Conversations: Ask you management team about lagoon management

The 2009 dairy economy was stress enough, but now 2010 is bringing additional environmental regulations. As producers and their advisors meet in the conference room (or kitchen), the conversation will certainly address ways to manage manure.

By Bill Braman, Ph D.

Public relations and regulatory pressures on manure storage and handling are mounting across the country. Odor reduction and solids disposal are two key issues. State and federal regulations will have significant impact on our industry, applying more stringent regulations – especially on large-herd dairies. While many types of manure management systems already exist, one low-cost option is gaining traction: treating manure lagoons with bacteria.

1) How are some of the new EPA regulations going to affect me?

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new standards for the treatment of waste on dairy herds of 700+ head. These dairies are obligated to meet updated air reporting requirements. Additionally, these regulations allow for direct EPA intervention if requested by a neighbor or local authority regarding complaints to investigate releases of hazardous substances. For the most part, these regulations shouldn’t affect smaller operations, but as our industry continues to consolidate, these regulations could have a profound impact on how expansion and consolidation plans are drafted. Ask whether or not the new EPA regulations affect your current operation or potential expansion plans.

2) What is the idea behind using bacteria to treat manure?

While there are some bacteria native to manure lagoons, the idea is to supplement this native bacteria with strains specifically selected to accelerate the degradation of solids and odor-producing gasses. The approach is called bacterial seeding, and is fairly common at municipal waste treatment facilities. This process helps maintain a robust bacterial population that breaks down waste through digestion. Discuss the types of bacteria currently growing in your lagoon.

3) Is this type of treatment effective in reducing odors or solids?

Odor is largely due to anaerobic decomposition. Research shows that by increasing the activity level of beneficial bacteria, foul odors can be mitigated. For example, Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition developed a bacterial manure treatment product proven to reduce odor-producing compounds such as ammonia nitrogen and organic nitrogen. Since the bacteria essentially liquefies the solids, the lagoon can be easier to agitate and pump – and even be pumped lower since there is less risk of clogging. Review how you may save on agitation and pumping time and expenses when solids exist in a more liquid state.

4) Is the bacteria safe for a lagoon?

Lagoons that don’t have adequate amounts of natural bacteria are actually more of a concern than a lagoon with supplemental bacteria. Without adequate numbers of bacteria, a lagoon can accumulate excess solids on the bottom or form a firm top crust, increasing the difficulty and expense to clean the lagoon.

Multi-stage lagoons benefit, in that fluids can flow more easily from one stage to the next – keeping solids suspended longer. Identify how your lagoon could benefit from easier flow and clean out..

5) Can the manure still be used on cropland?

Due to the digestion process, nitrogen binds in the cells of the bacteria. This nitrogen is organic and gets released into the soil as the bacteria break down. In fact, after cleanout, the predigested manure solids absorb into the soil quickly, with less opportunity for caking on the surface. Untreated manure can burn crops if applied incorrectly, and the odor from spreading can be offensive to neighbors. Ask about the nutrient values of bacteria-treated lagoons to learn how this could impact your crop management program.

6) It’s February. Will this treatment be effective in winter?

Fermentation activity is certainly reduced in colder temperatures. However research demonstrates there is fermentation activity in the lagoon even when frozen over. Discuss how much fermentation activity occurs year-round in a lagoon, especially in warmer climates.

6. How much bacteria is needed to be effective?

The treatment protocol is typically designed as a two-step process. The first step is a “shock treatment” of the existing lagoon contents. One cost-saving opportunity is to begin a program right after your lagoon has been pumped – that way less product is needed for the initial shock treatment. The second step is built around an ongoing application (typically bimonthly) that is appropriate for the number of animals, waste and water volume. Ask about calculating the amount of water used for flushing and the total volume in the lagoon to get an idea of how many gallons you would need to treat.


Bill Braman, Ph.D., is vice president of sales & marketing for Chr. Hansen Animal Health & Nutrition. Contact him via phone: 888-828-6600; or e-mail uswbr@ For more information, visit