Equine Barnyard Management

Why Is Barnyard Management Important for Horse Manure?

Horse paddocks (and pastures) may contain large quantities of mud due to excessive traffic. Mud is more than a “mess” or “nuisance.” Winter and spring rains can cause mud and manure to runoff into nearby waterways. Nutrients and sediment in runoff are considered non-point source pollution, which can degrade water quality. A small amount of non-point source pollution from a single property may not seriously impair water quality, however, small amounts of nutrients and pollutants multiplied by many properties can result in significant water quality problems.

Environmental Impacts of Barnyard Runoff

Nitrogen, phosphorus, organic matter, and bacteria in runoff can pollute surface waters and decrease oxygen availability. Phosphorus and nitrogen reaching waterways can promote excessive algae growth. When the algae decays, oxygen is depleted which can kill fish and other aquatic life (aquatic bacteria remove oxygen from the water when decomposing the organic matter in manure). Property owners can reduce the impact of horse facilities on local waterways and groundwater by adopting management practices that minimize the potential for non-point source water pollution.

Additional Information on Horse Manure Management

Author: William J. Bamka, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

USDA Small Farm Definitions

Farm Classification System

The USDA Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS) has developed a farm classification system to divide U.S. farms into eight mutually exclusive and more homogeneous groups. The farm typology focuses on “family farms,” or farms organized as proprietorships, partnerships, and family corporations that are not operated by a hired manager. To be complete, however, it also includes nonfamily farms. A collapsed farm typology combines the eight groups into three categories.

Small Family Farms (gross sales less than $250,000)

Rural-residence family farms:

  • Retirement farms. Small farms whose operators report they are retired.
  • Residential/lifestyle farms. Small farms whose operators report a major occupation other than farming.

Intermediate family farms: 

Farming-occupation farms. Family farms whose operators report farming as their major occupation.  

  •  Low-sales farms. Gross sales less than $100,000.
  • High-sales farms. Gross sales between $100,000 and $249,999.

Commercial Family Farms: (gross sales more than $250,000) 

  • Large family farms. Gross sales between $250,000 and $499,999.
  • Very large family farms. Gross sales of $500,000 or more.

Nonfamily farms:

  • Any farm not classified as a family farm, that is, any farm for which the majority of the farm business is not owned by individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption.  

The National Commission on Small Farms selected $250,000 in gross sales as the cutoff between small and large-scale farms.

Collapsed Farm Typology

The collapsed farm typology combines the seven farm typology groups into three categories:

  • Rural residence farms. Includes limited-resource, retirement, and residential lifestyle farms.
  • Intermediate farms. Includes farming occupation/lower-sales and farming occupation/higher-sales farms.
  • Commercial farms. Includes large, very large, and nonfamily farms.

Livestock and Poultry Environmental Stewardship Curriculum

LPES Curriculum Lessons

The lessons are divided into six modules: Introduction, Dietary Strategies, Manure Storage and Treatment, Land Application and Nutrient Management, Outdoor Air Quality, and Related Issues.

Small Farm Fact Sheets

The small farm fact sheet series were developed to assist smaller-scale livestock and poultry producers with questions about regulations and environmental stewardship.

Agricultural Environmental Management Systems (EMS) Series

The Ag EMS series is based on the ISO 14001 international standard for environmental management systems (EMS). The series is targeted toward educators and producers and assists with integrating environmental considerations into a systematic approach to day-to-day farm management.

Pasture Management on Small Farms

Proper pasture management is important to holistic farm management. Grazing animals deposit manure on pastures and exercise areas. This manure ultimately will either be incorporated into the pasture soil or if the pasture is poorly vegetated it may be a runoff risk. So, the first principle of managing manure with grazing animals is to ensure productive pastures. Productive pastures will reduce the risks of manure runoff by providing ground cover that will prevent soil erosion. These pastures will also take up nutrients from manure and use them for crop growth. Less productive pastures will not do this. ( ABC’s of Pasture Grazing) ( Spanish Language Version)

What Makes a Pasture Productive?

What are some elements of productive pasture management? Proper soil health and fertility will ensure a good growth environment for pasture species, both forage and legume. Manure can help to improve and maintain soil fertility by providing needed nutrients, (N, P, and K) and organic matter. These nutrients will help promote growth of grasses and legumes while organic matter from manure will help to provide soil structure, protection against erosion and improve natural soil fertility. Choosing the appropriate grass and legume species will help optimize forage management and pasture growth.

Pasture rotation is also practiced in order to optimize plant growth and utilization by grazing vegetation at the proper heights and allowing for proper rest and regrowth. Activities such as brush hogging or clipping, dragging to break up manure clumps, fertilizing and over seeding are also necessary components of pasture forage management.



