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Proper manure handling a piece of harvest safety


PEORIA, Ill. — When talk turns to harvest safety, most advice centers on grain transportation and handling once corn is delivered to local elevators or other storage sites. With the 2017 harvest well underway, safe handling of liquid manure used to fertilize fields after the harvest must also be considered, points out University of Illinois Extension farm safety expert Ted Funk.

The agriculture and bioengineering specialist is advising beef producers about safety concerns associated with slotted-floor liquid manure pit systems that have become more prominent in recent years.

Fatal accidents to both farm workers and livestock can likely be attributed to multiple factors, including increases in toxic gases produced by a combination of animal diets, according to Funk. And with the construction of deeper and larger slotted-floor finishing buildings, he said, comes a new generation of operators unfamiliar with liquid manure safety procedures.

Though most feedstuffs contain adequate levels of sulfur, expansion in the ethanol industry has resulted in unexpected safety concerns for those feeding distiller’s grains to beef cattle in deep-pit environments. Both sulfur and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in manure present a safety issue for those exposed to the toxic gases during pumping of slotted-floor manure pits, Funk said.

“The use of feedstuffs such as distiller’s grains in the manure gas problem is multi-faceted; it’s not just the use of distiller’s grains, but it has been pointed out that the use of any constituent that is in corn that goes through ethanol production would triple the concentration of sulfur,” he said. “The presence of H2S is so unpredictable that we have to be prepared as if it is always going to be be there.”

Sulfate, a combination of sulfur and oxygen, differs from sulfide in that sulfide is the negative ion of sulfur alone. Both are “negative” ions hungry for electrons, but form a chemical bond when colliding to form a stable electron configuration. The combination in cattle manure can produce fatal toxic gases.

Recent human fatalities have occurred in Corn Belt states Iowa and Wisconsin, along with Pennsylvania, according to Funk, who issued an advisory for beef producers with liquid manure systems who have employees and-or children in proximity of manure handling through the U of I. In an essay, the farm safety expert offers seven safety bullet points for keeping children and workers out of harm’s way, and advises producers to purchase a hydrogen sulfide (H2S) single gas monitor for anyone who must be near a barn when manure pits are being pumped.

Other safety advisories include:

Using care during the agitation of liquid manure in underfloor pits, keeping workers out of buildings and watching for signs of animal distress.

Putting caution tags on entry doors during agitation and pumping.

Taking animals out of buildings when emptying manure pits when possible. “Otherwise, make sure all curtains are open in naturally ventilated buildings, all ventilation fans are on, and observe the animals carefully from outside the building during operations,” Funk said.

Being aware of possible methane explosions when foam is present on the manure surface as the foam is broken up during agitation.

When agitating manure in an underfloor pit, start slowly, observe conditions and avoid “rooster tails” of liquid manure above the surface when beginning agitation.

Funk further advises keeping manure sample kits at hand, observing biosecurity protocols, maintaining accurate and timely records, checking spreader calibration during manure applications, spreading carcass compost, and acquiring a depth measurement instrument for manure storage.

“Consider mapping the solids depth in underslat pits with a laser device,” he said. “You can put a pocket laser distance meter on a PVC pipe stand and carry it through the building to measure manure surface between the slats. If you can pump liquid down completely, you can measure, map, and record solids buildup with the laser distance meter. Laser distance meters for this purpose are available for less than $100.”

For more of Funk’s safety advice for manure application at harvest, check out the University of Illinois website, or contact Funk at