A Survey of Manure Management Practices in North Dakota.

S.W. Birchall, Carrington Research Extension Center, North Dakota State University.

D.J. Klenow, North Dakota State University.


A phone survey of 356 North Dakota livestock producers (beef, dairy and swine) was completed during February 1999. The objectives of the survey were to assess the level of adoption of Best Management Practices (BMP's) relating to manure management and to identify issues that future extension efforts need to address. The questions were grouped into the following categories; classifying the operation, collection, storage and spreading of manure and waste water, nutrient budgeting, carcass disposal, system performance, and assistance needs. Results were grouped according to species, as well as whether the operation had an "approval to operate".


Manure from animal feeding operations (AFO’S) has been identified as a contributor to impaired water quality in at least nine watersheds within North Dakota (Wiedenmeyer 1998, personal communication). As in most other states, extension programs, and technical and financial assistance are offered to livestock producers to encourage compliance with environmental regulations. These programs need up-to-date information that meets the following objectives:

i) identify current manure collection, storage and utilization practices.

ii) identify issues where more education or assistance is required.

iii) develop a benchmark against which any change can be assessed.


A survey targeting beef, dairy and pork producer's was developed to satisfy the objectives listed above. The 26 core questions were grouped according to i) demographics; ii) collection, storage and spreading practices, iii) nutrient utilization, iv) mortality disposal, and v) assistance needs. An additional five questions were developed for beef producers with winter range-feeding.

The survey was designed to be completed via telephone interviews. Producer's telephone numbers were randomly selected from each of the following lists:

i) North Dakota Brand Register (beef).

ii) North Dakota Department of Agriculture Dairy Register

iii) North Dakota Pork Producers' Council - Pork News mailing list.

The North Dakota Department of Health has the responsibility to protect the quality of surface waters, groundwater and the air of the state. They require larger AFO's (those with more than 200 Animal Units) to have an "approval to operate". One Animal Unit is equivalent to an animal of approximately 455 kg (1000 lb) liveweight and represents 1 mature beef or dairy cow, 1.5 feeder cattle, or 4 swine (Haberstroh, 1995). At the end of 1998, there were approximately 420 producers with an "approval to operate" in the state (Haberstroh, 1998, personal communication). These producers were included in the survey so that at least one third of the responses came from operations with an "approval to operate".

The survey was completed during February, 1999. All phone calls were made during weekday evenings and began with a summary of the survey’s purpose and two screening questions;

i) Are you still in the business of beef/dairy/pork production?

ii) Are you the person responsible for making the manure management decisions?

Only if the respondent answered yes to each screening question did the survey continue. On average, each completion took 10 minutes.

Results and Discussions.

This discussion will be limited to beef and pork producer's responses. At the time this paper was written, the responses from dairy producers had not been analyzed.


Both the group of pork producers with an "approval to operate" and the group without an "approval to operate" exhibited similar characteristics. Of those producers with an "approval to operate" 59% were farrow to finish, 15% farrow to weaner or feeder, and 26% weaner or feeder to finish. Most of those producers relied on a confinement barn for housing (78%), but 52% utilized some outdoor pens during a portion of the year. Only one producer with an "approval to operate" had any hoop barns. For those pork producers without an "approval to operate", 61% were farrow to finish, 15% farrow to weaner or feeder, and 19% weaner or feeder to finish. Similarly, those producers used a mix of confinement barns (59%) and/or outdoor pens (55%). Eight percent (8%) of producers indicated using hoop barns.

Pork producers with an "approval to operate" were less likely to be feeding other livestock (48%) compared to pork producers without an "approval to operate" (66%). Most commonly, this diversification into feeding other livestock entailed feeding less than 10 poultry, dairy cattle or sheep, or more than 100 beef cattle.

All of the livestock fed on that farm were converted to Animal Units and summed to determine the total number of Animal Units in that operation. The distribution of sizes of all the operations surveyed are represented in Figure 1.

The majority of beef producers without an "approval to operate" described their enterprise as cow/calf production (67%), or as cow/calf and backgrounding calves (18%). Most therefore, only fed their animals during the winter in a lot (61%) and/or on the range (51%). Of those producers with an "approval to operate", 40% were a cow/calf enterprise, 29% cow/calf and backgrounding, 13% backgrounding only, 11% cow/calf, backgrounding and feedlot. Beef producers were less diversified into other livestock than pork producers. Only 13% of producers with an "approval to operate" and 19% of producers without an "approval to operate" responded as having other livestock. The distribution of sizes of all the beef operations surveyed are represented in Figure 2. (The number of Animal Units includes all species fed in that operation.)

Figure 1: Size distribution of pork producers responding to the survey.

Figure 2: Size distribution of beef producers responding to the survey.

In the past, winter feeding operations have been exempt from the need to have an "approval to operate". Many of the medium sized operations (200 to 1000 AU) without an "approval to operate" would be winter feeding operations.

Collection, Storage and Spreading.

AFO’s with confinement barns are required to have a storage structure with the capacity to hold, at a minimum, the volume of manure and waste water generated in 6 months of operation. When uncovered pens are used, the storage must also be able to hold the runoff from a 1 in 25 year, 24 hour storm. Survey responses show that 59% of pork producer's without an "approval to operate" do not have a manure storage. One-third (33%) of pork producers with an "approval to operate" do not have a manure storage. This result is lower than expected and may be due to two factors; the ambiguous wording of the question to accommodate the range of different types of storage systems, and secondly, that some of those operations had received their "approval to operate" when the requirement for storage was not as explicit as under today's standards. A similar pattern was established for beef producers; 80% of producer's without an "approval to operate" and 49% of producer's with an "approval to operate" did not have an area for storing runoff from the pens.