Sacrifice Areas

Exercise or sacrifice areas are designated locations for feeding, watering, exercise and relaxation for times when pastures are not accessible due to lack of growth (winter or drought), flooding, etc. Generally, these areas have little or no vegetation. It is important that manure not be spread in these areas. They are meant to be sacrificed for animal activities in order to protect the remaining pastures. Runoff from sacrifice areas should also be managed to reduce the risk of water pollution caused by sediment and nutrients from these areas.


Erosion problems on small farms are often different than large farms. On large farms, most erosion may be sheet or rill erosion running off large fields. On smaller farms, erosion may more often be a gully where animals cross a stream. Or it could be poorly vegetated pastures that provide poor ground cover during precipitation. Fencing, watering and feeding sites, presence or absence of field buffers, and stream crossings can all influence erosion on a small livestock farm.


Water is of concern whenever it is in short supply or contamination is suspected. Water serves to cool the animal and works as a solvent or buffer for chemical reactions in the body. When the weather is hot in the summer, an animals’ requirement for water will increase. Requirements vary with stress, weather conditions, heat, cold, disease, productive state, work, exercise, etc., as well as the water and salt content of the feed. Often the first sign that water consumption is inadequate is when animals stop eating. Water is essential to maintain adequate feed consumption.

Grazing animals on pasture need to be supplied with adequate water for drinking. Livestock on pasture will tend to congregate near or in riparian areas that have greater access to shade and water. These areas may also provide greater water quality risks from manure runoff, trampling and compaction, overgrazing, and mud accumulation than areas more distant to water. The management and design of these riparian areas is critical for maintaining a proper pasture grazing environment with adequate feed and water availability and promoting optimal environmental quality. A Guide to Managing Pasture Water provides some excellent guidelines for maintaining water quality in riparian settings.



This pasture management section provides information about proper pasture management in order to improve water quality by reducing manure runoff and soil erosion risks that may be associated with poor pastures. The following links provide more specific information.

    1. Basic Soil fertility
    2. Selecting Forage Species
    3. How Forages Grow

Pasture Management

    1. Horse Pasture Management
    2. Sacrifice or Exercise Lots
    3. Rotational Grazing( Spanish Language Version)
    4. Weeds and Toxic Plants
    5. Controlling Farm Erosion
    6. Pasture Based Watering Systems
    7. Fencing, paddock design, etc.
    8. Equipment

Recommended Reading

Authored by Michael Westendorf, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey; Updated November 25, 2008

Nutrient Planning on Small Farms

livestock and poultry environmental learning center logo with cow, pig, and chicken sillhouettes over a map of the U.S. with three circling arrowsThe LPE Learning Center hosted a webcast on Nutrient Planning on Small Farms in June, 2008.

Positive Impacts of Manure

When managed properly, manure can be a valuable resource on a farm. Manure can be a source of nutrients for crop production and improve soil quality. The organic matter present in manure can improve both tilth and water holding capacity of the soil. Livestock and poultry manure is a valuable fertilizer for crop and pasture production. Most farm owners do not realize the value of the manure that is produced on their farms.

Negative Impacts of Manure

When not managed properly, manure can pollute the environment; mainly as ground or surface water pollution due to the nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and carbon (organic matter). In addition manure can lead to air quality concerns, pathogens in water supplies, odors, dust, and the presence of vermin.

Manure Nutrients

Manure nutrients can be beneficial for the soil and plant growth; however, manure application rates should be based on plant growth needs. Excessive manure application to the soil can result in nutrient leaching and increased losses through runoff. In addition, manure contains soluble salts and minerals such as arsenic, copper, and zinc which in excessive amounts may negatively impact the soil quality.

Manure nutrients, (N, P, and organic matter) can be major pollutants in lakes and estuaries as well as rivers. Nitrogen and phosphorus attached to soil particles may reach waterways through surface runoff or wind deposition. Dissolved N and P may leach through the soil, ultimately reaching water bodies. Organic matter can enter water bodies in the form of manure, vegetative matter, or animal carcasses. Waters rich in minerals, organic matter, and nutrients promote a proliferation of plant life, especially algae. This process is called eutrophication. Algae growth and the decomposition of organic matter in water bodies reduces the dissolved oxygen content of the water, which may lead to the death of aquatic life.

Pathogens and Vermin

In addition to the concerns regarding nutrients, pathogens may be present in manure. Some examples of the pathogens are E. coli, Salmonella, and Cryptosporidium parvum. These pathogens can impair water bodies and potentially pose human health risks when manure or contaminated water comes in contact with food sources. Flies and rodents are other manure related concerns on livestock farms. These problems can be minimized by proper design of animal housing and manure storage, and proper handling procedures when turning or moving manure piles.

