Water Quality Regulations and Animal Agriculture Curriculum Materials

As livestock and poultry production has intensified it is no surprise that regulations have become a more prominent part of the business. This module introduces the Clean Water Act (CWA) and it application to animal agriculture. This material was developed for use in beginning farmer and extension programs, high school classrooms, and for self-study or professional continuing education.

Agriculture Professionals and Farmers

Check out this self-study module “Playing By the Rules“. This module is estimated to take 60 minutes and offers a certificate upon successful completion.

Teachers, Extension, Consultants

Educators are welcome to use the following materials in their classrooms and educational programs. More modules…

  • Instruction Guide – includes lesson plan, links to additional information, connections to national agriculture education standards (AFNR Career Content Cluster Standards), application to Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects, sample quiz/review questions, and enrichment activities.
  • Presentation – 36 slides, Powerpoint 97-2003 format. Annotated.


Author: Thomas Bass, Montana State University

Reviewers: Paul Hay, University of Nebraska, Lyle Holmgren, Utah State University, Jill Heemstra, University of Nebraska, Elizabeth Burns Thompson, Drake University (law student), Mary Catherine Barganier, NYFEA, Shannon Arnold, Montana State.

Building Environmental Leaders in Animal Agriculture (BELAA) is a collaborative effort of the National Young Farmers Educational Association, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Montana State University. It was funded by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) under award #2009-49400-05871. This project would not be possible without the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community and the National eXtension Initiative.

Mortality Composting in the Semi-Arid West

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Why Is Proper Mortality Management Important?

Proper management of animal mortalities has important implications for nutrient management, water quality, animal health, and farm/ranch family and public health.  To best ensure human health and safety, reduce regulatory risks, and protect environmental resources, livestock producers should become familiar with best management practices (BMPs) for dealing with dead animals. Producers should also be aware of state laws related to proper disposal or processing of mortalities. 

Mortality composting is an increasingly popular and viable alternative when compared to other disposal practices because of cost savings, bio-security benefits, and reduced environmental risks.  Static mortality composting differs from traditional composting in both management intervals and carbon to nitrogen ratios.   The objective of this workshop is to provide those who advise livestock producers with the knowledge, tools, and resources to develop a mortality management plan, with specific focus on the static composting option.   

The Rocky Mountain based authors conducted demonstrated research, reviewed pertinent literature, studied USDA-NRCS standards, and documented mortality composting systems already in-use by regional producers. 

Recording of the author’s presenting the workshop
Options for managing dead animals
Principles of mortality composting
Managing animal mortality compost piles
Economics of mortality composting

Curriculum Materials

Data from these activities provided a basis for the following tools:

  1. Decision aid spreadsheet that evaluates the costs of mortality composting against other mortality disposal options (in English and Spanish),
  2. How-to-manual on mortality composting in English and Spanish),
  3. Video illustrating on-the-ground mortality composting
  4. PowerPoint presentation explaining mortality composting principles, methods and resources (in English and Spanish).

Learning Objectives

This 90 minute in-service workshop will provide background and step-by-step considerations for mortality composting, with an emphasis on the practice in the semi-arid environments of the western United States.  However, fundamentals of the workshop will apply to all climates.   To the right, you will find recordings of the authors presenting the workshop using the slides from the curriculum materials.


Thomas Bass, Livestock Environment Associate Specialist, Montana State University tmbass@montana.edu. Mr. Bass has been an Extension Specialist in the area of livestock and environmental management for 12 years.  He has been involved in composting research and demonstrations for much of his career. 

Jessica Davis, PhD, Colorado State University.  Dr. Davis is an Extension Specialist and the director of the Institute for Livestock and the Environment, a diverse group of CSU faculty working together to solve problems at the interface of livestock production and environmental management. She is the principal investigator and originator of this SARE project.    

John Deering, MS, Colorado State University.  Mr. Deering, is a regional Extension Specialist in Eastern Colorado.  He is an economist by training with an emphasis on agriculture and business management.  He developed the economic tools and narratives associated with the products of this project.

