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Sloped building puts a halt to manure runoff

Replacing an open feedlot with a more environmentally friendly, deep-bedded total containment building is paying dividends for Shelby County cattleman Clint Sonderman. His new 20,000-square-foot facility totally eliminates manure runoff, allows for better manure utilization and is resulting in healthier, more productive cattle.

Three years ago the western Iowa farmer sought help from USDA to reduce the amount of manure runoff from his 20-acre, 500-head cattle open feedlot during early-spring snowmelt. “I was thinking of installing a settling basin,” he says, “something to keep the manure from running off the feedlot and into the ditch.”

Key Points

Replacing an open feedlot with a more environmentally friendly facility pays off.

Monoslope building eliminates manure runoff, captures nutrients for crop use.

Facility produces healthier, more productive cattle in rough winter weather.


But Soil Conservation Technician Luke Zaiger of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service presented a few total containment options, such as a hoop or monoslope building. “Sediment basins don’t provide 100% trap efficiency [of liquid manure], like total containment facilities,” says Zaiger.

Sonderman, who farms near Earling, chose to install a monoslope building, which was finished in October 2008. He says he made the right decision. “It has completely eliminated my manure runoff issue,” he says.

“Managed properly, nothing runs out of this building.” The building includes three pens and allows about 40 square feet per animal. Sonderman uses cornstalk bales for bedding, using a little more than one round bale per head per year.

USDA-NRCS provided Sonderman financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help pay for the building. EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that promotes agricultural production and environmental quality. This program offers financial and technical assistance to install or implement structural, vegetative and management practices to treat resource concerns on eligible agricultural land.

Sonderman also was able to obtain financial assistance through the State Revolving Fund Low-Interest Loan Program for the remaining cost of the monoslope building. The low-interest loan program makes loans available to Iowa farmers for a variety of conservation practices that help improve water quality.

Better use of manure

Compared to his open feedlot, Sonderman says his new building is allowing him to better use the manure nutrients on his 600 acres of cropland. “I know what we are hauling out onto the field is all pure manure now,” he says. “Scraping feedlots you might get one-quarter dirt. I never really knew the manure content.”

Sonderman and his brother, Corey, scrape the manure weekly from their new building and put it into a holding facility.

The EQIP contract required a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, which provided helpful manure test results. Sonderman says the results showed he could cut back on his commercial fertilizer. “I can tell the nutrient value of the manure better now,” he notes. “On the fields where I now spread manure, I’ve cut my nitrogen application rates in half and corn and soybean yields are exceptional.”

Sonderman recently purchased a side slinger manure spreader for more even distribution of manure on fields. As a proud no-tiller, he says, “I’ve been no-tilling right through that, and it’s been working well.”

Healthier, productive cattle

The deep-bedded facility is also helping Sonderman produce healthier, more productive cattle. He is thankful for the covered building following consecutive cold, snowy winters and rainy summers. “I’ve got less sick cattle just because they are out of the rough weather conditions,” he adds.

Although Iowa State University research indicates no major improvement in feed efficiency or rate of gain in open feedlots versus a total containment facility, Sonderman says he has seen a rate-of-gain improvement in his cattle. “During the winter months in the outside lots, we would hope livestock weight would remain steady,” he said. “Now, with the cattle in the monoslope building, we are continuing to see a steady rate of gain throughout the year.”

Zaiger says Sonderman’s monoslope building is the first of its kind in Shelby County. Last July, the Sondermans hosted a field day to show off the new building. “Since that day we have received a lot of interest from local livestock producers,” says Zaiger. “I know of several producers in Shelby County who would benefit from having this type of structure.”

Now 35 years old, Sonderman took over full operation of the family farm after his father passed away eight years ago. “I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of good advice and support from our local NRCS staff and other people, too,” he says. “Planning it out and building our monoslope facility was a great experience, and having it working for us now is indeed paying off.”

For more about better manure management, visit your local NRCS field office.

Johnson is a public affairs specialist with USDA-NRCS in Iowa.

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GOOD PLANNING: NRCS soil conservation technician Luke Zaiger (right) worked closely with Clint Sonderman in planning the monoslope building and in the financial assistance process through USDA’s EQIP.

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NO MORE RUNOFF: Clint Sonderman’s monoslope building has eliminated manure runoff from his cattle feeding operation. The old feedlot location is now in alfalfa hay.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.