Air Quality

Air quality concerns arise from odors, particulate matter, and aerial pathogens. Ammonia released from manure can result in odor and may react with other compounds in the atmosphere producing particulate matter (PM 2.5) which can affect the environment and public health. There are a variety of other compounds released from manure such as hydrogen sulfide, green house gases (methane and nitrous oxide), and some volatile organic compounds that can also cause air quality concerns. Particulate matter that arises from dust and reaction of ammonia with other compounds in the atmosphere are also a concern.

Why Implement Nutrient Management Planning?

The purpose of nutrient management is to implement practices that permit the efficient use of manure for crop production while protecting potential environmental damage that may be caused by nutrients. Nutrient management planning is a site specific exercise; and, if the recommendations are followed, nutrient losses should be minimal. In general, nutrient management considers the nutrients available on a farm, how best to use them, and the potential impacts of the nutrients on the environment. Factors typically considered in nutrient management planning are: goals of the farming operation as well as any constraints; available farm resources (land, equipment, financial resources); potential critical areas on the farm (sensitive water bodies, neighbor concerns, erosion, manure storage); and nutrient balance analysis (shown in the figure below).



CC2.5 Mike Westendorf

Farm nutrient inputs consist of animals, feed, fertilizer, legume nitrogen, and bedding. Outputs are animals, milk, meat, eggs, manure, and crops. Recycling also occurs on the farm with nutrients moving from feed through livestock, applied to soil, utilized by plants, and back to feed again. The optimal goal (Whole Farm Nutrient Balance) is for the farm to remain in balance between inputs and outputs without losses as runoff or leachate from either the soil or manure. Soil can store some nutrients assuming that the amount of manure applied to the soil is not excessive.


Small Farms are Different than Large Farms

The challenges of managing manure nutrients are different on a small farm than on many larger farms although the principles are similar. Small farms have fewer animals and sometimes several animal species on the same farm. They also may have limited acreage and/or lack equipment for spreading manure. The nutrient management planning section provides information on feeding animals and managing their diets; manure production; basic soil science and soil fertility; and nutrient (manure) management. The section details on- and off-farm use within the context of a nutrient management plan.

The following articles are coming soon!

  • Basic soil science and fertility
  • Nutrient management on the farm
  • Crop utilization
  • Nutrient management plans
  • Off-farm utilization
  • Soil and manure testing
  • Record keeping

Additional Resources

Nutrient Management–SIMPLIFIED! by Randall James, Ohio State University Extension

Authors: Jactone Arogo Ogejo, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and Michael Westendorf, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

LPES Curriculum Small Farm Fact Sheets

The LPES Small Farms Fact Sheet series was prepared to inform the large, diverse population of small-scale animal producers about environmental stewardship and to provide the latest environmental information to educators and advisors. In this information, producers are encouraged to practice environmentally sound management with the goal of increasing the success of their animal operations. The series was developed by 20 national experts from 12 land-grant universities, the EPA National Ag Assistance Centre, MWPS and the USDA.

  1. Small-Scale Farmers and the Environment: How to be a Good Steward by Mark Rice, North Carolina State University
    1. Spanish version:Cómo proteger el medio ambiente en los ranchos y granjas pequeños por Mark Rice, North Carolina State University
  2. The ABCs of Pasture Grazingby Ben Bartlett, Michigan State University
    1. Spanish version:El abecé del pastoreo por Ben Bartlett, Michigan State University
  3. Manure on Your Farm: Asset or Liability? by Craig Cogger, Washington State University
  4. Protecting the Water on Your Small Farm by Joe Harrison, Washington State University
  5. Managing Animal Deaths: Your Options by Frank Humenik, North Carolina State University
  6. Got Barnyard Runoff? by Chris Henry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Joe Harner, Kansas State University
  7. A Horse Owner’s Guide to Good Stewardship by Randall James, Ohio State University Extension
  8. Need a Vegetative Treatment System for Your Barnyard or Lot? by Chris Henry, Rick Koelsch, and Jason Gross, University of Nebraska- Lincoln, and Joe Harner,, Kansas State University
  9. The ABCs of Livestock Watering Systems by Ben Bartlett, Michigan State University
  10. The ABCs of Electric Livestock Fencing by Ben Bartlett, Michigan State University
  11. Nutrient Management–SIMPLIFIED! by Randall James, Ohio State University Extension

Small Farms Team Members

A national team of subject matter experts from land-grant universities, the EPA National Ag Assistance Center, MWPS, and the USDA collaborated in the development of the Small Farms Fact Sheet series.