Michael Fisher, MS, Colorado State Univeristy.  Mr. Fisher is an area Extension Agent, with an emphasis in livestock production, meat science, range management, and overall ranch management.  He is an important conduit between producers, other government agencies, and industry groups in north eastern Colorado.      

Additional Information

This project was funded by the Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program.

Archive webcast: https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/p93vve55l1f/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal

Curriculum Materials

Companion Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?list=PL62C6899F81B769B7&v=1DwUrOxpTxw&feature=player_detailpage

Manual (eng): http://livestockandenvironment.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/CompostingManual-final-webview.pdf

Manual (span): http://livestockandenvironment.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/CompostingManual_spanish_web-2.pdf

Ppt: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/ag/mortality.pdf

Ppt (span): http://livestockandenvironment.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mortality-Spanish.pptx

Partial Budget: http://livestockandenvironment.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Partial-Budget-Form-English.xls

Partial Budget (span): http://livestockandenvironment.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Partial-Budget-Form-Spanish.xls

The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2013. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Denver, CO. April 1-5, 2013. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.

Overview: Manure Management Equipment for Small Farms

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Why Be Concerned With Manure Management for Small Farms?

Increased local or regional food marketing opportunities have allowed commercial success in livestock and poultry operations with relatively small herds and flocks.  The Census of Agriculture recently reports an increase in the number of small farms, as a proportion of all farms, across much of the U.S.  Small animal feeding operations, less than 300 animal units, are a productive component of the animal ag sector.  Finally, there continues to an interest in the development of hobby farm and equine related properties.  All of these scenarios result in the necessity to manage manure resources, often on small acres, and often in close proximity to a neighbor.  Knowledge about, access to, and acquisition of, appropriate manure handling equipment is a requirement to proper manure and nutrient management on all of these types of commercial or hobby farms and ranches.

What Did We Do?

This overview seeks to provide examples of power equipment and manure handling tools appropriate to smaller operations.  An emphasis is placed on solid manure handling, small acreage land application, and light duty compost production equipment.  Examples of equipment choices and options are based on Internet and literature reviews, as well as personal field experiences.

What Have We Learned?

A balance between size/power, cost, and versatility must be considered when purchasing or leasing equipment for small livestock and poultry operations.  Smaller operations often deal only in solid manure. This can simplify equipment choices to small tractors and skidsteer loaders, which can perform a variety of manure management and compost related tasks.  Tractor size will limit traditional manure spreader options.  However, several manufacturers are now offering light weight, ground drive spreaders, towable by small tractors or even ATVs.  


Thomas M. Bass, Livestock Environment Associate Specialist,  Montana State University tmbass@montana.edu


Mike Westendorf, Rutgers University and Jean Bonhotal, Cornell University


The authors are solely responsible for the content of these proceedings. The technical information does not necessarily reflect the official position of the sponsoring agencies or institutions represented by planning committee members, and inclusion and distribution herein does not constitute an endorsement of views expressed by the same. Printed materials included herein are not refereed publications. Citations should appear as follows. EXAMPLE: Authors. 2013. Title of presentation. Waste to Worth: Spreading Science and Solutions. Denver, CO. April 1-5, 2013. URL of this page. Accessed on: today’s date.

Record Keeping and Inspections for Animal Feeding Operations

Animal feeding operations are the most likely type of animal agriculture operations to be subject to rules and regulations. Most of these center around the manure handling and storage practices and equipment. Record keeping and inspections are the cornerstone of compliance efforts by livestock and poultry producers.


Record keeping and inspections are inextricably linked through the permit and nutrient management plan. In large part, only records can show an inspector that the operation is following its nutrient management plan (NMP) and permit requirements. Physical evidence of compliance or violations may only play a small part in many cases.

The NMP is only a plan and describes many issues in general terms, however records allow the producer to manage very specifically and document that the intent of the NMP has been followed. Record keeping also allows you to document small changes in implementation of the NMP that could be the result of unseasonable weather and other unexpected influences.

