Manure has left the premises, now what? The manure applicator should have a plan in place before this situation arises.

Dresbach megan
Vice President / W.D. Farms LLC

In our operation, there is a step-by-step guide in each applicator tractor outlining the steps to take when manure escapes. Our operation also has a customer contact list in each tractor. These lists have the name of the operation, a contact and the farm’s address. It would be impossible to have every field location for every farm, so this is a starting point if emergency services are needed. By having this to-do list, every employee knows what must be done and when. This does not prevent issues but helps speed up the response time.

First step: Stop the spill and make sure all personnel are safe. These actions need to be done simultaneously. If a spreader or semi-tanker has caused the spill, I make the assumption that there has been a rollover. Emergency services are called and will treat the driver. Once that call has been made, efforts shift to spill mitigation.

Next steps: Call your supervisor to let him or her know what has happened. Have the supervisor call the customer(s) to let them know there is an issue. Start assembling the correct equipment and tools on the spill site to start cleanup. This is a high-stress situation and chaotic, but it is critical that all parties take a step back and evaluate the entire situation. The last thing that needs to happen during the correcting of one problem is to cause another problem that may be much worse.


For liquid manure, have a trash pump on site or another pump with the correct fittings and smaller hoses. Smaller hoses – 3 inches or 4 inches – are easier to maneuver. These items can be used to pump out of a ditch and into another tanker or to pump product across a field.


For dry manure, have a loader near the incident location that can be used in cleanup efforts.

Dragline system

Find the leak and stop it. There is technology that enables personnel to monitor system pressures. A drop in pressure is usually a good indication of a leak. Personnel need to inspect the line and find the problem. Our operation usually has an all-terrain or utility-task vehicle (ATV/UTV) on site to help monitor the line.

Once the problem has been located, steps need to be taken to pinch the line so a mender can be installed.

When a hose break occurs in our operation, we utilize the following:

  • A hose humper tractor parks on one end of the hose.
  • If close enough, the applicator tractor parks on the other end. If the applicator tractor is not close, a hose pincher is used. Our operation has hose pinchers mounted on the hose humper tractor for easy access. The ATV/UTV on our site contains a bag that has a mender, impactor, socket, grinder and bolts. These should be all the tools needed to mend the hose and get back to work.

Once personnel have been assessed and mitigation efforts are underway, a call may need to be made to the spill response hotline, depending on the size of the spill and state regulations, for the appropriate agencies to respond.

For liquid manure, have the following items in the applicators’ toolbox. (This list has been compiled from field experience and by Kevin Erb, University of Wisconsin Extension educator.)

  • Good size dirt shovel: This can be used to solve a lot of problems in a short amount of time.
  • Bottles, preferably with ammonia inhibitors: Take water samples before the site, at the site and below the site. Take multiple samples and make notes of when and from where the sample was pulled. Rush the samples to a certified laboratory, and retain the results in case of legal disputes.
  • Five-gallon bucket with bottom removed: This can be placed over a tile intake, then soil can be placed around it to prevent manure from entering the tile.
  • Air compressor and aeration device: It is critical to get oxygen into contaminated water to displace the ammonia from the manure. The ammonia is what kills fish. Our operation has Chicago fittings welded onto a piece of tubing. This can be placed in the impacted body of water. The channel keeps the ends of the fittings under the water. I would place this above the incident site.
  • Trash pump with 3-inch or 4-inch suction and lay-flat hoses: The lay-flat end needs to be above the water to create a fountain. This accomplishes two things: helps the aeration process by getting oxygen into the body of water and removes ammonia from the body of water. I would place this below the incident site.
  • Enough fuel to run the air compressor and/or trash pump for several hours.
  • Hay or straw bales with plywood or hog panels: This combination is an example of items that can be used to make a dam so contaminated water can be contained to pump out and remove. Smaller bales are recommended versus large bales as smaller waterlogged bales are easier to remove.
  • Tillage tool: Used to work ground to create a place for manure to soak into as opposed to keep flowing. Make sure the tillage tool is not in the back corner of the barn behind all the other equipment.
  • Access to a loader: This can be used to move large amounts of soil in a quick time frame, mostly to make a dam if needed.

Communication throughout the entire process is critical. Good communication helps all parties be on the same page through the whole situation. Lack of communication can add additional stress that is not needed.

Document. Document. Document. Once everything has settled down and things are relatively calm, a record should be made containing who did what and when. If possible, make notes of times and actions as the situation progresses. This needs to be done immediately, not a week after. Every government agency is going to ask what happened, when it happened and what was done about it.