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The Ag Engineering Update

Make Manure Safety A Priority

Date: October 26, 2016

Authors: Richard Gates, 217-244-2791,

Jay Solomon, 815-235-4125,

Sources: Extension Specialists in Region

  • Recent deaths of cattle in the Illinois-Iowa-Wisconsin region point to pit gases as the culprit
  • Hydrogen sulfide and methane gasses from liquid/slurry stores can be lethal to animals, and PEOPLE
  • Remember key safety rules before agitating and emptying manure stores
  • Make sure new or inexperienced workers are trained in safety

Make manure safety a priority

URBANA, Ill. - With harvest winding down and manure application underway, it's a good time to remember manure safety, says Rich Gates, professor and Extension specialist at the University of Illinois. "Any liquid/slurry stores, when agitated, will release toxic hydrogen sulfide and methane gasses that can be lethal." Last summer, during agitation of a large manure storage tank in Wisconsin, a young farmer was killed from manure gas, along with 16 cows. This past weekend in mid-October there were 3 more incidents, with at least 61 cattle reported to have been killed in 4 incidents in the tri-state area.

It is important to remember the key safety rules when agitating and emptying manure stores. These rules include taking steps to promote ventilation, removing workers and if possible animals, from buildings or nearby downwind structures, and starting the agitation slowly and watching for any harmful effects. Never enter an enclosed manure store without appropriate precautions, and be mindful that you can be overcome with a single breath if concentrations are high.

Facts surrounding the most recent incidents are sketchy, but custom applicators reported "high to dangerous levels" of hydrogen sulfide on the ground near tankers "and in the cab of tractors during filling" according to a news release from Kevin Erb, University of Wisconsin Extension.

"Levels of hydrogen sulfide over 10 ppm should be considered dangerous, with most personal alarms set at 10 to 20 ppm. Levels of 1-10 ppm cause irritation, 10-50 ppm cause more serious problems with eyes and respiratory tract, and above 50 ppm can be quickly lethal" says University of Illinois Extension Educator Jay Solomon. He also noted that this latest set of mortalities occurred in naturally ventilated deep-pit beef operations.

Gates notes that two fact sheets, "Safe Manure Removal Policies" and "Manure Storage Entering Procedures" are available free online from the National Pork Board and U of I Extension's ag safety website. He adds, "Don't forget the importance of ensuring that new or inexperienced workers are also trained in safety."