CAFOs in the Rock River Basin

From the Lake Sinissippi Improvement District

A concentrated (or confined) animal feeding operation (CAFO) is a large-scale industrial agricultural facility that raises livestock at higher densities than traditional pasture operations for production of milk, meat or eggs. As with all animal feeding operations, CAFO livestock are generally kept indoors with feed and water brought to them and manure and other wastes removed for storage, processing and disposal on surrounding land.

Animal feeding operations are classified by animal type and number and the term “animal unit” is used as a measure of manure production. An operation that exceeds 1,000 equivalent animal units is designated as a CAFO. The number of animals equivalent to 1,000 animal units varies by type: 700 milking cows;  1,000 beef cattle;  2,500 pigs; and 30,000 chickens.

The five Wisconsin counties in the Rock River Basin have a total of 43 CAFOs – 33 dairy, 6 beef and 4 chicken – and there are at least 4 permit applications pending for new CAFOs in the basin. There are 7 permitted CAFOs in Dodge County.

A 1,000-animal unit CAFO produces a volume of manure equivalent to the amount of human waste generated by a small city.  Unlike laws regulating disposal of human waste, however, the law does not require animal manure to be treated before land application and disposal.

The 1972 Clean Water Act identified animal feeding operations as potential pollution sources and established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System to set effluent limitation guidelines and standards for CAFOs. The Wisconsin DNR is responsible for regulating CAFOs under Chapter NR 243 of the Wisconsin Administrative Code.

CAFOs can be efficient producers.  However, such efficiencies often come at a cost to water, air and land resources and to human health and well-being.  While animal manure is a valuable nutrient for crops, the huge volumes of manure produced by CAFOs and disposed on surrounding lands present problems for the environment and public health.

Animal manure contains pathogenic microorganisms, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemical cleaners from process water and nitrogen and phosphorus compounds.  Improper storage and land application of manure have resulted in polluted runoff to lakes, rivers and streams and infiltration to groundwater causing contamination of private wells with nitrates and bacteria.

Odor emissions from CAFOs can create unpleasant conditions for neighboring residents and visitors. Several rural communities have reported declining land values of residential properties and abandoned homes in proximity of CAFOs and their spreading fields.

Wisconsin DNR and DATCP in conjunction with dairy and livestock producers are promoting use of aerial spray irrigation of liquid animal manure as another means of disposal of fecal waste and manure lagoon contents on CAFO farms. There is considerable controversy regarding risks to human health from aerial spray of untreated animal manure.

It is important that Dodge County and its communities routinely monitor CAFO operations to minimize environmental problems and safeguard public health and community welfare.

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