How much does dealing with manure cost you? Many dairy producers can’t answer that question, and seldom do producers consider their manure management costs per hundredweight (cwt) of milk like they do with their other costs.

Freelance Writer
Boylen is a freelance writer based in northeast Iowa.

The Iowa State University Extension dairy team recently took a closer look at the economics of manure management. They looked at the costs of handling, storing and applying manure on a variety of Iowa farms, ranging from tiestall barns to freestall barns with sand, dried manure solids, mattresses and waterbeds utilizing a single or two-stage manure system.

Jenn Bentley, Iowa State University Extension dairy specialist, says key findings of the study are that the cost of manure management averaged $306.13 per cow annually, or $1.33 per cwt. She explains if the nutrient value is subtracted (assuming perfect utilization), the net cost of storing, hauling and applying manure averaged $104.10 per cow or $0.45 per cwt.

“Most other costs on dairy operations are figured on a per-cwt basis (labor, feed and equipment), so putting manure costs on a per-cwt basis is a number dairy producers can relate to,” she says.

“Our Iowa State Extension dairy team developed a working spreadsheet producers can use to assist in calculating their own costs; however, we would recommend they work with a member of our team to calculate their costs,” Bentley says, noting producers do not necessarily need to live in Iowa in order to use this resource.


“Also key factors to figuring their own costs include investment costs for storage and handling, equipment costs, labor costs and a manure sample from their farm to correctly utilize nutrient values,” she says. “By using these values, producers can realize the importance of manure utilization and the value it can provide on the farm by lowering other operating costs (fertilizer costs).”

Of the total cost, the average for getting manure from the barn into storage was $120.50 per cow or $0.53 per cwt (including storage and handling equipment, structure and equipment depreciation, repairs, taxes, fuel, etc.). The cost for getting manure from storage to application was $185.63 per cow or $0.80 per cwt (equipment, depreciation, repair, taxes, insurance, labor and custom-handling costs).

There was a wide variation of costs for the different types of systems, Bentley says. Two-stage sand systems had a cumulative cost per cwt of $0.97; operations using dried manure solids for bedding had a cumulative cost of $1.24 per cwt. Tiestalls had a cumulative cost of $1.42 per cwt, one-stage sand systems averaged $1.44, and mattress or waterbed systems averaged $1.50.

Click here to download a visual representation of these costsat full size in a new window. (PDF, 265KB)

Tiestall barns typically do not have much invested in storage facilities. As a result they spend three to four times more labor hours annually to handle and haul manure, and they have more invested in equipment. The average labor hours were 4.1 per cow annually for tiestall barns.

Data was collected from 22 farms in eastern Iowa (four tiestall farms, five in the mattress or waterbed group, five in the two-stage sand group, six in one-stage sand group and two in dried manure solids group), with a goal to add more herds from farms in northwest Iowa as well.

“This is a preliminary look at the data and ability to demonstrate the spreadsheet tool for producer use on their own operations,” Bentley says. “With the risk of error in mind, the bottom line was that the manure solids group had the lowest costs. (Only costs for getting the manure to the separator were used, as separator costs were attached to the bedding system costs.)

“This may or may not be an unfair advantage,” she notes. “The dried manure solids system had a cost of $242.39 per cow before nutrient value was considered. The cost of the two-stage sand system was similar at $257.01 per cow. The other systems all cost more than $300 per cow.”

Most producers in the study who used sand for bedding reported some increased expenses with wear and tear on equipment, but the returns of cow comfort and milk production were worth the additional costs. The majority left the sand in the manure and dealt with the increased wear and tear, Bentley says; others were able to reclaim up to 90 percent of the sand using a sand lane-settling system and sand-washing systems.

“In summary, there are many significant costs incurred in storing, handling and applying manure. Producers are encouraged to understand their manure-handling costs and how it affects their costs of production,” Bentley says. “This survey may be used as a general guide but with caution due to the low numbers of producers in each group.” PD

For more information, including contact information, visit the Iowa State University website.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer in Waterville, Iowa.