Indiana Farmstead Assessment for Drinking Water Protection

Livestock Yards Management

Introduction Distance from well, surface water or tile inlet Site characteristics Surface water diversion Runoff control systems

Yard surface and size Yard cleaning or scraping Abandoned livestock yards The Indiana Confined Feeding Control Law

Contacts & references Authors Sources

Livestock Yards Management Survey


A livestock yard is an open area used for feeding, handling and loafing. It may be paved or unpaved. Manure accumulates on the yard at varying rates depending on the concentration of livestock and time spenton the yard. If a yard is improperly designed and managed, rainfall can flush manure nutrients and bacteria off the yard in surface runoff which may flow to a stream or ditch, or infiltrate to groundwater. Effective management of your livestock yard can prevent surface and ground-water problems. This fact sheet discusses important factors in managing a livestock yard to protect water quality.

Distance from well, surface water or tile inlet

Wells should be located in an elevated area upslope of the livestockyard so that runoff will not drain into the vicinity of a water well. The Indiana State Board of Health recommends a minimum separation dis-tance of 50 feet between existing livestock yards and new wells.

Minimum separation distances regulate new well installations, aswell as the distance from existing wells to new sources of contamination. Existing wells are required by law only to meet separation requirementsin effect at the time of well construction. Make every effort, however, to exceed "old requirements," and strive to meet current regulations when-ever possible.

Site characteristics

Important site characteristics include soil texture (surface andsubsoil), depth, permeability and drainage class. The best site has a deep, well-drained silt loam or clay loam soil with low permeability. A verypoor site has shallow soil, or a high water table, or a very sandy or gravelly soil with excessive drainage and high permeability.

For existing livestock yards on poor sites, the best optionsfor protecting groundwater might be eliminating the yard and using total confinement for thelivestock or providing paved yards and liquid-tight basins to store yard runoff.

Surface water diversion

The best way to reduce water pollution fromlivestock yards is to reduce the amount of surface water entering the yard. Contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for design assistance. In all cases, these structuresneed to be maintained.

	*Waterways, small terraces and roofgutters direct water away
	 from livestock yards. 

	*An earthen ridge or terrace can be con-structed
	 across the slope upgrade from a livestock yard to prevent
	 runoff fromentering the yard.

	*In some areas, if a diversion terrace is notpractical, a
 	 catch basin with a tile outlet could be installed above the
	 livestock yard. 

Runoff control systems

Earthen livestock yards typically have asurface not shaped for water drainage; soil is sometimes dry and sometimes muddy. Manure typically accumulates on the surface, and decaying manure is mixed into the soil by animaltraffic.

This type of yard is difficult to manage, and the absence of runoff controls may lead to water quality problems. Contaminated runoff from anactive feedlot can accumulate in areas adjacent to the lot, and flow through the soil and threaten groundwater quality. This risk is particularly high on sites with high infiltration and per colation rates, such as sandy soils and other soils with good to moderate drainage. Contaminated runoff may also flow to a surface water or tile line and affect surface water quality.

Runoff control systems can prevent these problem situations. These systems collect live stock yard runoff, settle out manure solids, and direct the remaining water to open fields or filter strips, away from waterways and areas of permeable soils and fractured bedrock. Another option is to collect and store runoff for later land application.

Figure 1 shows a typical livestock yard runoff control system.

Yard surface and size

A combination of yard surfaces can offer themost flexibility in adapting to weather conditions. Livestock location can be changed basedon the condition of the yard surface--on concrete in sloppy conditions and on an earthen surface in dry weather.

If bedrock is close to the land surface whereyour livestock yard is located there is a higher risk that groundwater could be contaminated bymanure in runoff. Pave the surface with concrete and control the runoff, or totally confine thelivestock to a roofed structure.

The area needed per animal for minimizingthe risk of water quality problems depends on the type of lot surface. The amount of concretesurface area needed is much less than that required for an earthen lot because the concretesurface dries quicker. The concrete area needed is a balance between traffic on the lot and restingarea provided for animals. The area required for an earthen lot can be decreased slightly byforming a mound of earth in the lot. The mound provides an area that stays drier, which helpscattle health, comfort and feed utilization.

