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Inground earthen manure storages can be damaged by erosion and equipment
<p> In-ground earthen manure storages can be damaged by both erosion and manure-pumping equipment. Over time, these ruts become erosion channels and can erode through earthen liners. Agitation and pumping should always be done from the designed entrance points and ramps, not the most convenient spot.</p>

Enhancing Manure Storage and Application


Your farm’s manure storage structure (s) and land application equipment are critical to your production system. Like any other piece of equipment, they require regular attention to prolong their useful life, maintain efficiency, prevent environmental issues, prevent animal and human health problems from developing and keep the neighbors happy. That attention extends through all stages, from storage to pumping equipment to land application.

A 2011 study in Wisconsin examining the root causes of over 360 manure-related incidents over a five-year period showed that 44% occurred at the farmstead, 26% during pumping or hauling to the field, and 30% in the field during or after application.

Sixteen percent of the farmstead incidents involved a mechanical or physical failure in the manure storage structure, while 10% involved a valve failure or pipe problem between the barn and the storage structure. The storage overflowed (weather, pump malfunction or poor management) in 30% of the farmstead incidents.

Manure Storage Checklist

Unfortunately, many livestock producers take a “build it and forget about it” approach to their manure storage and think about it only when corrosion weakens a grate (and a sow falls through) or a major problem occurs.

Swine producers should create a maintenance checklist and conduct visual inspections on a routine basis to catch potential problems early. A good starting point would be with state requirements for daily, weekly, monthly and annual inspections for permitted livestock facilities (CAFOs). Even if you only have 100 sows in your operation, these guidelines will give you the basis for what you need.

Another good source is the manure storage Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Plan. These guidelines are often part of the state manure storage engineering design standards from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). If cost-sharing or a permit was obtained for construction, you may be required to follow these as a requirement of the permit or contract. Hazard assessments that are a part of your worker safety programs should be included.

Inspect barn waterers and water lines. A single faucet, nipple or watering cup dripping one drop per second will add 3,000 gal. to manure storage annually. If 10 watering devices are dripping, it will add $300 or more to your annual manure hauling tab.

Equipment accidentally banging into waterlines can cause unseen damage, leading to a failure months or years later. Any water line that is exposed should be inspected for dents and damage at least once a month.

Manure is very corrosive. Over time, it will weaken metal and concrete. In storage, decomposing manure produces manure gases. Grates, gates and other building components should be examined on a regular basis. Areas that are consistently wet or exposed to manure are commonly points where damage occurs first. This type of corrosion is particularly noticeable on metals.

Corrosion of this type also takes place higher in the barn as well. A visual inspection for rust or damage along uninsulated walls where condensation occurs is recommended. Pay particular attention to corrosion near electrical or water lines, especially on brackets holding pipes, conduit or junction boxes to the wall.

Underbarn Manure Storage

Because of safety concerns entering confined spaces, it is very difficult to inspect underbarn manure storage. Work in confined spaces may be best left to the professionals, or at least consult with safety professionals to develop a customized confined space entry plan. At a minimum, note the level of manure on a regular basis. If it stops rising or begins dropping, then a leak has developed.

It is safest to do a very thorough visual inspection of the outside of the structure when it is full, walking very slowly around the perimeter. Look for visible signs of manure seeping through cracks and joints. Watch for grasses or weeds that are growing better than the rest. This may be an indication of manure leakage. Make sure that any roof runoff is directed away from the foundation and not ponding alongside the building.

The underbarn walls are designed to not only hold the pressure from the manure inside, but also the weight of the building above. The concrete thickness and rebar needed will vary based on how high the soil is around the underbarn wall. More exposure requires stronger walls. If the design requires soil to be within a foot of the top and some soil has been removed during repairs, construction or erosion, the wall will begin to fail. Review the design blueprints for each barn and make sure soil specifications alongside the building are met.

Above Ground Storage, Lagoons

If your treatment lagoon is not doing its job, find out why. Simple things such as the amount of water being used, antimicrobial agents used in the barn and trees shading the lagoon can impact its effectiveness.

Above-ground manure storages and lagoons are easier to inspect but can be more vulnerable because of exposure to the elements. Like with underbarn storage, start with the designer’s operation and maintenance plan to make sure that any required routine maintenance is being done on schedule. For concrete structures with any exterior surface exposed, check the design plan to make sure that the required soil along the outside is present to support the storage wall.

At your computer, go to and type in your address. When it comes up, click on “maps” at the top of the screen, then click on the down arrow next to “birds eye view” and choose “aerial.” Zoom in on your farm and, using the tools provided, look at your manure storage from several different angles. Check for signs of erosion, ruts and other issues. Choose “birds eye” and do the same thing. Repeat on several other mapping sites such as,, or USDA’s Web Soil Survey at Different Web sites use different maps.

