A Checklist for Feedlot Siting and
Carrington Research Extension Center
North Dakota State University
One of the most important decisions to be made when planning any livestock facility is
site selection. The site for the feedlot operation must not only be suitable for housing,
handling and feeding cattle, but also must ensure that surface and ground waters are
protected and that the impact from odors are minimized. Whether you are planning a new
facility or modifying an existing one, the following checklist may help avoid costly
mistakes. For further information on any of the following areas refer to the MWPS 6 - Beef
Housing and Equipment Handbook, MWPS 18 - Livestock Waste Facilities Handbook, or the NDSU
The North Dakota Department of Health is responsible for regulating animal feeding
operations. All feeding operations, regardless of size, must abide by the Cleans Waters
Act which prohibits discharging pollutants into "waters of the state" or to a
position where pollutants are likely to enter those waters. Waters of the state include
lakes, rivers, streams, sloughs, gullies, etc. If you are currently feeding or are
considering feeding more than 200 animal units (200 mature beef cattle or 300 feeder
cattle), you will need to apply for an approval to operate from the Department of Health.
Your application will need to outline what steps you will take to ensure minimum
environmental impact. The approval process usually takes up to 45 days (or 60 days for
more than 1000 animal units).
Planning the layout.
- Space requirements.
Table 1 summarizes the pen and area requirements for cattle in a range of weight classes
(from MWPS 18).
Table 1. Sizing pens and barns.
|Class of stock
|Pen - unpaved, with mounds (ft2/head)
|- unpaved, no mounds (ft2/head)
|- paved (ft2/head)
|Barn - with lot (ft2/head)
|- without lot (ft2/head)
Pens should be freely draining to prevent boggy conditions in spring, yet not so steep
that the surface erodes or the manure washes from the pens. Manure is easier to handle
scraped up as a solid then as a sludge or liquid from a storage pond. The optimum slope
for pens is between 2 and 6%. Pens should slope away from the feed bunk and roadway. Keep
pen length to less than 250 feet to control erosion (the steeper the slope, the shorter
the pen should be).
Collection drains should be located outside of the pen and sloped at less than 1%.
Below pen drains are usually 0.5 to 0.75% while main drains are 0.2 to 0.5%. Drains can be
designed to separate solids from the runoff stream. Alternatively, a settling basin can be
- Soil type.
Soil types should match the requirements of three broad activities within the feeding
A. Pen surfaces and roadways. Locate pens and roadways on a stable, compacted, well
drained site. Expansive clays are undesirable.
B. Waste collection and control. Silt and clay soils are good for drains and storage ponds
as they are relatively impermeable. Silt and clay gravels are also suitable if compacted
properly. Using the USDA Unified Soil Classification Series, MH, CL and GC types are
usually suitable. CH, ML, GM and SM types are sometimes suitable.
C. Manure reuse. Land application of manure and effluent is suited to medium loams to
light clays as they provide good drainage and retention of nutrients. Sandy soils offer
good drainage but poor nutrient retention so application rates will be less.
Having to work with soil types not suited to these activities will add significantly to
costs or environmental risk.
The preferred orientation for a feeding operation is with the pens facing south or east to
offer some protection from the prevailing winds and maximize the sun's drying effect.
- Surface water.
Control of surface water is critical. You will need to prevent all site runoff from
entering waters of the state. Typically, this requires structures such as sedimentation
basins, storage ponds, or grassed filter strips. The choice between different options
depends on distance to the water, slope, soil type and vegetation preceding the water and
size of operation. Allow at least 2 feet per animal unit as a buffer distance between the
operation and any water.
A diversion bank may need to be constructed to prevent clean water from entering the
site. Some people will site the pens towards the top of a rise to avoid building a
diversion bank but you will then need to consider wind protection, odor
"draining" down slope and visual impacts.
- Ground water.
If possible, avoid sites that:
A. Are within 2 miles of a glacial drift aquifer (refer to maps from the North Dakota
State Water Commission).
B. Have usable groundwater within 30 feet of the ground surface.
C. Predominantly have sand, sandy loam, loamy sand or gravel soil types.
D. Are within 2 miles of a public well.
E. Are located within a designated Wellhead protection area.
If you cannot avoid these criteria, it may mean extra investigation or monitoring is
Provide a buffer of at least 250' between the holding pens or manure stockpile and your
Minimizing the impact of odor on neighboring residents is a combination of:
A. Recognizing the prevailing wind direction. In North Dakota, this is usually from the
north-west or south-east (or north/south in the Red River Valley.
