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Small Livestock Producers Have Chance to Check and Improve Water Quality
Posted: 05/10/2012
DES MOINES – Spring rains bring the proverbial flowers, but they can also create runoff problems for unroofed livestock operations.

Now beef and dairy farmers have an opportunity to evaluate and test how runoff from their cattle yards affects waters below the yard. There are new resources, too, for farmers with small and mid-sized operations who want to improve runoff management and water quality.

A coalition of commodity groups, educational and public agencies has joined to provide practical and affordable materials and water test kits for farmers.

“These test kits are easy and quick, and the only person who knows the results is the farmer,” said Matt Deppe, CEO of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. “Once farmers evaluate the effectiveness of their runoff controls, they can turn to new educational resources designed especially for cattle yards that do not need NPDES permits. These materials can guide them to cost-effective ways to make changes in their yard management or control structures that will better protect Iowa’s waters,” he said.  

For many farmers with small and mid-sized operations, visually inspecting the cattle yard, and testing for ammonia in waters that run below the cattle yard can ease concerns about meeting state regulations on water quality. While there may be other potential problems, like high bacteria levels, ammonia tests are fast and simple to do. A free video and fact sheet on how to test the waters are available on the Iowa Manure Management Action Group’s (IMMAG) and Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ websites at

The test kits can be checked out at about 20 Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offices. Find the location nearest you on the IMMAG website at, or call the local Extension office for more information.

Demonstrations of the kits and discussion of the materials will be covered during field days  of small cattle yards planned for this summer and fall.  Dates for those field days will be posted to the IMMAG website.

The time to inspect and test is during or shortly after a rainfall, when water is running off the cattle yard.

If a farmer discovers a problem, the new publications can steer the farmer to affordable solutions to control and contain manure runoff in “Small Open Beef Feedlots in Iowa – a producer guide.” A similar manual with design and management tools for dairy farmers will be available soon.

“We are convinced that cattle and dairy producers want to do the right thing to protect our water resources,” said Bill Ehm, DNR administrator of environmental services. “These test kits and educational tools will provide them with the information they need to do just that.”

Educational and testing materials are part of the Water Quality Initiative for Small Iowa Beef and Dairy Feedlot Operations, a two-year plan to provide resources for farmers with small or mid-sized open lots. Partners in the project include the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa State Dairy Association, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has provided partial funding through a Section 319 grant.