Managing a Manure Spill

manure spill

It happens… but it doesn’t have to hit the fan.

Kevin Erb, a University of Wisconsin Extension agent with 20+ years of experience in nutrient management, provided manure spill management tips during a demonstration at the North American Manure Expo. He urged attendees to act immediately, ensuring any spills remain small.

In the event of a manure spill, farmers should strive to recover 85-95% of manure solids, shares Erb. When using water to flush solids off of vegetation and out of ditches and waterways, 3 gallons of clean water should be used for each 1 gallon of manure spilled.

Common farm tools and equipment can be used to contain manure spills. Among the examples were:

  • A 5 gallon bucket to prevent drain tile access. Removing bottom of bucket and placing remaining plastic sides over inlet can effectively seal off drain tile surface inlet, prevent manure from reaching ditches. For best results, stomp or tightly pack dirt around pail edges.
  • Use scrap plywood, an old mudflap, or plastic bale wrap to block culverts. Stand material up to block culvert access. Use dirt or other materials in front of the blocking to secure the makeshift plug. Note: This method may not be as effective in winter, as manure may run underneath snow/ice on ground.
  • Build simple dams from dirt, straw bales, or bedding material. Constructing an additional “backup” dam will provide the most protection and stop manure flow.
  • Use a [relatively] clean manure tanker can be used to haul flush water.

Finally, Erb urges farmers to research EPA reporting requirements for their area. In most states, accidental spills will not be penalized, but farmers are responsible for damages. However, failing to report and repair/restore areas affected by manure spills can cause big trouble for farmers.

Robb Meinen, Senior Extension Associate with Penn State’s Department of Dairy & Animal Science, reminded attendees of the 5 steps for managing manure spills:

  1. Ensure Human Safety – Call 911 immediately if spill occurs on a roadway, or if it otherwise impacts the safety of others.
  2. Stop Flow at Source – Act quickly to stop the spill from growing larger.
  3. Control/Contain Spill – Prevent manure from entering water sources, including ditches, wells, and waterways.
  4. Notify Authorities – Report spills per your local/state laws.
  5. Clean Up Spill – Restore spill site to original state. Know who to contact for heavy equipment, listing contact information for nearby backhoes or vacuum truck operators in you manure spill emergency plan.




Bauer, Abby. “Don’t cry over spilled manure…instead, act quickly.” Hoard’s Dairyman.
Erb, Kevin. “Manure spill demonstration at 2015 North American Manure Expo.Progressive Dairyman.
Roth, Jeffrey. “Farmers Geth the Scoop on Manure Spill Cleanups.” Lancaster Farming.

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