Water Quality Initiatives for Small Iowa Beef and Dairy Feedlot Operations (Small Feedlot Project)

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Traditionally, small feedlots and dairies have not been engaged in environmental regulations and awareness in Iowa due to the environmental focus being directed at large feedlots and confinement feeding operations.  Many small feedlot and dairy managers do not even recognize or admit that regulations do apply to their livestock operation. This effort primarily uses traditional extension outreach methods, field days and publications, to raise awareness.  Unique to this outreach effort are the goal to provide a producer network to share information and ideas to learn more about manure runoff control structures and best management practices to reduce impacts on water quality, and the focus on controls beyond minimum rule requirements, but tailored to small operations.

This talk will discuss some of the challenges faced by small feedlot producers, identification of parameters to help producers overcome some of these challenges, and methods and educational materials aimed at helping raise environmental awareness and foster action among these producers.


The Small Feedlot Project is a cooperative effort between state and federal regulatory agencies, public research and extension, technical agencies and the private sector in Iowa.  The primary objectives are to 1) educate producers to better understand the pollution potential of open feedlot runoff, 2) train producers to accurately assess the water pollution potential of their own feedlots, 3) assist producers to identify and evaluate appropriate runoff control alternatives, and 4) provide technical assistance to producers to implement solutions that improve the environmental performance of their feedlots.  

What Did We Do?

The first focus in regards to raising awareness about potential impacts of runoff from open feedlots was the development of two producers guides that specifically talk about open lot runoff and impacts on water quality,  applicable regulations,  the importance and how to assess risk, structural solutions, management solutions and a list of appropriate resources.  The guides, PM 3018, Small Open Beef Feedlots in Iowa- a producer guide and PM 3019, Small Open Lot Dairies in Iowa- a producer guide, were both written and printed in 2012.  These publications were peered reviewed by internal and external partners to the Small Feedlot Plan.  Two-thousand copies of each publication were printed and have been widely distributed via field days, workshops and meetings.  The publications have been in such demand that as of February 2013, only 26 copies of the beef publication and 630 copies of the dairy pub remain in stock. 

The second focus to raising awareness was to offer multiple field days that showcased structural or management practices put in place by feedlot owners to address runoff from their farms.  It is well-known that livestock producers respond well to field days where they can observe physical site conditions that impact runoff, see structural (i.e. settling basins, pumping demonstration, clean-water diversions) or management practices (i.e.  pen scraping, manure removal) put in place by other producers; can ask management and cost of implementation questions to other producers; and can discuss regulations and other management decisions with Extension and agency staff. 

Three field days were held in 2012 to provide options to look at different sizes of feedlots, dirt versus concrete lots and structural and management practices on farms.  The first field day was a three-stop tour held on August 7 near Larchwood, IA with 26 people in attendance; the second field day was held on October 29 near Wall Lake, IA, with 22 people in attendance; and the third field day was held on October 31 near Andover, IA with 26 people in attendance.


What Have We Learned?

A post-field day evaluation was offered to attendees at the Wall Lake and Andover Field Days.  A summary of the evaluations completed follows:

  • 29% reported their understanding of impact of feedlot runoff on stream water quality “increased a lot”; while 56% reported their understanding “increased a little”.
  • 38% reported their understanding of lost-cost methods to better control and manage feedlot runoff “increased a lot”; while 52% reported their understanding “increased a little”.
  • 29% reported their understanding of the value of feedlot manure for crop production “increased a lot”; while 60% reported their understanding “increased a little”.
  • 31% reported their understanding of available technical and financial assistance for feedlot runoff control improvement “increased a lot”; while 58% reported their understanding “increased a little”. 
  • 35% reported they are more likely to plan and install additional improvements to feedlot runoff controls on their farms as a result of attending a field day. 

Future Plans

Future plans include the development of fact sheets that address specific practices small open lot dairy and beef operations can use to protect water quality and additional field days throughout 2013.  New materials will be posted to a Web page specifically created to host resources for small open lots. 


Angela Rieck-Hinz, Extension Program Specialist, Iowa State University, amrieck@iastate.edu

Shawn Shouse, Extension Field Ag Engineer, Iowa State University

Additional Information

Small Feedlots and Dairy Operations Web Page


Partners in the Water Quality Initiatives for Small Iowa Beef and Dairy Feedlot Operations

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