Dairy farmers are well aware of the lethality of manure pit gases that congregate in unventilated areas and clean-out ports of covered manure pits under slatted floor barns.
But danger also lurks around above ground manure storage and lagoons, says Kelley Donham, a veterinarian and professor emeritus of ag medicine at the University of Iowa. Hydrogen sulfide, methane, carbon dioxide and more than 160 other potentially hazardous gases are created under anaerobic conditions in manure storage. Ammonia is created as well.
“Agitation creates a release of these gases, and they can go to lethal levels in a very short time,” says Donham. There have been reported cases of lethal concentrations being created when above ground storage and lagoons have been agitated, he says.
Farmers need to be aware of this potential danger and stay clear of areas downwind of open manure storage and lagoons when manure is being agitated and hauled, particularly on relatively calm days when gas can settle into deadly plumes, says Donham. Workers, kids, cattle, other livestock and pets need to be kept well away to ensure their safety.
Farmers are also reminded never to enter a manure pit or enclosed area without the proper safety equipment and breathing apparatus and to never, ever enter these areas without having a co-worker nearby in case something goes wrong.
Dohman spoke at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Business Conference in Madison, Wis., in March.