Yard cleaning or scraping

The amount of manure on a livestock yarddepends on the number of animals and the hours per day they spend on the lot. The yard should be cleaned regularly to protect animal health and prevent runoff from carrying concentratedmanure off the yard. Cleaning and scraping at least once per week is preferable. High concentrations of animals may require solids removal more often.

Concrete surfaces are easier to clean thanearthen lots. Earthen yards are cleaned when dry, so solids may be removed less frequently de-pending on the weather, possibly only once or twice per year.

Abandoned livestock yards

When unpaved feedlots or yards are in use,the layer of organic matter mixed with soil at the surface lies over compacted subsurface soil, forming a layer through which water moves very slowly. Therefore, leaching of nitrate and bacteriathrough the surface seal and compacted layers is not likely within the livestock yard. If livestockyard runoff is discharged to permeable soils or fractured bedrock, leaching may occur. Studieshave found little nitrate in the soil below active feedlots.

Nevertheless, abandoned yards can pose aparticular groundwater contamination risk. As the manure pack breaks up from lack of use, water can leach through and reach the groundwater.

If you have a permanently abandoned yard,dig it up, spread the manure and soil combination on fields at agronomic rates that match thenutrient content of the manure/soil mix. Fill the former yard with other material. Another optionis to till and plant the yard to a high-nitrogenusing crop, which will use the nitrogen releasedby soil and the manure decomposition process. Remove manure from a feedlot that will not beused for an extended period. Otherwise, cracks developing in the surface may allow leaching ofnitrates.

The Indiana Confined Feeding Control Law

The Indiana Confined Feeding Control Lawrequires livestock operations above certain sizes or those identified as polluters to obtain approvalfor their manure management systems. The Indiana Department of Environmental Manage-ment (IDEM) is responsible for the approval. The law requires that livestock operations, subject tothe law, provide: adequate storage capacity for feedlot runoff and manure to permit timelyd isposal on the land; and adequate equipment and land for waste disposal.

If your operation is not regulated by theconfined feeding law, it is still very important for you to have an appropriate waste storage and management plan. There may be local ordinances that affect your management options, particularly with regard to land application of manure. Your local extension educator or NRCS conserva-tionist can assist you. Regardless of the size of a livestock operation, the waste disposal system,including contaminated runoff from a livestock yard, should ultimately use the soil as the receiver of waste; no waste should be intentionally released to surface water or a tile line, or pilednear a water well.

Contacts and References

Design assistance and technical standards
for livestock yards and runoff control systems

Indiana Department of Environmental
Management (IDEM)
Land Application Group,
Water Quality Section
P.O. Box 6015
Indianapolis, IN 46206-6015

Natural Resources Conservation Service
6013 Lakeside Blvd.
Indianapolis, IN 46278-2933

Purdue University Cooperative
Extension Service
1-888-398-4636 or local office

What to read about... Design criteria and general information

*ID-114 Runoff Control Systems for OpenLivestock Feedlots (1)
*MWPS-6 Beef Housing and EquipmentHandbook (2,3)
*MWPS-3 Sheep Housing and EquipmentHandbook (2,3)
*MWPS-8 Swine Housing and EquipmentHandbook (2,3)
*MWPS-7 Dairy Housing and EquipmentHandbook (2,3)
*MWPS-18 Livestock Waste FacilitiesHandbook (2,3)
*Livestock Yards Management (CD-ROM) (4)


Sarah Brichford
Cheri Janssen
Joe Yahner
Joe Eigel


1. Purdue University Cooperative Extension
offices or
Media Distribution Center
301 South 2nd Street Lafayette, IN 47901-1232
765/494-6494 or 1-888/EXT-INFO

2. Midwest Plan Service
122 Davidson Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011

3. Purdue Farm Building Plan Service
1146 Agricultural and Biological
Engineering Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1146

4. Center for Technology Transfer and
Pollution Prevention
1146 Agricultural and Biological
Engineering Building
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1146

Click below for Survey 8

Livestock Yards Management Survey

Reviewed 5/1/01

It is the policy of the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, David C. Petritz, Director, that all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to its programs and facilities without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, or disability. Purdue University is an Affirmative Action employer. This material may be available in alternative formats. 1-888-EXT-INFO.