By Loretta Sorenson
As animal feeding operations (AFOs) come under increasing environmental pressures, farmers and researchers are finding new ways to manage feedlot runoff.
Mel Meister of West Point, Neb., uses a vegetation treatment system (VTS) that is proving to be an economic, efficient and environmentally effective way to manage feedlot runoff water.
Meister’s 800-head feedlot is on a six-acre southern slope. His sediment basin was designed to hold the runoff generated by up to 5" of rain. A specially designed 30-hp sump pump sends water through a noncorrosive, polyethylene-tube, K-Line sprinkler system. Eight hoses pump water to 72 sprinklers (nine sprinklers per flexible pipeline) on 4 acres of perennial grass
The system cost less than a conventional holding pond and the sprinkler pods are easily moved to distribute the water, says Chris Henry, an Extension engineer who helped design the system at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
"We don’t promote these systems as a solution for everyone," Henry says. "However, they are especially appropriate for feedlots under 1,000 head in a category we call small and medium AFOs. They can be applied and permitted for larger feedlots." Odor reduction is an added benefit, says Jason Gross, a University of Nebraska engineering technician who assisted with the design.
"Water captured in the holding pond is removed within several days of a rain," Gross says. "That results in much lower odor than a holding pond where water sits for months at a time. This system differs from other VTS setups because it utilizes a pump station to lift the water from the pond to the sprinklers. Because the sprinklers are small and lightweight, they’re easily moved and positioned for even distribution. In an odd-shaped vegetation area where water is distributed, this sprinkler system works well."
Benefits for all operations. Henry and Gross spent several years working with different VTS designs for livestock feeding operations. Larger feedlots may find advantages in a system similar to theirs because basins can be smaller, as water is distributed more often.
"The system is easy to operate," Meister says. "Runoff water sits in the pond for a minimum of 12 hours before we pump it. We clean sediment from the basin every year. At 300 gal. per minute, we generally empty the basin within 72 hours after a rain."
Henry believes that similar VTS systems will continue to gain acceptance with livestock producers.
"As the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and state regulatory authorities begin taking a closer look at beef operations under 1,000 head, especially given the recent enforcement priority that EPA has toward AFOs, I think there will be more interest in these cost-effective, practical systems for mitigating runoff risk from open lots," Henry says.
BONUS CONTENT: K-Line Sprinklers
The products were developed in New Zealand several years ago when dairy farmers there began seeking economical and efficient ways to manage nutrient runoff at their farm sites. Towable pods and flexible, non-corrosive polyethylene tubing were among the product’s beneficial features. The sprinklers distribute effluent evenly on the vegetation area at a rate that allows the liquid to effectively infiltrate soil. Sprinkler pods are a rotary molded, one-piece sturdy product.
"Since they’re all poly and non-corrosive, they don’t have to be flushed out," K-Line Territory Manager and Product Development representative E. J. Habrock says. "To move the pods, just hook on a four-wheeler and tow them where you need to go."
"This K-Line system can also be helpful during chronic we weather for feedlots with traditional holding pond systems. Where traditional land application equipment cannot apply feedlot effluent, a K-Line system could be deployed and may prevent a discharge under certain circumstances," Habrock says.
The vegetative treatment area used in this system shouldn’t be confused with a vegetative buffer or filter strip. The VTS uses hay or cropland’s water-holding capacity to store runoff water until the nutrients and moisture can be used by the vegetation.