Dairy farms, key factors of IEPA livestock rules

What you need to know to make sure your operation complies with regulations.

The Illinois Agricultural Coalition has resources to help dairy and other livestock farmers simplify rules and develop best management practices. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)
The Illinois Agricultural Coalition has resources to help dairy and other livestock farmers simplify rules and develop best management practices. (Photo by Catrina Rawson).
By Kay Shipman

Editor’s note: FarmWeek is highlighting applications of livestock rules to Illinois swine, beef and dairy farms.   

Illinois Farm Bureau wants to help dairy farmers better understand Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) livestock rules, whether those rules apply to their farms and related best management practices. The most recent version of IEPA’s livestock rules took effect in August 2014.

Question: Do the regulations apply to my dairy?

Answer: Whether the regulations apply depends if your dairy meets the definition of an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO). If your dairy isn’t an AFO, the rules would not apply to it.

To be defined as an AFO, a dairy must:

- Confine and feed or maintain animals in a lot or facility for at least 45 days in any 12-month period; and

- Not sustain vegetation, including crops, forage and crop residue, during the normal growing season on any portion of the lot or facility.

Most dairy farms meet the first part of the definition because cows being milked are confined in barns or lots for more than 45 days throughout the year. As for the second part, plants don’t grow on concrete floors and typically don’t grow on most dirt lots where cows are housed for at least 45 days.

Related: Simple way to ensure dairy cows receive proper amount of fiber. Learn more here.

Areas where dry cows and heifers are kept may include pasture. The portion of a farm with a true pasture and grazing animals would not be defined as an AFO because vegetation is sustained during the normal growing season. However, the portion of the dairy farm where animals are housed for at least 45 days and vegetation is not sustained during the growing season would meet the AFO definition.

If the dairy is defined as an AFO, the next step is to determine if it would be defined as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) based on the number of cattle housed on the farm and whether pollutants are discharged into waters of the U.S.

A dairy farm is defined as a large CAFO if it has 700 or more mature dairy cows, either milked or dry, for more than 45 days in a 12-month period. A large CAFO would have 1,000 or more veal calves or 1,000 head of cattle, including heifers, steers and bulls.

When calculating the threshold, a farmer counts either the number of mature dairy cows or the number of heifers living on the same farm; the two totals are not combined. Also the threshold is based on the number of cows housed, not on the dairy capacity.

A dairy would be defined as a medium CAFO if it meets a threshold and discharges pollutant through a grassed waterway, a tile inlet or some other man-made device into a water of the U.S., or has a water of the U.S. flow through the farm or come into contact with the cattle.

To assess if any discharges occur, a farmer must look at the entire production area, including the milking parlor and milkhouse wash water, manure storage, feed and bedding storage, and dead animal handling areas.  

The medium CAFO thresholds are: 200 to 699 mature dairy cows (dry or milked), or 300 to 999 veal calves, or 300 to 999 head of cattle, including heifers, steers and bulls.  

An IEPA on-site investigation would be needed to determine if a dairy causes a significant discharge of pollutants, causing it to be defined as a small CAFO. A small CAFO confines one to 199 mature dairy cows, or one to 299 veal calves, or one to 299 head of cattle, including heifers, steers and bulls. On a case-by-case basis, a small AFO may be given an opportunity to correct any problem causing a discharge.  

If a farmer, partnership, company or corporation owns more than one site with confined cattle, consider if those sites meet IEPA’s definition of a single AFO. IEPA would consider two or more AFOs under common ownership as a single entity if the sites are adjacent, or use a common area or system for handling and disposing of manure, such as applying manure to the same field.

IEPA has no official definition of the word adjacent; however, barns located close to each other, across the road from each other, sharing a common border or located on a contiguous parcel likely would be considered adjacent.  

Q: Where do I go for more information?

A: The Illinois Agricultural Coalition, which includes IFB, Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Milk Producers’ Association and Illinois Pork Producers Association, developed resource guides available in dairy, swine and beef editions. The guides clarify and simplify IEPA rules and identify best management practices.

For more information or to obtain a free dairy resource guide, email Lauren Lurkins, IFB director of natural and environmental resources, at llurkins@ilfb.org. 

Q: If the regulations apply to me, are they easy to understand or do I need to hire someone?

A: Lurkins said the Dairy Resource Guide is a good first step to help farmers become familiar with the rules, but does not take the place of hiring an engineer consultant or an attorney. 

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.
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