Manure Treatment Technologies

Runoff from livestock barnyards and feedlots can kill fish and cause algae blooms in lakes, ponds and streams. The pond containment and spray field system has been the conventional system for managing livestock manures for the last 40 years. The University of Nebraska has developed resources for the following alternative treatment technologies: Vegetative Treatment Systems and Anaerobic Digesters.

About conventional systems

In most cases, animal manures are handled as a solid or concentrated liquid (semi-slurry) from a holding pond. Animal manures are almost always land applied to cropland as fertilizer. Unlike human waste, most animal manures are not diluted. Because of the concentrated nature of animal manures, and the proximity of livestock facilities to cropland, the feasibility of further treating manure is typically not justified. Additional treatment or processing to meet water quality standards of animal manures is typically not justifiable because regulations do not allow regular discharging of the treated manure to the environment, like municipal and industrial treatment plants. This is the primary reason it is rare to see the same treatment technology used for human and industrial waste used on a livestock operation.

Vegetative Treatment Systems for Beef Operations

A Vegetative Treatment System can be an economical alternative to traditional retention (holding) ponds for controlling runoff from a livestock waste facility. A Vegetative Treatment System refers to a combination of treatment steps for managing runoff. It treats runoff by settling, infiltration, and nutrient use. These individual components when put together are called a Vegetative Treatment System (VTS):

  • VTS drawing a settling structure,
  • an outlet structure,
  • a distribution system, and
  • a vegetative treatment area. 

The University of Nebraska Extension has a program focused on the development and demonstration Vegetative Treatment Systems for open lots. The small AFO program demonstrates VTS technology on the less than 1,000 head size beef feedlot and cow-calf operations. UNL has been key in the development of a guidance document for the design of VTS systems, factsheets; and the resources on e-Xtension. UNL is also involved with demonstration and research on large CAFO VTS systems.

Anaerobic Digesters

A methane digester system, commonly referred to as an AD (anaerobic digester), is a device that promotes the decomposition of manure or 'digestion' of the organics in manure to simple organics and gaseous biogas products. Follow the link from this page to further information on this system.

The National e-Xtension site hosts a page on manure treatment technologies for livestock and poultry manure that includes the following technologies:

  • Aerobic Treatment
  • Vegetative Treatment Systems
  • Manure Additives
  • Solids Separation
  • Manure Storage Covers
  • Anaerobic Digestion
  • Gasification and Combustion
  • Composting
  • Vermicomposting


Information presented within the livestock manure management section of this Water Web site has been authored and/or reviewed by University of Nebraska-Lincoln Manure Management Team members Leslie Johnson, Rick Koelsch, Charles Shapiro and Charles Wortmann.

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