  • Mark Rice, North Carolina State University
  • Ben Bartlett, Michigan State University
  • Diane Huntrods, MWPS, Iowa State University
  • Charlie Abdalla, Pennsylvania State University
  • Jill Auburn, USDA
  • Tommy Bass, University of Georgia
  • Roy Bullock, Tennessee State University
  • Craig Cogger, Washington State Universityv
  • Denis Ebodaghe, USDA
  • Carl Evensen, University of Hawaii
  • Carol Galloway, EPA National Ag Assistance Center
  • Doug Hamilton, Oklahoma State University
  • Joe Harner, Kansas State University
  • Joe Harrison, Washington State University
  • Chris Henry, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Frank Humenik, North Carolina State University
  • Jimo Ibrahim, North Carolina A&T
  • Randy James, Ohio State University
  • Rick Koelsch, University of Nebraska
  • Ginah Mortensen, EPA National Ag Assistance Center
  • Mark Risse, University of Georgia
  • Marion Simon, Kentucky State University

The LPES Small Farms series was developed with support from USDA,U.S. EPA’s National Ag Assistance Center,and University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension at Lincoln, under Cooperative Agreement Number 2003-39490-14107.

Manure Management on Small Farms

What Does “Small Farm” Mean?

Small farms are typically smaller in size, with fewer animal numbers, less acreage and have a lighter regulatory burden than larger farms, which may often be designated as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFO’s. Small farms are often able to implement lower cost solutions to animal waste concerns than are larger farms.

The USDA and EPA give broad definitions of what constitutes a small farm. A small farm could have 150 dairy cows in the midwestern or western dairy belt or it could be a 30–head flock of sheep raised for an organic market. It could be a 100 head sow herd or 10 head of beef cows and their calves on a retirement farm. Small farms may include both commercial and hobby farms.

Small farms are often quite diverse (University of Rhode Island Small Acreage Livestock Program). A horse-boarding farm in the northeast that exports all manure off-site is very different from a 150-head dairy farm that spreads all manure on owned acreage. Both could be called small farms but the management challenges would be very different for each. A majority of residential/lifestyle farms may also experience high stocking rates (or animal units per acre). Farms with limited land resources must rely on exporting manure to manage the animal waste.

What is an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO)?

Animal feeding operations (AFOs) are agricultural enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and your state regulatory agency, an AFO is a lot or facility where animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed, or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures or fields or on rangeland. Animals are not considered to be stabled or confined when they are in areas such as pastures or rangeland that sustain crops or forage growth during the entire time that animals are present.

Small Farm Livestock Collage

Small farms must first determine if they meet the definition of an AFO. If not, they are considered a “pasture based operation.” If the operation meets the definition of an AFO, then they must determine if they meet the definition of a CAFO (small or medium). This determination is a function of size and connection to surface water resources. There are times when a pasture based operation may be subject to regulation. Any Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) that discharges manure or wastewater into a natural or man-made ditch, stream or other waterway can also be defined as a CAFO, regardless of size. See What if My Operation is an AFO but not a CAFO?.

USDA Definition of Small Farm

The United States Department of Agriculture defines a small farm as having less than $250,000 in annual gross sales (USDA Small Farm Definitions). According to the National Commission on Small Farms these farms constitute 90 percent of U.S. farms, contain 67 percent of farm land, and hold 77 percent of farm sector net worth. In 2004, small farms accounted for 26 percent of all agricultural receipts from crops and livestock. The Small Business Administration (SBA) generally classifies farms as small if they have sales less than $500,000. By SBA standards, about 97 percent of U.S. family farms are small (USDA-Economic Research Service).

All farms with livestock, regardless of size, can be environmental risks. It doesn’t matter if there is one animal or many, if animal housing, pastures and manure is not properly managed, there is a potential to harm the environment or cause problems for neighbors.


Environmental Stewardship for Small Farms

All small farms should strive to achieve good land and animal stewardship: Small-Scale Farmers and the Environment: How to be a Good Steward ( Spanish Language Version). Well managed farms will:

  1. Minimize barnyard and manure runoff into streams or wetlands
  2. Properly account for manure spread on crop or pastureland
  3. Properly store manure to utilize this resource during the growing season
  4. Manage animals and manure on pastures to maintain pasture quality, control field erosion, and control animal traffic near streams
  5. Keep records about their operation.

Small farm manure management poses different kinds of challenges than does manure management on larger farms. This section will connect you with some of the best resources about managing manure on small farms. Follow the links below for helpful information:

Authors: Michael Westendorf, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and Mark Rice, North Carolina State University; Updated November 25, 2008

Livestock Mortality Composting – Beyond the Basics Part 1

The topics for this webcast include: pile characteristics for effective composting, management and environmental considerations when siting and managing composting facilities; mortality compost nutrients for on-farm use; and teaching the benefits of mortality composting to producers. This presentation was originally broadcast on August 15, 2014. More… Continue reading “Livestock Mortality Composting – Beyond the Basics Part 1”