Cattle farms, key factors of IEPA livestock rules

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

To figure out whether state livestock regulations apply to your farm, first determine whether it qualifies as an Animal Feeding Operation. See the criteria below. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)
To figure out whether state livestock regulations apply to your farm, first determine whether it qualifies as an Animal Feeding Operation. See the criteria below. (Illinois Farm Bureau file photo)
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 farmers who raise cattle 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 cattle farm?

Answer: First, determine if your farm meets the Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) definition, which isn’t simple for most cow-calf farms. If a farm doesn’t meet the definition of an AFO, the rules do not apply to it.

To be considered an AFO, a farm:

- Has been, is or will be confining and feeding, or maintaining animals for at least 45 days in any 12-month period in a lot or facility; and

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

Most cows housed in a lot or barn during the winter would meet the 45-day requirement. Plus, concrete floors don’t support vegetation, and most dirt lots that hold cattle for 45 or more days typically don’t maintain vegetation either.

A beef farm that uses grazing and pasture would not be defined as an AFO because vegetation grows during the normal growing season. But some pasture- and grazing-based farms also have feedlots, barns or smaller lots for winter feeding. Just because a portion of the farm may be pasture-based and not defined as an AFO does not mean that applies to the entire farm production area.   

For example, Farm A grazes 200 cows on pasture from April 1 through Nov. 30. From Dec. 1 through March 30, the cows are housed in a 10-acre fenced area and have no access to other pasture. During the winter, vegetation grows on less than 5 percent of the fenced area. Although the cattle graze pasture most of the year, the AFO rules would apply to the 10-acre area because cattle are confined for 45 days and most of 10 acres lacks vegetation during those winter months.

If a farm is defined as an AFO, the next step is to determine if it meets the definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). That determination depends on the actual number of cattle confined, not the capacity of a barn or feedlot – and whether pollutants are discharged directly or indirectly into waters of the U.S.

A farm is defined as a large CAFO when it confines at least 1,000 head of cattle, which includes heifers, steers, bulls and cow-calf pairs for more than 45 days in a 12-month period. Only the cattle on the farm are counted, not a farmer’s total inventory.

A farm would meet the definition of a medium CAFO if it meets a threshold and discharges pollutants through a man-made ditch, flushing system or similar man-made device into a water of the U.S., or if water of the U.S. flows through the farm or comes into contact with the cattle. That size threshold is 300 to 999 head of cattle, including heifers, steers, bulls and cow-calf pairs.

To determine if any discharges occur, a farmer must consider his entire production area, including manure storage, feed storage and dead animal composting area.

An IEPA on-site investigation would be needed to determine if there is significant discharge of pollutants that would cause a farm to be defined as a small CAFO. A small CAFO confines one to 299 head of cattle. On a case-by-case basis, a small AFO may be given an opportunity to correct any problem that might cause a discharge.

Common ownership is another factor that may influence whether a farm meets a CAFO definition. 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 or those 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 swine, beef and dairy editions. The guides clarify and simplify IEPA rules, and identify best management practices.

For more information or to obtain a free beef resource guide, email Lauren Lurkins, IFB director of natural and environmental resources, at 

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

A: Lurkins said the Beef 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. 

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