Cattle feeders get serious about dust

On February 11, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association hosted an information session in Picture Butte, AB, about the challenges of dust management in feedlots, laying out strategies to help operators control the common problem.  

Subject matter experts who presented at the session were Walter Ceroici, acting CEO of the Natural Resources Conservation Board in Edmonton, and Dr. Brent Auvermann, centre director and professor of agricultural engineering at Texas A&M University

Why dust is an issue for cattle feeders

During the hot, dry months of summer dust poses a constant challenge to feedlot operators. On the hottest days, cattle move little during the day, but in the evening, when the sun is low in the sky and temperatures cool, they start to move around. And when they move, they kick up the dust.

Dust is not just an annoyance for cattle, feedlot workers and their neighbours – it can also cause more serious issues. Dust can impact the health and performance of cattle, be a serious irritant for those suffering from respiratory problems, and in some cases can create a traffic hazard on nearby roads.

How to minimize dust

Applying water to pens and roadways has long been the most common technique used to minimize the dust raised by cattle in feedlots. Ideally, it should be sprayed onto dusty surfaces before the dust becomes a problem, but forecasting the correct time, and applying water in sufficient quantities, isn’t always that easy.

“This sounds straightforward,” said Walter, “but it can be challenging to determine the timing and frequency of pen watering in order to be effective. The volume of water required to control dust by watering varies with the depth of manure in pens. During extremely dry conditions there is no practical way to supply the amount of water needed to control dust without creating other issues such as odour, flies and pen floor damage.”

Some other methods of dust control include:

-Removing dry powdery dirt and manure from pens on a regular basis.

-Increasing stock density in pens during the dustiest times of the days.

-Planting windbreaks and other vegetative barriers to help stop dust from travelling.

According to ‘Dust Emissions from Cattle Feeding Operations,’ written by Dr. Auvermann, along with Sharon L.M. Preece, Ronaldo Maghirang and Steve Amosson, pen design also has a role in minimizing dust:

“The shape of a pen should allow for complete manure harvest from edge to edge. Pen surfaces should slope away from aprons, feed bunks, and water troughs at a 3 to 5 percent grade. They should drain separately into a runoff channel rather than into each other wherever possible.”

Roller-compacted concrete is another technique that cattle feeders have used successfully to keep dust to a minimum.

Having a plan

The Natural Resources Conservation Board of Canada, (NRCB), encourages feedlot operators to be aware of the conditions that contribute to dust, and of the options for dust control. 

They recommend every operation have a dust control plan, outlining strategies to mitigate dust, as well as response strategies in the event of a dust incident. The plan would typically outline available dust control methods, when those should be applied and how they should be implemented, as well as the responsibilities of individual workers in dust control.

“Operators who would like assistance, or to learn more about strategies to control dust for their operation are encouraged to contact their local NRCB staff,” said Walter.