When all is said and done, an operation with well organized and complete records that document compliance with the permit and NMP, and where there is no physical evidence of an un-permitted discharge should pass an inspection with flying colors.

Required Records

Record keeping requirements can vary by state; however, it will be very likely that permitted operations will at a minimum be required to maintain: a basic NMP, with supporting materials and records on how the plan was followed. A CAFO, covered by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit (even if administered by a state) has very prescriptive record keeping requirements. The EPA CAFO brochure titled, “What Are the Federal Record-Keeping and Reporting Requirements” outlines these requirements, however the final word on what is required will be described in the permit.

General records include: manure generation and inventory; manure and waste water transfers; manure storage inspections; storage capacity and levels; amounts and dates of any discharges; and mortality management. The remaining records are linked to land application and determination of rates. They include: Manure and wastewater analysis; soil tests; crop yield expectations; rate calculation method (nutrient budgets); actual application locations, date and amounts; weather conditions; and equipment inspections and calibrations.

The LPES Curriculum includes an excellent fact sheet on record keeping titled, What Records Must I Maintain for Land Application?, fact sheet #26.

Annual Report

The records described in the previous paragraph may be reviewed during an inspection. However, many of them will also be summarized and reported to EPA or the state permitting authority on an annual basis (CAFO Reports). The same EPA brochure explains these requirements. Briefly, they include: animal inventory; annual manure production; annual manure export; acres of land applied to and acres of land included in the NMP; documentation of any discharges; and is there a valid NMP for the operation.

Other Record Keeping Benefits

Records have many other benefits beyond simply complying with the permit and validating the NMP. Records can assist in making important business decisions that impact the bottom line. New levels of efficiency can be attained by examining records such as yields, soil tests and manure and fertilizer usage. Finally, they offer a reduction in liability for producers. In the event of an accusation of environmental mismanagement, records help defend practices and document responsibility.


Historically inspections have primarily been complaint driven. However, all NPDES permitted farms will be inspected by a regulatory agency at a routine interval (typically once a year); depending on the state, smaller AFOs may be included in a routine inspection schedule as well. Inspectors are looking for compliance with the permit and associated nutrient management plan, and that required management practices are documented. They will also look for any signs that indicate a discharge has occurred.

One producer’s solution to record management.

During an inspection, operators should have all relevant paperwork in order and available, including: permit, NMP, records and other supporting documents. The operator, planner or consultant should all be able to explain any components of the NMP. The EPA and their cooperating state counterparts are largely concerned with the 9 minimum practices for a NMP. These include:

  1. Ensure Adequate (waste) Storage
  2. Ensure Proper Management of Mortalities
  3. Divert Clean Water From Production Area
  4. Prevent Direct Contact of Livestock (with waters of the state/U.S.)
  5. Proper Chemical Handling
  6. Conservation Practices to Reduce Nutrient Loss
  7. Protocols for Manure and Soil Testing
  8. Protocols for Land Application of Manure and Wastewater
  9. Record Keeping

Inspection Preparation

It is very helpful for a producer to conduct or initiate an educational or non-regulatory mock-inspection. This can be done with the confidential help of a third party. In some states, Extension may be able to assist. Additionally, many states may make their inspection protocol available. EPA has published a fact sheet titled: What to Expect when EPA Inspects Your Livestock Operation.

Other tools are available, such as the nationally adapted Farm*A*Syst self assessment modules. These may not specifically address a permitted operation, but they help address environmental risk and liability based on practices. Conducting modules with farm/ranch staff or your county agent may give insight into areas that need improvement prior to a visit from regulators.

Participating in a USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service program may also offer an opportunity for a general assessment. Once again, this may be helpful in identifying critical areas, though likely will not directly address regulations. If a consultant is employed by the operation, that person may also assist in assessing the operation prior to a regulatory inspection.

Related FAQs

  • Question #27793, During a regulatory inspection, what is likely to be most scrutinized? link
  • Question #27791, What are the most important things a producer can do to prepare for a regulatory inspection? link

Author: Thomas Bass, Montana State University
Reviewers: Saqib Mukhtar, Texas AgriLife Extension; Carol Galloway, USEPA; and Charles Fulhage, University of Missouri

Agriculture Environmental Management Systems

What is an EMS?

