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January 2009

Outside Wintering Lots: Capture Fertilizer Value of Manure and Protect Surface Waters

Natalie Rector
Extension Manure Specialist

Outside wintering lots for dairy heifers, young stock and steers will accumulate valuable manure nutrients. Recycling those nutrients into your crops and pastures is like money in the bank and will lessen your risk of runoff when spring arrives.

The very nature of outside lots implies that the livestock will congregate— and defecate— in one area, as well as generally destroying vegetation and compacting soil. Melting snow and spring rains can potentially wash an entire winter’s worth of nutrients off site. A determined manager can capture these nutrients for crop production.

Right to Farm (RTF) guidelines dictate that runoff containing manure nutrients is not to leave the owner’s property and should never reach surface waters. Properly locating a wintering area is the first step to avoiding both. Temporary fencing can restrict animals to areas in a pasture that are farthest from surface water and not sloped toward neighbors, roads, ditches or streams, and/or areas that naturally provide vegetated buffer distances between the animals and any other surface feature. The greater the distance this runoff would have to move over adjoining pasture land or crop fields before it reaches surface water, the greater the chance that the nutrients will settle in the farmland, thereby benefitting future crop growth rather than contaminating surface waters.

There are two extremes that are the best options for overwintering sites. One is to provide the livestock a large amount of land and move the feed and water to different locations in the field throughout the season. This method forces animals to distribute manure and its nutrients over the area. This can be a daunting task on chilly winter days. If you choose to do this, it’s important to stay dedicated to the process throughout the season.

One could avoid excessive nutrient build up at a winter feeding area by moving the feeding area every 8-10 days. Be sure to exclude the cattle from areas adjacent to surface waters or swampy areas with temporary fencing. At a minimum, one should rotate winter feeding areas each year and reseed them.

Another option is to confine animals to a much smaller area, and feed and water them in the same area all winter. This will concentrate the manure nutrients in a small enough area that they can be scraped up and reallocated to crop and pasture lands before a spring thaw. Keep this area as small as possible to reduce soil compaction and loss of vegetation.

Let’s consider 40 750 lb heifers on a lot for 180 days. They can generate enough potassium to fertilize 25 acres with the equivalent of 60 pounds of K2O per acre. That’s more than $1,000 worth of fertilizer. These young stock will generate less phosphorus than a milking herd but will generate close to $500 worth of phosphorus. Although some of the nitrogen will volatilize, cold weather reduces losses, so there is potentially $1,000 worth of this nutrient that can be utilized elsewhere. The three nutrients add up quickly at 2008 fall prices.





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