Beef producers were asked about the frequency with which pens were scraped clean. Their responses are summarized in Figure 3. Scraping pens regularly to limit the depth of manure build-up helps to reduce the depth of mud following a rain event and, as those pens then dry more quickly, significantly reduce odor emissions.

Figure 3. Return period for cleaning beef feedlot pens.

Manure injection and incorporation following surface broadcasting are strategies producers can use to minimize odor emissions and maximize the retention of manure nitrogen. The majority of pork producers (78% of those with an "approval to operate" and 85% of those without an "approval to operate"), as well as beef producers (84% and 82% respectively) incorporate manure after broadcasting. Figures 4 and 5 show the usual elapsed time between spreading and incorporation.

Figure 4: Time elapsed between spreading swine manure and incorporation.

Figure 5: Time elapsed between manure broadcasting and incorporation (beef producers).

Most livestock producers in North Dakota rely on their own equipment to spread manure. Only 22% of pork producers with an "approval to operate" and 8% without an "approval to operate" use the services of a contract spreader. For beef producers, the response was 32% and 20% respectively.

Nutrient Utilization.

Best management practices for utilizing manure suggest that a nutrient management plan be developed. This plan should take into account the following factors:

i) existing soil fertility

ii) manure nutrient analysis

iii) matching the application rate to the nutrient needs of the crop

iv) calibrating the spreader

According to the responses from pork producers, 69% of producers with an "approval to operate" and 45% of those without an "approval to operate" test soil samples from the reuse area at least every two years. Only 15% and 38% respectively said that they never use soil tests. For beef producers, the picture was very similar; 63% of those with an "approval to operate" and 45% without an "approval to operate" conduct soil tests on the reuse area at least every two years. Those producers that never used a soil test comprised 26% and 46% of the respondents.

When it came to analyzing the nutrient content of manure, a much lower participation rate was evident. Regardless of species, most producers don't test a sample of manure to determine its nutrient content (70% of pork producers with an "approval to operate", 85% of pork producers without an "approval to operate, beef producers; 76% and 89% respectively). However, when asked how they calculate the manure application rate, only 26% of pork producers with an "approval to operate" and 30% of producers without an "approval to operate" stated that they did not know. For beef producers, this was 26% and 46% respectively.

Keeping records of all manure applications is a requirement for operations with more than 1000 animal units, and encouraged for all other livestock producers. Aside from the regulatory requirement, records are a useful management tool and can assist in the producer's defense should a complaint occur. Pork producer's responses showed 56% of those with an "approval to operate" kept records of past manure applications compared to 23% of those without an "approval to operate". For beef producers the response was 29% and 20% respectively.

Mortality Disposal.

Most producers use a combination of three methods to dispose of dead animals - bury, burn or rendering. Figures 6 and 7 show the range of responses from pork and beef producers.

Figure 6: Methods of disposal of dead swine.

Figure 7: Methods of disposal of dead beef animals.

Assistance needs.

Some producers are planning to make changes in the way they handle manure and waste water. Fifteen percent (15%) of pork producers with an "approval to operate" and 16% without an "approval to operate" indicated that they plan to change some aspect of their manure management system. For beef producers, the responses were 22% and 9% respectively.

Given that a significant number of producers have not yet adopted best management practices, more producers will have to consider whether their manure management practices are adequate. However, one of the stronger messages resulting from the survey is that producers need to be better informed about environmental regulations and some of the assistance that may be available for them to implement changes. Only 59% of pork producers with an "approval to operate" were aware of the North Dakota Department of Health's requirements for AFO’s. For pork producers without an "approval to operate", the response was 50%. Most beef producers with an "approval to operate" said they were aware of the requirements (79%) compared to those beef producers without an "approval to operate" (39%). Some of the uncertainty about regulations may be due to confusion resulting from recent and on-going reviews of Federal and State regulations, however, it highlights a need that must be addressed by agencies within the state.

There are two technical assistance and cost share programs that are available to small or medium sized producers. However, awareness of these programs is currently at 56% for pork producers with an "approval to operate" and just 32% for producers without an "approval to operate". Similarly, 67% of beef producers with an "approval to operate" and 36% without an "approval to operate" said that they were aware of the programs.

Information relating to regulations, odor control, manure application and calibration, and cost share programs were the priority needs for pork producers. Beef producers were seeking added information on regulations, preventing seepage to groundwater, nutrient budgeting and cost share programs. The cost involved in implementing changes was cited most commonly as the reason preventing both pork and beef producers from improving their system of manure management.


Agencies providing information and assistance to North Dakota livestock producers must work to raise the level of awareness regarding environmental regulations and ensure that those producers are able to assess if they are eligible for cost share assistance.

A significant number of medium sized producers (200 to 1000 AU) need to make efforts to secure an "approval to operate". Community concerns will only be alleviated by producers showing that their industry is complying with the state's regulations.


Haberstroh. G. (1995). Managing Livestock Waste. NDDoH publication.