Nutrient Management on Small Farms

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Why Should Small Farms Be Concerned About Manure Management?

The USDA defines a small farm as any operation with gross sales less than $250,000 per year.  A small farm might have 50-100 dairy cows in the Midwest or Northeast, it could be a 30–ewe flock of pasture raised sheep, or a 100 head sow herd or 10 head of beef cows and calves on a retirement farm; or even a flock of laying hens in a residential area.  This definition includes both commercial and hobby farms. 

Many small farm owners do not realize the value of the manure produced on their farms.  Manure is often disposed offsite or stored indefinitely on the farm, if manure is spread on farm a nutrient management plan may or may not be in place.  Small farms have fewer animals and often several animal species on the same farm. There may be limited acreage and/or a lack of equipment for spreading manure. Financial resources may be lacking, but lower cost solutions for manure management may exist.  Small farmers may not be aware of potential critical areas on the farm (sensitive water bodies, erosion, neighbor concerns, manure storage), and they may not understand the idea of nutrient balance. 

The following principles may help small farmers who develop nutrient management programs:

  1. Appropriate manure storage should be located at least 100 feet from water bodies, wetlands, etc.;
  2. Animal access to water bodies, wetlands, etc. should be controlled;
  3. Manure should be applied according to a nutrient management plan that balances nutrient content in the manure with crop nutrient requirements and uptake and optimizes beneficial use of nutrients from manure and bedding; and
  4. Minimize odors from manure storage and application areas.  The Livestock Poultry Environmental Learning Center has a series of Small Farms fact sheets;


Michael Westendorf, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Additional Information

LPES Curriculum Small Farm Fact Sheets

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