Evaluating cattle feeding sites vital to producers

Keeping cattle feeding sites updated is an important investment for cattle producers to consider for herd health and environmental safety.
Keeping cattle feeding sites updated is an important investment for cattle producers to consider for herd health and environmental safety.

Choosing the right feeding site could pay dividends.


MANHATTAN, Kan. – For Kansas’ cattle producers, building new feeding facilities can mean shelling out serious cash. However, Ron Graber, Kansas State University watershed extension specialist, said it’s an investment that pays for itself for years to come.


Investing in such a project requires the right equipment and expertise, and Graber said the best place for producers to start is by evaluating the site and enlisting the help of watershed specialists.


Geographic differences


Geographic location within the state plays a substantial role in the environmental soundness of a cattle feeding site, Graber said. Steeper slopes in eastern Kansas, minimum rainfall in western Kansas, and sensitive groundwater in central and south-central Kansas all pose threats to producers.


“If producers live in the western part of the state, rainfall is at a minimum,” Graber explained. “From an environmental standpoint, that makes it easier to deal with, because we can minimize runoff. Conversely, if they live in the southeastern part of the state and get 45 inches of rain a year, we have a lot of potential runoff to deal with.”


“We’d like to see something a little more gradual, between 1.5 to 2 percent slope,” he continued. “Often, it’s more difficult to site a feeding operation in the eastern part of the state than it is in the western part of the state.”


Sensitive or contaminated groundwater in central and south-central Kansas could be a major factor in determining where to build a cattle feeding facility, Graber said.


“We typically look at surface runoff, but if the site is in a sensitive groundwater area, then we have to look at groundwater pollution as well,” he said.


Producers should also pay close attention to management-related hazards when building new facilities, Graber said. Take note of where pens are located near the water source, slope within pens, and consider the placement of a grass buffer area to filter out solids. Making sure cattle feeding facilities are environmentally sound could pay off financially.


“If it’s a new operation, it will pay dividends if they take a close look at that site before they start building any pens,” Graber said.


If a producer has chosen a site that is environmentally poor, it’s time to start searching for a new site. Graber said the first step producers can do in this process is contact a watershed specialist.


“The starting point is getting some help evaluating their site,” Graber said. “Maybe they’re already located in a bad site, and in some cases there are some management things we can help them do. There are a few of them out there that are just poor sites and don’t have many options, and (producers) may need to totally relocate to a new site.”


Project expenses and cost-share assistance


It is important to be aware of environmental considerations, Graber said. Producers should know the differences between desirable and undesirable sites and apply that knowledge to their own operations.


“A lot of times we find that if producers make these changes that help them reach the environmental expectations of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), it also helps profitability,” Graber said.


The amount of money it will take to make the changes depends on the individual site, the size of the site, and whether or not the site is environmentally sound, Graber said.


“If it’s a sizeable operation where they may need a wastewater pond, or they have to do a lot of dirt reshaping, then it can get into quite a few dollars,” he said. “We can see the cost of making the changes get as high as $30,000 to $40,000 if we’re putting in a wastewater pond. If they’re on the other end, and we can make a few management changes, sometimes we can get them done for $2,000 to $3,000. It depends on the site.”


Financial assistance is available to Kansas’ cattle producers to assist in developing, evaluating and relocating cattle feeding facilities, Graber said. Money is available to assist producers with projects such as relocating pens, creating diversions, moving dirt, and building wastewater ponds through a number of national, state and local programs.


“Most of those (funds) are through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) with the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS),” Graber said. “There also are some state water plan funds available through the Division of Conservation. It’s primarily an application process through the local NRCS office or conservation district.”


In addition to EQIP local NRCS programs, Graber said cattle producers have access to Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) funds.


“There are a number of watersheds in the state that have these plans in place,” Graber said. “There are cost-share funds available if you are in one of those high-priority watersheds as listed in those plans.”


Graber said several watershed specialists work throughout the state to help put these funds into place.


“Most often, the local extension offices or conservation districts will know what a producer’s options are,” he said.


For more information on watershed programs and funding opportunities, contact a local extension office or visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/ks/contact/.

Story by: Shelby Alyssa Mettlen


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