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Winter Manure Spreading

One of the challenges of being a livestock farmer is deciding what to do with manure during the winter months. The major concern with spreading manure on fields during this time is if it’s on frozen ground or on top of melting snow, it can run off into nearby surface water.

Christina Curell is a nutrient management and water quality extension manager at Michigan State University. She says there are several online tools to help farmers look at future weather patterns and determine their risk.

"NOAA has a lot of sites where farmers can go on and look at what snowfall is going to be in the next 24-hours, the next 12-hours, so they can determine if that manure will run off," says Curell. "They also need to be aware of their soil. Is the soil frozen? If it is frozen, is it frozen deep enough so that if it does thaw the manure can infiltrate down into the soil?"

Curell says cover crops are an excellent management tool.

"Cover crop roots will intercept the nutrients as it’s infiltrating down. If there’s any cover crops that are still standing in the field they can slow down the movement and hold that manure from washing off, even cover crops such as oats that winter kill," says Curel. "But, they have enough biomass on the surface so that as manure and snow is melting and thawing it’s going to hold it on that field."

Producers should also be aware of sloping land, and any surface waters close by that runoff could reach. Fields that have surface runoff in the spring give a good indication of what might happen if manure is applied in the winter.

Find more tips for winter manure planning

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