Barnyard/Feedlot Runoff Management

Barnyard/Feedlot Runoff Management


A planned system of conservation practices for collection, treatment, and reduction of runoff from a barnyard/feedlot to improve water quality.


To control the rate, quality and amount of runoff or leachate from barnyards, feedlots or other concentrated animal-waste areas.

How Does This Practice Work?

Barnyard/feedlot runoff management controls phosphorous and other potential pollutants by reducing the volume of water entering the barnyard/feedlot and the concentration of contaminants in the runoff water. The practice also collects and/or treats the runoff, which lessens the impact on receiving waters. Careful planning to determine the location and size of the barnyard/feedlot helps minimize the risk of water entering the barnyard/feedlot, the amount of water running off from a precipitation event and the potential for pollution.

Intercepting or preventing outside water from entering the barnyard/feedlot using roof gutters, drip trenches or surface water diversions can keep clean water out of the barnyard/feedlot. Subsurface drainage may be needed to prevent underground water from surfacing in the barnyard/feedlot, adding to the potential flow from the area. Reducing or eliminating the amount of clean water entering the barnyard/feedlot can also reduce the amount of effluent needing collection and/or treatment. Less water in the barnyard/feedlot decreases the velocity and carrying capacity of flows in the area, so there is less detachment of manure particles. Less flow also slows the water, which can allow manure particles to settle where a sediment trap is designed in the runoff management system.

The heavy use area protection portion of the practice consists of grading and paving the barnyard/feedlot pad to establish resilient flow paths that lead to effluent collection and treatment areas. The barnyard/feedlot paved surface is designed to be cleaned with equipment so that manure accumulations can be easily removed, thereby limiting the quantity of manure that potentially could be washed off. Providing a hard resilient surface allows the cleaning operation to be done without forming pockets or ruts that collect or redirect leachate flows. Curbing along the edge of the barnyard/feedlot is often needed to allow the cleaning operation to occur, while preventing manure from being pushed off the edge of the barnyard/ feedlot.

The pad runoff water should be collected so it can be stored or treated. If it is to be stored, gravity flow to an appropriately sized waste storage facility is preferred. If a pump is needed, often a storage area to contain the peak flow will reduce the size of the pump needed. If the runoff will be treated, pre-treatment by settling to remove most of the solids will be beneficial. Treatment can be done by a properly designed vegetated treatment area, or waste treatment lagoon system.

Where This Practice Applies and Its Limitations

This practice applies when an overall waste management system is being planned or upgraded; where concentrated livestock areas result in a potential for pollution of water; and where soils, site conditions and topography are suitable for improved barnyard/feedlot construction.


This practice can be very effective because the amount of water needing collection and storage for land application or treatment can be reduced. Also, the land application or treatment of the runoff can substantially reduce the risk of pollution. This system of practices can also improve the efficiency of the current barnyard/feedlot operations, by reducing wasted feed, and improve area maneuverability. There may also be animal health benefits to cattle exposed to a clean, well-drained barnyard/feedlot.

Cost of Implementing the Practice

The cost of this practice varies greatly. Costs can be very high for large barnyard/feedlots with nearby sensitive water bodies. Costs may be low or modest for small barnyard/feedlots that are located far from water bodies. Costs include those for outside runoff control; grading and shaping the barnyard/ feedlot; paving the barnyard/feedlot with curbing; and effluent collection, treatment, and storage systems.

Operation and Maintenance

Scraping the barnyard/feedlot and collecting, storing or treating runoff are ongoing operational requirements. Fences need to be maintained. Outside clean water control practices such as roof gutters, drip trenches and diversions need to be maintained. Waterers should be maintained so they do not leak. An estimate of the expected life of the practice can be made by consulting with conservation districts, agency personnel and land users. The type of paving will determine life expectancy.


Local USDA-NRCS technical references and standards may be available at local county offices or from

For Further Information

Contact your local soil and water conservation district, USDA-NRCS or Cooperative Extension Service office. To find your local USDA Service Center, visit

Financial assistance may be available for barnyard/feedlot runoff management system conservation practices from the NRCS.

Current Authors
Paula Bagley
Peter Wright
PRO-DAIRY, Cornell University
Editing and Design
Deanna Osmond
NC State University
Forbes Walker
University of Tennessee

Bagley, P. and P. Wright.  2023.  Barnyard/Feedlot Runoff Management.  SERA17 Phosphorus Conservation Practices Fact Sheets.

Funding for layout provided by USDA-NRCS Grant 69-3A75-17-45
Published: Feb 25, 2023