Several years ago, regulations were considered on the issue of feedyard dust. However, the question remains: Is feedyard dust really that big of an issue? And if so, how can operators help to minimize this issue?
Feedyard dust is not really dust in the traditional sense of the word. Feedyard dust is actually dried manure, which is why some thought it was a problem in the first place. Keeping this dust down not only makes feedyard operators good neighbors, but it is economically advantageous.
“Animal and human health are impacted by feedyard dust. We want to keep the cattle and people happy. When you take into account the cost of burning diesel and understand the cost, it makes sense."
"People have not always put a pencil to the bottom line to increased performance and intake,” explains Dan Thomson, Jones professor of production medicine and epidemiology, and director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Being a good neighbor is critical when it comes down to regulations. “People who are in close proximity to other people have really stepped up their efforts in maintaining dust control and mitigating it,” says Thomson.
There are no set requirements or maximums for feedyards, but dust mitigation is a requirement of the permit. Investigations happen based on complaints.
“If they receive a complaint, then they come out. The main thing is maintaining a good relationship with neighbors and do what you can to keep it under control,” states Dave Venhaus, director of environmental services for Cactus Feeders.
Depending on the area of the country, this can be a challenge. Areas that experience drought will likely have more dust problems than areas that receive adequate rainfall.
“When we get in a drought, like we were previous to 2015, on a feedlot surface in the Texas Panhandle, that can be pretty challenging. The largest issues occur during the peak dust event or time frame, which is in the evening when it starts to cool and the cattle are more active, which creates dust,” he explains.
Mitigation is the best way to stop issues from occurring. “We do the best we can to apply water to vehicle traffic areas to keep dust down, and our efforts to control dust are scraping and harvesting loose dust material and minimizing driving on those areas,” Venhaus says.
Sprinklers can help keep dust down but should be monitored because too much water can cause a muddy pen, which is also a problem for herd health. Cattle in muddy pens generally need more square footage per cow, and mud decreases feed conversion efficiency in cattle.
“We do have a couple of sprinkler systems in the yards, but is that the best use of a natural resource, with water rights and the pressure that everyone is under to conserve water? We do a little bit with the sprinklers – but not much,” states Venhaus.
One non-traditional technique to reduce dust is to feed the cattle at night. “When we get that activity and the dust plumes, cattle will go to the bunk. This practice has not been adopted widely, and there’s not a lot of research out there on it either,” says Thomson.
Another suggestion is to use hot wire to decrease pen capacity for cattle in the summer months. Thomson says that cattle will urinate in a smaller area, which also helps to keep the dust down.
However, at the end of the day, harvesting manure is the best way to mitigate problems, according to Thomson. He suggests pens be cleaned out on a regular basis and having a regular rotating schedule to make sure all pens get cleaned, such as when cattle are implanted or moved.
Venhaus agrees, “We largely rely on the pen scraping and do what we can to keep dust under control that way.”
Thomson suggests that those who do not have the equipment or do not have the time should hire it out. “If you do not have the time or ability to do it yourself, you can hire a farmer during the winter when they aren’t farming to come out.
They can use their implements to haul manure out of pens. Find someone you can pay to come in, or maybe you can have the solids in exchange for cleaning the pens,” Thomson states.
Manure can also be an economic opportunity for operators. “A lot of feedyards are composting it and selling it, and some are spreading on crop ground. Some feedyards are buying land around the yard to grow crops and can spread manure and spray it there. That also provides a buffer from neighbors,” he explains.
A waste management plan is very important for operations to have – not only to control dust but to comply with clean water regulations. Thomson says operators need to work with the state environment and health groups as well as their local cattlemen’s associations to create these plans.
Technology has changed the way operators should think about complaints as well. Helicopters and planes used to be how activists could survey a feedyard and its activities, but now, with the widely adopted use of the drone, things have changed.
“With drones now, not only can they fly over and take pictures of the dust plume, but now they can fly through it and take samples. With the age of drones, you do not want a dust plume off your feedyard,” states Thomson.
Management is the key, and keeping dust under control is essential. “Obviously we are gong to have to continue to manage and work as if someone is always watching. Most producers do that anyway. If someone has to tell you that you have a dust problem, you have more than just a dust problem,” he states.
Although there have been no new regulations set forth when it comes to feedyard dust, operators should be working toward minimizing the problem as much as they can. If neighbors do not have an issue and complaints are not being filed, that is the best case for operations.
Keeping feedyard dust to a minimum produces an economic benefit for both cattle and human health, and helps prevent regulations from being drafted.
PHOTO: Areas inclined to drought are likely to have more feedlot dust problems than moist regions. Staff photo.
- Freelance Writer
- Kiowa, Colorado