations that raise beef or dairy cattle, hogs, sheep, goats and poultry and includes both confinement and non-confinement (i.e., grazing and range fed) production. Of these, about 183,500 are defined as animal feeding operations, where livestock and poultry are confined, reared, and fed.

Animal Waste and the Environment
Animal waste, if not properly managed, can be transported over the surface of agricultural land to nearby lakes and streams. The release of waste from animal feedlots to surface water, groundwater, soil, and air may be associated with a wide range of human health and ecological impacts and contribute to the degradation of the nation’s surface waters.

Good management practices for small open feedlots and winter feeding areas can minimize the potential for nonpoint source pollution. The key factor in controlling nonpoint pollution is controlling runoff and leaching. Many of the standard practices for erosion and sediment control will reduce losses of animal waste pollutants to surface water systems.

Reducing Animal Waste Contamination
Best Management Practices (BPMs) are measures or methods that have been determined to be the most effective, practical means of preventing or reducing pollution from nonpoint sources. They include measures such as clean water diversion, grassed filter strips, and riparian area management.

Clean Water Diversion
Diverting clean water reduces the volume of runoff water impacted by livestock waste. Terraces, diversions, and service road ditches installed on a slope above the livestock yard or winter feeding areas can intercept and redirect clean water so it does not flow through the livestock yard or winter feeding areas.

Grassed Filter Strips
Grassed filter strips are very effective in treating animal waste runoff in most regions of the United States. Filter strips can reduce the nitrogen, phosphorus, and organic matter in animal waste runoff by as much as 77 percent, 94 percent, and 96 percent, respectively. Filters strips may be areas such as pastures, grassed waterways, or even cropland, which intercept and slow runoff water following a rainstorm. Filters strips are useful for treating feedlot and winter feeding area runoff. These filters may have either channelized or overland flow. Channelized flow systems such as graded terrace channels or grassed waterways concentrate the flow to a relatively narrow channel. Overland flow systems allow flow of uniform depth over the disposal area.

Riparian Area Management
In addition to causing a pollution concern, animals may destabilize streambanks with frequent use, making them more susceptible to erosion. There is potential to effect direct discharge to streams through over utilization of riparian (stream-side) vegetation that normally absorbs nutrients and traps pollutants before they can enter the stream. Grazing periods should be designed to minimize repeated damage to critical areas such as highly erodible areas, streams, or ponds. Winter feeding areas should be as far removed from water courses as possible and should be periodically rotated in order to allow the denuded areas around the feed bunk to recover. Salt licks, water sources, and windbreaks should also be located away from water courses. Watering systems can be designed and built to supply water from streams or ponds without animals having direct access to the water. Fencing can provide protection to stream systems and eliminate most bacterial contamination by allowing for targeted grazing through direct waste contamination of a waterway.

For more information on reducing animal waste contaminations, please contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or conservation district office located at your local county USDA Service Center. To learn more about NRCS, visit the Kansas NRCS Web site at

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