What are feedlots & how are they regulated?

A livestock feedlot is a type of animal feeding operation which is used in intensive animal farming for finishing livestock, including beef cattle, swine, sheep, turkeys, and chickens prior to slaughter. Large feedlots are called “concentrated animal feeding operations” or “CAFOs”.  Feedlots are used to increase the amount of meat each animal produces as quickly as possible. Animals kept in confined quarters, rather than being allowed to range freely over pastures, put on weight more quickly.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) estimates that there are 24,000 livestock feedlots registered under the state’s feedlot rule. They range in size from small farms to large-scale commercial livestock operations.

The MPCA regulates the collection, transportation, storage, processing and disposal of animal manure and other livestock operation wastes. It has developed feedlot rules which apply to most aspects of livestock management including the location, design, construction, operation and management of feedlots and manure handling facilities. You can find lots of information and links via the MPCA’s Feedlots webpage at: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/quick-links/feedlots

Why does TU care about feedlot operations?

Livestock feedlot operations have the potential to pollute both surface waters and groundwater.  The risk of water pollution is especially high in the “karst” geology which makes southeast Minnesota’s Driftless area such a phenomenal trout mecca.  This karst region is characterized by porous bedrock which creates the large, cold springs which in turn produce the amazing spring creeks concentrated here.  Unfortunately, the porous bedrock also allows contaminants on the surface to easily reach this groundwater and our beloved trout streams.

There are two primary pathways by which feedlot operations can pollute groundwater, streams and lakes:

  1. Runoff of manure (primarily liquid) from the feedlot itself or manure storage area
  2. Runoff from the manure which is applied to cropland, typically over a wide area

Very high nitrate levels in SE groundwater and trout streams harm both humans and aquatic ecosystems.  The health of a trout fishery depends upon how land is used within the stream’s watershed, as well as its springshed.  Rising nitrate levels suggest that current feedlot rules are not adequate to protect our waters.

See the MNTU blog for recent news concerning various feedlot proposals.