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How to Manage Excessive Dust in Livestock Pens

As many areas in Alberta, including the Peace Region, are dealing with dry conditions, managing excessive dust from livestock pens and feedlots is a key concern.

While pen dust during periods of prolonged drought is not the only source of rural dust emissions, it can still pose issues for livestock welfare and worker health. Dust from pens is strongly influenced by weather and manure management. Wind, warm temperatures, and increased sun exposure can rapidly dry out manure in pens, with regions experiencing lower rainfall seeing an accelerated drying effect. As we head into the late afternoon and early evening when temperatures drop and winds subside, there is increased cattle activity that stirs dust into the air above pens. Without wind, this dust can then hang above the pens and be extremely slow to disperse. Dust emissions at their peak in the evening, create the greatest impact on livestock and staff. 

Pen dust is the result of dry, uncompacted manure, including bedding and soil being pulverized into a fine powder by livestock activity and then kicked into the air. As warm, dry conditions reduce manure moisture content, uncompacted manure becomes more susceptible to being broken down into fine particles.

The most effective dust control methods for feedlots or pens with compacted clay or concrete floors is to proactively reduce the volume of manure in pens, while monitoring and removing loose uncompacted material that accumulates over the summer months. It is suggested that feedlots and pens are scraped by the beginning of June, however; every region is different. 

Secondary dust control methods, such as applying water to pen surfaces and increasing stock density should only be considered after properly managing manure volumes. These methods increase the moisture content of manure so that it will not break down into powder.

Applying water will not be as effective at controlling dust if manure volumes are not dealt with. Generally, when more than 2.5 cm of uncompacted manure is present in pens, the water volume required to penetrate the manure is significant and cannot be practically applied without creating a wet surface. This can then lead to floor damage and odour. 

Increasing stock density by distributing manure and urine over a smaller area, creates pen moisture content and minimizes the breakdown of manure. It is reported that doubling the livestock density can reduce pen dust by up to 50%. This practice also creates an exclusion area, where uncompacted manure collected during cleaning could be stockpiled to ensure that livestock do not disturb it and generate dust.

Information taken from an Alberta Agri-News Article:

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