Like underbarn storage, a regular check of the level is advisable. Unexpected drops may indicate a leak, while a rise in the level may point to a water problem in the barn. As seen on the aerial map below, the erosion caused by roof and lot runoff is clearly visible.


Runoff from buildings or surrounding areas can damage manure storage by eroding the earthen liner or the soil supporting the plastic or concrete liner. Manure storages should be visually inspected on a regular basis to catch damage before expensive repairs are required. If damage is observed, seek advice from a qualified expert and ensure any regulatory approvals are secured before starting work. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Erb)


For above-ground steel and concrete structures, start with a visual inspection of the outside when the storage is full. Inspect for cracks, seepage, staining or other indications of leakage. Looking for staining is important because small leaks will sometimes seal over temporarily with manure solids. Any seepage or leaks should be documented and repaired as soon as possible, as the moisture in manure will accelerate the rusting of metal rebar in concrete or metal in steel structures. Check for signs of loose or missing bolts, too.

Once you have completed the sidewall visual inspection, assess the soil and plant growth around the structure. A small amount of leakage will stimulate plant growth, particularly in late summer when it is dry. Long-term leaks and larger volumes will stain soil and stunt plant growth.

When the structure is empty, conduct a visual inspection of the inside walls. Use binoculars for a close inspection while you remain in a safe location outside the structure on solid ground. Cracks or damage should be repaired while the storage is empty. Bolts that appeared tight when the structure was full may now be loose.

Earthen manure storages also require a double inspection process — when full and again when empty. Safety considerations for the individuals conducting the inspection and doing any repairs will need to be assessed based on exposure hazards for each situation.

When the pit is full, walk the outside berm and top, looking for rodent and small animal burrows. The animals should be removed and the burrows filled. For larger burrows or burrows near the inside, excavation may be needed to ensure that they are properly filled and sealed.

When the storage is empty, conduct the visual inspection. Look for signs of erosion from rain and overly aggressive agitation that may need to be repaired or carefully watched.

Applying Manure

Many Midwestern swine producers rely on for-hire custom manure applicators to pump and haul the manure. There are many benefits to hiring a professional applicator.

Northern Illinois swine finisher Janet Gillen Reeder of Reeder Farms uses a combination of her own equipment and a custom applicator to apply 7 million gallons/year from her 8,500-head facilities. She says it takes about two months for family and employees to haul manure covering 400 acres in the fall.

Reeder’s custom applicator, Merlin McClure of McClure Custom Pumping, can apply manure to fields 3-5 miles away from the site. McClure’s crew can move and apply about 3 million gallons for Reeder Farms in about a week using semis, a frac tank and a dragline system. Using a custom applicator reduces wear and tear on the farm’s tractor tanker and allows the Reeders to focus on getting the corn planted on time.

Time savings is one reason many livestock producers choose a custom applicator. Another is their equipment. A dragline hose system with an injection toolbar allows manure to be pumped through a hose from the farm to the field where it can be directly injected into the soil. This approach can reduce odor from field application by more than 90%. It also avoids the compaction caused by the weight of the tractor and tanker. A dragline hose system can move 250,000 to 750,000 gal./day.

Custom applicators also offer the flexibility to transport manure farther distances. With the right equipment (sealed system), there is no smell, no dirty tankers and a clean, positive public image.

Systems can be equipped with a flowmeter integrated into a GPS system to provide as-applied maps and reduce application rates in sensitive areas.

A dragline hose system (toolbar, hose and related equipment) is not cheap, costing $100,000 or more, not including the cost of the tractor.

On the flip side, a custom applicator is not for everyone. Relying on someone else means that manure may be applied when they are available, not at your convenience. Cost can also be an issue for custom manure application (fuel, tractor, labor for agitating, pumping, applying and incorporating).

Choosing a Custom Applicator

Picking an applicator who is dependable, flexible and ethical, has the right equipment and can do the job when it needs to be done and at a reasonable cost can be a challenge.

First, find out if your state’s applicators have a professional organization that provides networking and training opportunities for their members. Ask if they and their crews attend meetings and training sessions.

Working with university Extension and state regulatory agencies, groups in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have created more than 20 intentional manure spills (using actual manure) to demonstrate to farmers, agency staff and applicators the proper way to control, contain and clean up a manure spill.

Applicator associations are also active in education, spearheading the formation and growth of the North American Manure Expo, allowing the industry to see the newest application technology in action. The 2013 Expo will be held near Guelph, Ontario on Aug. 21 (

Applicator associations are also active in research. Wisconsin and Minnesota groups spearheaded a four-year, $640,000 research study that examined the impact of heavy manure equipment on rural roads and devised a set of strategies to reduce the impact.

Some applicator associations maintain a list of members, their equipment and contact information.

Second, verify that the custom applicator meets state training and certification requirements. These lists are often available online.

