Young people in the Carbon County 4H Livestock Club learn all about taking responsibility for the cattle, swine, sheep, poultry or goats that they raise.
Recently, they learned exactly how that commitment extends beyond the daily feeding, grooming and care: How to properly manage the mountains of waste that their livestock produces, and how to manage the mountains of manure-management paperwork required to be filled out and kept on-site by the state.
Last Wednesday, a team from the Schuylkill Conservation District and the Penn State Cooperative Extension walked the 4H Livestock Club and their families, an audience of 78 people, through the state Department of Environmental Protection's hefty Manure Management Plan Guidance manual.
They didn't need boots, but they did need sharpened pencils, the ability to concentrate and perform the mathematical calculations needed to determine how much of any kind of manure-based fertilizer could be used on fields of varying sizes and planted with varying crops.
While the record-keeping and rules may be burdensome – they apply to anyone who keeps even one cow or horse, or who uses manure on growing fields – they are needed to protect groundwater supplies from becoming polluted.
"This is an important issue that is affecting the whole state," said 4H leader Deanna Cunfer.
Folks who get manure to help their backyard gardens grow don't have to worry.
"If a person is not producing any manure and only gets a small amount of manure for their gardens, they would not need to fill out a manure management plan," said Conservation District manager Elizabeth Hinkel. "However, the producer they get the manure from should include their name in their plan, or somehow state that small quantities of manure are distributed to neighbors for use in their gardens."
While rules have been in place for decades, Pennsylvania, in response to the federal government's pressure for increased compliance, has revised its agricultural rules and plans to enforce them more strictly.
They include how manure is stored, including how far from waterways and property lines, and how much of various forms of manure-based fertilizers can be used on fields at different times of the year.
"All operations that produce or spread manure must now have a manure management plan," said Martie Hetherington, Chesapeake Bay coordinator with the Conservation District.
Although the forms are probably more complicated than they should be, "Really, all that you need to put in here is how much manure you have, and what you do with it in an environmentally safe manner," she said. "That's pretty much what all these pages boil down to."
The team included Hinkel, James McGovern, and Hetherington, all of the of the Schuylkill County Conservation District; and Duane Miller of the Carbon County Penn State Cooperative Extension office. It was the first such presentation in Carbon County.
The manure management rules are outlined in DEP's Manure management guidance manual. Hinkel and Hetherington helped those attending the session fill out the needed forms, which include drawing or downloading a map of one's farm, available at PAOneStop; crop yield, manure storage and transfer records, an environmentally sensitive areas worksheet and worksheets for manure application rates and timing and other areas.
Carbon County 4H Livestock Club secretary Carissa Sevrin, who raises dairy beef, poultry, goats, sheep and an emu, said she learned a lot.
"I learned to be responsible, I just can't throw it on the ground or put it in the middle of a field, because it could get into someone's ground water and into their well, and they could drink it. It could be a big pollution problem, and I didn't know that before. I thought it didn't matter," she said.
Schuylkill County farmer Barron "Boots" Hetherington, who is the state Department of Agriculture's Special Advisor to the Governor, told the group that following the guidelines is "basically just good management. You don't want to cause pollution."