Environmental Management Systems (EMS) are a method of improving environmental and economic performance of a firm. They are widely accepted across many industries and are increasingly common in agriculture. An EMS is a process for integrating environmental considerations and requirements into day-to-day management and long-term planning for a farm.

This management approach examines a production system from start to finish, from inputs to products. With an EMS, the owner/operator and employees develop a plan for action that fits specific needs and resources, builds upon their stewardship principles, helps comply with legal requirements, and works to continually improve the operation. Also see What is an Ag EMS?

An EMS does NOT replace regulations, but may help in attaining compliance or realizing other benefits related to reduced environmental liability and better management. The EPA encourages adoption of EMS’s as a method of improve regulatory compliance, encourage environmental performance, and perhaps reduce regulatory burden.

An emerging concept that is very similar to an EMS is known as ‘adaptive management’. Check out an archived webinar on Adaptive Nutrient Management and a recorded symposium presentation on opportunities for adaptive grazing management in drought-stricken areas.

The EMS process was developed for industry and is commonplace in manufacturing world wide. The most recognized system is ISO 14001 which involves third party certification and formal auditing. As farms become larger and more complex and rely on more employees and outsource more services, the farmer needs a systematic method of managing his or her operation. While formal certification may not be necessary, the EMS process and principles can help farmers improve their environmental and economic performance. There are Ag EMS Publications tailored for agriculture that make it practical to implement on the farm.

The EMS model is a Plan, Implement, Check and Correct, and Review sequence, a proven successful management process. The planning process begins with establishing an environmental policy for the farm/ranch that describes the farmer’s commitment to environmental stewardship, to meeting regulations, and to continual improvement.

An Environmental Management System (EMS) helps to integrate environmental decisions into the overall farm management. CC2.5 LPELC

Environmental Policy Statement

An EMS policy statement describes the environmental principles that are important to you, and establishes your goals for managing them. Everyone who works on your farm should know and share a commitment to the policy statement. You can showcase this statement to the public to demonstrate your environmental commitment. An EMS policy statement should at a minimum describe your commitment to:

    • pollution prevention,
    • continual improvement, and
    • compliance with environmental regulation.


Next, the farmer assesses the current operation to identify strengths and weaknesses and identifies which if any are causing significant environmental concerns. He or she has now identified a small list of priorities to address first. Then, an action plan with defined objectives, measurable outcomes, and specific steps, timelines, and assignments is developed for each priority. Some assessments can be found at:


“Implement” involves communicating the plan to the people that are responsible for making it happen. This includes preparing operating procedures, training, and resources as needed.

Record keeping is an essential component of an effective EMS. CC2.5 LPELC


“Check” is a regular review of the plan’s progress and environmental performance. If problems arise “Correct” refers to corrective actions taken. Documenting regular monitoring actions taken helps the farmer measure progress and shows a proactive approach to environmental improvement.


“Review” closes the loop on the continuous improvement process. Farmers annually review their operation and their plan to determine if they are headed in the right direction, using the best methods, and making progress.

Chances are good that components of the EMS process are already being utilized on a farm. These may include management plans for manure handling, pests, or nutrients, in addition to records on soil testing, chemical applications, feeding requirements, or worker training. An EMS helps organize and document these efforts and improve the environmental and economic performance of the farm.

Examples of Environmental Management Systems for Agriculture

Resources For More Information

Author: John Lawrence, Iowa State University Reviewers: Mark Risse, University of Georgia and Tommy Bass, Montana State University

Equipment and facilities for managing manure on small farms

The number of small farms is increasing in much of the country, ensuring up to date information is available is important to protect water and environmental quality. This webinar focuses on some of the farm and manure management needs of smaller farms. This presentation was originally broadcast on April 20, 2018. More… Continue reading “Equipment and facilities for managing manure on small farms”