Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 13, Issue 1 - June, 2020


Livestock Waste Management and Water Quality Youth Education

Hadfield, J.A., Extension Assistant Professor, Utah State University
Dallin, J., Extension Assistant Professor, Utah State University
Hadfield, J.L., Extension Assistant Professor, Utah State University
Perkins, D., Extension Assistant, Utah State University


With 4,604 livestock projects enrolled in Utah 4-H and increased urban participation, it is essential that our youth and adults understand the potential risks of livestock pollution and contamination of water sources. To address this need, Utah State University targeted nine counties providing workshops that reached 316 people with a mixed youth and adult audience. It was found that through these workshops, most participants gained knowledge and indicated their views on water quality and management had changed. Post-workshop, 43% of participants said they were very likely to implement techniques that they had learned in the workshop into their agriculture practices. 


Livestock manure management has become a critical environmental concern. In 2012, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) containing livestock and poultry produced almost thirteen times more waste than the entire US population (United States Department of Agriculture -National Agricultural Statistics Service [USDA-NASS], 2012). Agriculture operators who raise livestock in confined areas have large volumes of animal waste to manage. Large amounts of animal waste can lead to air and water pollution through runoff, limited ventilation, increased bacterial life, and unsanitary conditions. To address issues relating to water quality, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created laws and regulations for managing manure (EPA, 2019). Regulations apply mainly to animal feeding operations (AFO) and confined animal feed operations (CAFO). The EPA defines an AFO as an area where animals are raised in confinement for a minimum of 45 days (EPA, 2020). A CAFO is an AFO with more than 1,000 animal units, an animal unit being equal to 1,000 lbs. of that animal (EPA, 2020; Natural Resource Conservation Service [NRCS], 2016). Any AFO that discharges manure or wastewater into a natural or man-made waterway is defined as a CAFO no matter the number of animals, and is regulated by the EPA through the Clean Water Act (EPA, 2020; NRCS, 2016).

Youth with 4-H livestock projects are required to keep their animal for a minimum of 60-days. The 60-day requirement therefore, defines 4-H youth livestock projects as an AFO. It is important for 4-H youth to understand the animal waste regulations required when raising livestock on an AFO. In 2018, 4,604 different 4-H livestock projects were registered in Utah 4-H, with 3,960 youth involved (4-H Online, 2019). With large numbers of 4-H youth participating in livestock projects, it is important that 4-H livestock exhibitors understand proper animal waste management strategies to avoid contaminating their local communities. The need for animal waste management education will only increase as population growth continues, and the distance between animals and humans decreases. 



Utah State University Extension faculty developed a program to educate junior livestock exhibitors, ages 8-18, about waste management and water quality practices. Although the target audience was youth, adults were also invited to attend. The program consisted of a waste management educational workshop that included a brief PowerPoint presentation that depicted visuals and examples of waste management strategies. The PowerPoint was followed by a hands-on Enviroscape workshop to educate and engage the audience (Enviroscapes, 2020). To facilitate the enviroscape, the facilitators followed the USU Extension Surface Water Model Lesson Plan (USU Extension, 2008). The total length of the program from start to finish lasted on average 1.5 hours. To encourage youth and adult attendance, presenters collaborated with other event organizers to incorporate the workshops into existing events. As a result, the workshops were taught in conjunction with livestock shows, 4-H contests, county meetings, and nutrition clinics.

The PowerPoint presentation was created by faculty to provide education on the subjects of livestock waste management and water quality. Topics included the amount of waste produced by animals and average housing proximity to humans, EPA regulations, the relationship between waste management and water quality, as well as the most common ways that waste can pollute water sources. These topics were influenced and sourced from a similar program developed by Colorado State University titled “Manure Management for Livestock 4-H Projects” (Davis et al., 2008). Participants were made aware of how close most livestock are kept to human living spaces, specifically spaces that are over water sources. Many participants were surprised when they realized the imposed health risks of having unmanaged animal waste near these sources.  Facilitators discussed regulations imposed by the EPA to keep our drinking water sources clean.

Following the educational components of the PowerPoint, participants were then invited to think about how their own practices may be contributing to contamination. They were asked to identify the main sources where runoff and leaching could occur. Once participants identified the problems, facilitators helped to provide them with suggested solutions such as building dikes, keeping livestock from defecating in water sources, proper cleaning of stalls and pens, monitoring waste, and composting. Facilitators also invited participants to come up with their own creative ideas on ways that they could mitigate their identified problems. Participants were then invited to work together with those around them in the room to complete two example case studies. These fictitious scenarios involved an aerial photograph of two different properties. Participants worked to identify problem areas and come up with solutions to bring the practices up to standard. In addition to the case studies, each participant was given a worksheet and instructed to draw their own property, including facilities, or the property where their animals were housed. Parents, volunteers, and facilitators assisted youth under ten years of age with this activity.  After the drawings were done, participants were asked to identify the flow of water on their property. This could include irrigation ditches, natural streams, or areas where rain runoff would pool. Then, participants would highlight any potential water contamination risks or major issues based off of the educational information they received earlier. After the activity, time was provided for questions and discussion. These discussions often led to brainstorming amongst peers on best strategies to help mitigate or eliminate the water contamination issues found on the individual properties.

When time and space allowed, an additional hands-on activity was used. Using watershed models from, youth were invited to assemble a model and enact a rainstorm to see the results (Enviroscapes, 2020). The Enviroscape model is a plastic rendition of a sub-rural community with homes, a golf course, farmland, and ranches. It also has roadways, rivers, and lakes. Foodstuffs such as sprinkles, soy sauce, and food coloring are used to simulate fertilizer, oil, and animal waste (Enviroscapes, 2020). Youth volunteers are asked to be farmers, mechanics, or a youth raising livestock projects and given the contaminants to place on their parts of the model. A spray bottle filled with water is used to simulate a rainstorm. This activity shows youth how a pollutant in one area can enter a watershed and quickly spread to multiple water sources. Youth participants enjoyed this hands-on activity, and could easily see how this creates huge problems for water quality.

