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Manure Storage and Water Runoff Solutions Lead to a Cleaner Chesapeake Bay

By Geri Mason, NRCS soil conservationist

Water that runs off this dairy farm on an eastern Pennsylvania ridge top, travels across the barnyard to rivers and streams, ultimately running into the Chesapeake Bay.

A series of conservation practices is helping keep soil and nutrients on the farm and runoff water cleaner.

Addressing Resource Concerns and Planning

This dairy houses 40 Holstein cows. The existing concrete storage tank allowed for three months of manure storage. However, when the dairy operation added 20 more cows, manure storage capacity was reduced to less than two months’ storage.

The farmer was forced to spread manure on frozen ground, which can runoff the farm and lead to excessive nutrients entering local waters. Additionally, heifers and dry cows were kept on a steep barnyard area where vegetation soon became destroyed, full of mud and manure.

Cows in muddy conditions.

Cows in muddy conditions.

The steepness of the slope meant surface water quickly ran downhill carrying nutrients and sediment as it washed through the barnyard area.

The farmer, guided by NRCS technicians and engineers, developed a conservation plan to address his manure storage capacity, storm water runoff and soil erosion. Detailed engineering designs guided the construction of an additional waste storage facility and heavy use area for the cows.

Former barnyard area

Former barnyard area.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Conservation Planning Helps Keep Dairy Farm Productive

Implementing Conservation Practices

In spring, excavation began on a 96-foot diameter by 8-foot deep, concrete manure storage tank. The newly constructed tank was linked to the existing 50-foot diameter by 8-foot deep concrete tank by a manure transfer pipe. As the smaller tank reaches capacity, the manure is pumped to the newly constructed tank—designed to hold six months of manure.

With the increased storage capacity, the farmer won’t be pressured to spread manure when conditions are not suitable for manure applications.

Completed waste storage tank

Completed waste storage tank.

To eliminate the nutrient-rich runoff and soil erosion in the barnyard, a concrete heavy use area was constructed. As soil was excavated during construction of the manure storage tank, it was hauled to the other side of the barn to be used as fill to level the steeply sloped barnyard.

The concrete heavy use area provides a cleaner, more sanitary area for the heifers and dry cows to congregate while addressing the resource concerns on the farm. Curbed, and slightly sloped towards the existing concrete storage tank, any nutrient-rich runoff is captured. The farmer can then scrape the manure into the existing waste storage tank.

Leveled and stabilized heavy use area

Leveled and stabilized heavy use area.

No matter what challenges the weather throws at the farmer next year, the soil, crops and livestock will be healthier while protecting local waterways.

Interested in improving your dairy farm? Visit a local NRCS office to get started.