Always prepare for manure spills

Manure holding pond

Manure application involves controllable factors as well as uncontrollable or unforeseen factors. What this means is that somewhere, sometime, a manure spill or escape is going to happen.

I attended the Manure Science Review program that took place in Hardin County in July. Glen Arnold, OSU Extension field specialist in manure nutrient management systems, gave a presentation on Avoiding Manure Spills/Escapes.

While the goal is certainly to avoid manure spills, Glen pointed out with a series of photos, video clips and life stories that manure spills happen. The consequence of that spill/escape, the degree of negative impact it has, along with the financial cost, all depends upon farm preparedness for a manure spill/escape.

Locations of spills

During his presentation, Arnold said that manure spills/escapes occur at three different locations and/or phases of manure management. One area is on the farmstead itself, close to farm buildings and facilities.

Most of these manure incidents are actually escapes and are the result of manure pit overflows, manure pond overflows and/or lot runoffs. Manure spills can happen during the transport of manure. As farms and applicators strive to do a better job of matching up manure nutrients with fields needing those nutrients, manure is getting transported longer distances.

During transport, manure spills are the result of flipped manure tankers or semi-truck tankers, manure hose leaks, or improperly secured manure loads. The third area where manure spills/escapes happen is on the field, during or shortly after the manure application.

These spills are the result of surface runoff or rapid movement through the soil profile and into field tile. Identifying the where/when manure spills/escapes occur is useful especially when combined with an analysis of why manure spill/escapes happen.

Taken together they identify areas of risk that include both manageable factors as well as those factors outside of the farm’s or applicator’s control. For example, a manure escape happens because the manure storage structure overflows.

Weather events

Probably because weather events did not permit the hauling and application of manure and/or an unexpectedly large rain event pushed storage over the top. Weather is an uncontrollable event, yet farms need a plan to manage this possibility.

Is there a neighbor with extra lagoon space or a lagoon available on a former dairy facility that might be used in an emergency? Some other causes of manure spills are the result of equipment failures, traffic accidents, lack of monitoring, over application of manure, manure applied at the wrong time/improper conditions, and operator error.

With each of these causes, the farm manager needs to identify what can be done to minimize risk, including such things as periodic and regular equipment checks/maintenance, emergency shut-offs, employee/applicator training, work schedules that provide adequate rest, up to date manure management plans that guide application rates, weather monitoring and record keeping.

To this point, we have discussed planning and preparation to prevent manure spills and escapes. Despite planning, preparation and best intentions, some unforeseeable action or uncontrollable event will result in a spill or escape.

Emergency plan

Therefore, the farm needs an emergency plan. The plan should spell out what to do, who will do it, and who to contact in case of a manure spill/escape. Quick response can minimize detrimental effects; delays make a bad situation worse.

In his presentation, Arnold said your spill plan should contain cell phone numbers of key people who can help and you need to know who responds to text messages. You should know who has equipment to block a ditch or stream? Who has equipment to pump manure out of a stream or ditch?

Who has tile plugs? Who can transport the spilled product you are cleaning up? When manure gets into a stream be prepared to pump 20 to 25 times the volume of the manure that entered the stream according to Arnold. Where will this pumped product go?

How will you get oxygen back into the stream and who has that equipment?

Spill kit

As part of their preparedness, some farms keep a manure spill kit available.

A list of some materials and resources to include in a manure spill kit is available at

According to a Purdue and Michigan State University publication entitled Emergency Action Planning for Livestock Operations, the four C’s of a manure spill/escape response plan are:

  1. Control the source of the spill/escape.
  2. Contain the spill.
  3. Clean up the spill, which involves assessing the extent of the damage and restoring the affected area.
  4. Comply with reporting requirements.

That publication, along with other manure spill response resources is available online at


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