Manure Pit Safety precautions

Taking safety precautions is vital for cattlemen working with barns that have pit manure storage.

Four Main Manure Gases

  • Carbon dioxide — asphyxiant, suffocates, displaces oxygen
  • Methane — combustible, asphyxiant
  • Ammonia — irritant
  • Hydrogen sulfide — toxic

“There are many good reasons for using liquid manure systems,” said Ted Funk, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois.

“These systems get the manure away from the animals, there is less materials handling and you can choose the time of application,” Funk said during a presentation at the Illinois Cattle Feeders Day. “And on based on a per cow space, it costs less to apply liquid manure than solid manure.”

However, since these deep pits provide long-term manure storage, there can be the production of gases with different levels of danger, Funk noted. These gases include carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

“When you agitate manure, there’s a bunch of dissolved gases that will come out,” Funk said.

What sometimes causes problems, Funk explained, are the number of variables such as how much of the gases are being produced or how much of those gases are carried away by the wind.

“So we might get away with doing dangerous things nine times out of 10,” he added.

“Hydrogen sulfide is the one to blame most of the time in manure-related deaths,” he said. “It’s dissolved in liquid manure because it’s produced by bugs in the manure.”

Distillers Grain Role

Many cattle rations include distillers grains.

“That feed has more sulfur in it because when they make ethanol, they adjust the pH by using sulfuric acid,” Funk explained. “When you stir up the manure, it’s like shaking a can of soda.”

When the manure is agitated, it releases gases.

“That quick release of gases is what produces the high concentrations that can kill animals and people,” Funk said. “So when you agitate a pit, start slow to let the gas off slow.”

It is ideal for both people and animals to be out of the barn when agitating the manure in the pits.

“Pick a nice, windy day to pump out the manure,” Funk advised. “If you start to see any signs of distress to animals, terminate the agitation.”

He identified the dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide:

  • 100 ppm — You lose the ability to smell the gas.
  • 500 ppm — You lose consciousness.
  • 1,000 ppm — Paralyzes the diaphragm, you stop breathing and rapid death.

Since hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, it will be close to where the cattle are resting on the slates.


Source: Agrinews


Winter 2017


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