Evaluation forms were given to all participants at the conclusion of the educational events. The forms were separated for youth and adult respondents and asked participants four questions using a four-point or five-point Likert scale for responses:

  • Before today’s workshop, my knowledge of livestock/horse waste management was...
  • How effective has this workshop been to increase your knowledge about how to manage livestock waste for better water quality? 
  • Would you agree that your views on water quality and waste management have changed because you attended this workshop?
  • How likely are you to use one of the techniques presented today to prevent water pollution with your livestock/horse projects? 



Nine workshops were presented to participants from at least ten Utah counties. A total of 316 people participated at workshops, with 249 youth, ages 8-18, and 67 adults. Based upon results from evaluation forms given post-event, 40% of participants indicated their knowledge before the event was either poor or very poor. The remaining attendees felt that their knowledge was fair (30%) or good (23%) and 6% of attendees felt that their knowledge was very good (Table 1). When asked how effective the workshop was at increasing knowledge, 68% of attendees responded that it was very useful, while 25% indicated it was somewhat useful. When asked if participants' views had changed on water quality and waste management due to the workshops, 96% strongly agreed or agreed that the workshop had changed their views. When asked how likely participants were to use one of the techniques presented at the workshop to prevent water pollution with livestock projects, 95% of participants said very likely or somewhat likely (Table 1).

Qualitative data was not measured as part of this evaluation, but some qualitative information was gathered from the informal feedback and comments from participants. Youth mentioned to facilitators that they thought the workshop was fun and they would be willing to participate again, especially with the enviroscapes activity they were involved with (Enviroscapes, 2020). Parents commented that they did not realize how much water and air pollution a 4-H livestock project could cause. Many families did not realize that under the EPA’s regulations, their 4-H projects were considered an AFO or CAFO (EPA, 2020; NRCS, 2016). Other participants, after identifying waste management and water quality issues, felt that their issues were “not that bad” and did not want to make a change or did not feel that they had the resources to be able to make the needed changes. However, the majority of participants identified waste management issues, were excited to make the changes needed to their property, and were ready to apply what they had learned from the workshop.      


Table 1. Evaluation results of the Livestock Waste Management and Water Quality Youth Education Program. Evaluation forms were given post-event and were separated for youth and adult respondents. Participants were asked four questions using a four-point or five-point Likert scale for responses. Percentages are based directly from evaluation responses.



Discussion and Conclusions

The completion of the livestock waste management and water quality youth education program showed that both youth and adults were lacking in basic knowledge regarding waste management and water quality. Though a small number seemed unconcerned, a significant number of individuals showed that they gained more knowledge about waste management from these workshops. Many also showed that their views about waste management and water quality had changed due to this program. A major goal of the livestock waste management and water quality youth education program was to help improve the knowledge among youth and adults with 4-H livestock projects and to encourage the adoption of new waste management techniques. As the evaluations showed, with 95% of participants likely to use new techniques, we achieved our goals. However, our evaluations also revealed that there is a large need for livestock waste management education needed throughout the state and across multiple agricultural audiences.

Many lessons have been learned during the planning, executing, and evaluation of the livestock waste management and water quality youth education program. As water quality is not the most interesting topic, youth tended to have more interest when this program was combined with another event. Nutrition clinics, livestock judging, horse shows, livestock shows, and state contests are just a few of the events that pair well with this program. However, we did observe that in larger groups many youth did not get opportunities to participate with the enviroscapes activity. If we were to change this program, we would consider decreasing workshop size by doing two workshops back to back or get one or two more enviroscape kits to make sure that more youth can participate. We also encouraged youth during the workshops to get into groups with other youth sitting around them, near the end of the program we found that splitting youth by age into small groups was a better alternative. Youth were more attentive to the workshop activities and had the opportunity to make new friends when groups were split by age. Although, we have a few suggestions to make the program better, we do feel that the program was a success and helped both youth and adults learn more about livestock waste management and water quality.

Grant money for the livestock waste management and water quality youth education program was provided through the Utah Division of Water Quality. After viewing the success of the workshops and this program, the Utah Division of Water Quality invited Utah State University Extension to apply for a grant to create a similar education model for small farm producers. The grant would provide funds to help educate smaller agriculture operations on livestock waste management and water quality, as well as provide support funds for producers to make needed facility and property changes to improve water quality. Through the information gathered from the livestock waste management and water quality youth education program, we hope to be able to educate more small farms and improve livestock waste management and water quality throughout Utah.



Literature Cited

 “4-H Online” 4-H Enrollment and Event Registration. Retrieved May 8, 2019, from

Davis, J.G., K.C., Doesken, and A.L. Elliott. (2008). “Manure Management for Livestock 4-H Projects”. Colorado State University. N.d.

Enviroscapes (2020). A Note from EnviroScape / JT&A, inc. about COVID-19. From: 

EPA. (2020, March 5). Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs).

EPA.(2019, October 30). Laws and Regulations that Apply to Your Agricultural Operation by Farm Activity.

Extension, USU, "Surface Water Model" (2008). All Current Publications. Paper 1240.

NRCS. (2016). Animal Feeding Operations. Retrieved May 8, 2019, from 

USDA-NASS. (2012) United States Summary and State Data at tables 11, 12, and 20. From: