Vegetative system is simple, effective

Richard Baumert doesn’t have thousands of pigs or calves on feed, but his feedlots drained the wrong way. Handling manure from his hog feeding platforms and cattle yards in a cost-effective way wouldn’t normally be considered an easy task. But thanks to a system developed by Christopher Henry, University of Nebraska Extension engineer, and engineer technician Jason Gross, Baumert’s situation was remedied without breaking the bank.

“It solved the problem of water running through our feedyards,” says Baumert.

Instead of building an extensive and expensive holding lagoon, Baumert, Henry and Gross developed a small sediment basin below the yards that collects rainwater, snowmelt and effluent from his pens. There is also a diversion that keeps clean water drained from the farmstead from mixing with pen runoff.

Liquids from the basin are pumped a short distance to a hillside and dispersed over a 3-acre vegetative treatment area by K-Line irrigation tubing and 16 irrigation pods. “This was a way to divert the water and collect it before it reached a nearby creek,” says Baumert.

At a glance

• Baumert’s VTS sprinkler system is one of only five like it in the country.

• He pumps fluids from his sediment basin to a vegetative treatment area.

• He uses 16 K-Line irrigation pods to distribute the fluids.

In Baumert’s system, funded in part through a grant from Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality Section 319 program, liquid effluent is never stored in the basin for long. It’s pumped using a 10-hp Kohler diesel engine within 36 hours over the mixed grass area. A floating filter and hose, much like the ones used by local fire departments to disperse standing water, draws water into the pump, which moves it to the K-Line irrigation setup on a hillside nearby. There are several ways to disperse of the effluent in such a vegetative treatment system, or VTS, according to Henry, but for Baumert’s operation, this seemed to be the best solution.

“Richard did the project voluntarily, that is with the blessing of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, but not as a requirement to continue feeding cattle,” Henry says. “Richard is a forward-thinking producer. He saw that the runoff from his lots was a problem and did something about it without waiting until a NDEQ inspector required him to put controls in place.”

VTS consists of three distinctive components, including a sediment basin, vegetative treatment area composed of perennial vegetation used for treatment of runoff, and a water distribution system. Solids from the sediment basin are removed annually and spread on crop fields.

“A VTS is a permanent installation dedicated to managing the runoff from the open lot system,” Henry says. “Traditionally, gravity transfer has been used to distribute runoff to VTAs, such as gated pipe or surface flow.

“The advantage of the sprinkler concept is that we can locate VTAs on sites where we cannot locate a gravity or even a pump VTS because of soil type and topography,” he says. Baumert’s sprinkler system is one of only five like it in the country. “We are building three more this summer,” says Henry.

Sprinkler VTS systems are relatively inexpensive compared to other options of handling manure runoff from open lots. Through the work of Henry and Gross, the cost has been reduced by 65% over the past seven years, to just under $70 per irrigation head.

Since installation last fall, Baumert says he has pumped out his basin at least four times. “I was surprised at how simple it is,” he says.In Baumert’s case, simple systems like his VTS are the most effective.

For more information about installation of a VTS as a demonstration project or as a cost-eligible practice under the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQIP, contact UNL Extension engineer Christopher Henry at 402-472-6529 or learn more at

Grass mixture needed to do work

The vegetative treatment area where water and effluent are pumped on the Baumert farm is about the same size as the contributing feedlot area. The idea is for the VTA to use the soil’s water-holding capacity to store runoff until both the nutrients and the liquid can be utilized by the vegetation. VTAs can be seeded to a cool-season grass with high nitrogen removal rates and sod-forming deep root system, says UNL Extension engineer Christopher Henry. Weeds or crops won’t do the job.

“We use a mix of brome, meadow brome, intermediate wheatgrass, creeping foxtail, fescue and some other species,” says Henry. “The grass must be removed for hay and cannot be grazed.” But the hay from a VTA can be used as feed or for bedding.


AHEAD OF THE GAME: Richard Baumert voluntarily installed a vegetative treatment area at his hog and cattle yards to prevent runoff from reaching a nearby stream.


POD IS PIVOTAL: Liquid effluent is dispersed from a sediment basin through 16 K-Line irrigation pods spread across a 3-acre vegetative treatment area.

This article published in the July, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.