B. Using topography to your advantage. Odor tends to "drain" down slope in the
evening in summer.
C. Reduce visual impact. Visual confirmation of dust is more likely to result in odor
complaints. Windbreaks will also help break up odor plumes and provide stock protection.
D. Providing a buffer distance to the neighbors. It is difficult to specify a particular
buffer distance without taking into account the previous factors. Be aware that odors from
some facilities have been detected 4 to 5 miles distant. Anyone planning a facility within
1 to 2 miles of neighboring dwellings will have to provide more detailed information on
the proposed operation.
Confirm with your county government that the site is zoned appropriately.
- Winter protection.
Windbreaks provide shelter for stock and control snow drifts - reducing time spent
removing snow from roads and bunks. 12' high slat fences handle snow efficiently but are
more costly than trees. Three rows of 20' high trees with a density of 50-60% will handle
as much snow at less cost and improve visual amenity. Allow 150' between the windward row
and the pens and extend the rows 100' past the ends. Give thought to where the drainage
from the melting snow will go, it should be clean water and may be diverted.
Mounds can be used to improve drainage within pens on flat sites. In new facilities, soil
for the mounds can come from the lot itself or from soil removed to make debris basins or
holding ponds. On sites with less than a 2% slope away from bunks, soil may have to be
hauled in to provide adequate mounds. Mounds can be built in existing lots from a mixture
of manure and dirt, but clay is preferred.
Typical mounds have short, relatively steep slopes in the mound itself, with less slope
in the valley. It is important that good drainage out of the pen be maintained otherwise
water and manure will accumulate within the pen creating a bog. Having the pen fence on
the crest of the mound results in manure working away from the fence, eliminating manure
buildup under it which would become a fly breeding area during the summer months.
- Future changes, expansion, change in markets.
The operation will change overtime, for example expanding in numbers or concentrating on
different markets. Will you have a site with enough space available to accommodate those
If you have an existing operation, you should have samples tested to determine the
manure's nutrient content. In the absence of your own data, several references provide
typical manure volume and composition analyses. Be aware that the nutrient content will
vary significantly from site to site. Table 2 is from the USDA-SCS Agricultural Waste
Management Field Handbook.
Table 2. Beef waste characterization.
||55.00 % (w.b.)
||0.30 % (w.b.)
||17.20 % (w.b.)
||1.67 lb/1000 gal
||51.70 lb/1000 gal
||17.50 lb/1000 gal
||7.50 lb/1000 gal
||14.20 lb/1000 gal
Units of lb/d/1000# are pounds per day per 1000 pounds of live weight.
- Manure management.
While scraping pens, try to maintain the manure interface layer and leave a level pen
surface. A box scraper is better than a dozer or tractor mounted blade for pen
maintenance. As manure spreading occurs less frequently than pen cleaning, you may need a
stockpile area. If it is outside the pen ensure that any runoff is directed to the storage
pond. Stockpiling can reduce the volume of manure to be spread by as much as 40%.
Composting will result in a product with reduced odor but will require turning of the
stockpile to maintain aeration.
- Runoff management.
Runoff from the pens and stockpile will carry manure off site unless contained. Typically
this will require a storage pond with a capacity designed to hold:
A. Any runoff produced when it is not suitable to distribute that water on pasture or
cropland (Department of Health require 180 days).
B. The runoff from a 24 hour, 1 in 25 year storm.
C. Any sludge that may accumulate and otherwise reduce pond capacity.
The pond may empty by evaporation over the summer but the liquid is of a suitable quality
for distribution by irrigation.
The nutrients in the solid and liquid should be reapplied to pasture or cropland (this is
not yet legislation but may one day become so). Develop a manure application plan that
A. Existing soil fertility levels.
B. Nutrient content of the manure to be applied. Testing at the time of application
accounts for most losses, use that data for next years calculation.
C. The crop's nutrient requirement after selecting a suitable yield goal.
D. Calculation of the manure application rate so that no nutrient is applied in excess of
the crop requirements.
E. Calibration of the spreader.
F. Crediting the nutrients applied against the usual inorganic fertilizer application.
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