Third, call and ask questions about fees, equipment, fuel for application, biosecurity protocols and how they handle wet fields.

Fourth, ask about insurance. Ask if they carry a pollution policy in case an accident occurs. Regular business or farm liability policies have a very limited environmental payout (usually $1,000 or less) that barely covers cleanup of any spilled diesel or hydraulic fluid. Some applicators carry a separate pollution policy that protects them and their clients if an accident occurs. Some insurance policies only cover the applicator.

Finally, check out their work experience and equipment in operation. Ask for a list of references. If you want to go a step further, contact your state regulatory agency and field staff who deal with livestock operations and ask about their experiences with a firm. 


Regular maintenance and inspection of manure application equipment is key to preventing problems. During application, draglines should be observed at startup and on a regular basis during use to catch small leaks before they become large ones. Manure from a 1-in. gash in a dragline (above) is shooting 50 ft. or more into the air.  (Photo courtesy of Kevin Erb).


Field Application

In the study mentioned earlier, citing 26% of manure incidents happen between storage and field, more than 40% of these result in manure spilled on the road, mainly due to mechanical failure, vehicle accidents, overfilled tankers and operator error, such as hitting the PTO accidentally, taking a turn too sharp and dropping off the end of a culvert.

The vast majority of these can be prevented with operator training and taking extra precautions during manure movement. Install mirrors on the tractor or a video camera on the rear of the tanker so you know what traffic is behind you. Make sure lights and reflectors are in good working order.

If a truck-to-field transfer system is used, place the equipment in a location where it will not impact traffic flow. Signage and flaggers may be needed for traffic safety.

Ideally, no one should be able to look at the outside of your manure equipment and know what is inside. Innovative ways to retrofit equipment include:

• Installing spring-loaded (or hydraulic) fill doors to prevent sloshing out of manure during transport.

• Retrofitting tankers to pump and fill from the bottom rather than the top.

• Installing caps on the tanker discharge to prevent dripping during transport.

The remaining 30% of manure incidents occur in the field, including runoff after application; ponding in low areas; or runoff caused by rain, groundwater contamination or manure entering drainage tile; and hose breaks. Swine manure has a very high risk of making its way into drainage tile due to its low solids content and great potential for downward movement.

Liquid manure moves through the soil in the cracks, root channels and earthworm burrows. When injected, the weight of the soil above the sweep pushes manure downward after the sweep passes. Fields at higher risk include those with high clay content, which cracks easily during dry weather; long-term no-till; or manure injected below the tillage zone. Pre-working the fields or surface application with immediate incorporation may reduce the risk.

All swine producers should monitor drain tile outfalls during application and for at least 24-48 hours after application to ensure that manure stays on the field. If drainage occurs, a downstream dam and cleanup will be necessary.

Protecting Rural Roads

Manure-hauling equipment is heavy. A loaded, 9,500-gal. tanker and tractor big enough to safely pull it can weigh 135,000 lb. or more. This can cause significant compaction in the field and on rural roads.

Road damage is a common topic at many livestock expansion hearings. Most rural asphalt roads are built to a standard of 20,000 lb./axle. The more weight per axle, the more stress on the road surface and subgrade, and the greater the damage.

Still, there are several steps that farmers and applicators can take to minimize the damage.

The largest damage factors are axle weight and distance from the center of the tire to the edge of the concrete or asphalt. Moving the load away from the edge can reduce damage by 80% or more.

Equipment routing can reduce road damage. Taking the next step, applicators and towns in Wisconsin are routing short trips on town roads one way for manure hauling. This means that they are not pulling off for any oncoming traffic (except emergency vehicles). It avoids the necessity of slowing down to meet traffic and generally moves 20% more loads per hour — assuming a grid road pattern for empties. This reduces the impact to non-farm neighbors, too, as the roads in front of their homes are busy for a shorter period of time.

Wider culverts or dedicated areas in fields for frac tank transfer are gaining popularity. Long culverts (50-60 ft.) allow longer equipment to enter the highway without swinging wide onto the shoulders. Part of the partnership that McClure, Reeder and the local road commissioner developed was installing wider culverts at field entrances to allow equipment to safely exit fields.

Another strategy in the upper Midwest is dedicated pipes or boring underneath highways and roads for draglines. Draglines are either connected to the ends of the pipes or threaded through. Farms must work with local road crews to ensure the right permits are granted before work begins.

Finally, some farms are trading manure. Rather than pass each other’s equipment on the road, they haul equal numbers of loads onto a neighbor’s fields. This saves several miles of wear and tear and still retains nutrient benefits.

Manure is a valuable resource, and one that, with proper planning and forethought, will not become a liability.


You might also like:

Outlining Nutrient Management Plans

The Three P’s of an NMP

Properly Calibrate Equipment

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