Glossary of CAFO Terms
A program administered by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to address releases of pesticide and fertilizer spills before they reach the groundwater. For more information, click on ACCP.
Algae are aquatic plants, tiny suspended or attached green slimy or blue-green materials in water. The excessive nutrients in CAFO pollution stimulate enhanced growth in algae (called an algal bloom). The algae cycle quickly through a growth and death process that can reduce dissolved oxygen in the water and cause fish kills. This process is called eutrophication and severely degrades water quality. Blue-green algae may cause a rash, stomach upset or respiratory problems.
Animal Sector Descriptions
Poultry, swine, dairy, and beef are the four principle sectors described in this U.S. EPA document (pdf).
Animal Feeding Operation (AFO)
A lot or facility, other than an aquatic animal production facility, where the animals, other than aquatic animals, have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period, and crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues are not sustained in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot or facility.
Several organizations attempt to define what the best management practices would be for agriculture.
Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD)
Indicates the presence of silage leachate and milk wastes by measuring the amount of oxygen taken up by microorganisms that are decomposing the waste. When BOD levels are high, then dissolved oxygen levels decrease because the oxygen dissolved in the water is being consumed by the bacteria.
CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation)
CAFO is a commonly used acronym for concentrated animal feeding operation. It is an AFO (see description above) that becomes further defined by size and waste discharge.
Two or more AFOs under common ownership are considered to be a single AFO for the purposes of determining the number of animals at an operation, if they adjoin each other or if they use a common area or system for the disposal of wastes.
A Large CAFO confines as many as or more than the numbers of animals specified in any of the following categories:
- 700 mature dairy cows, whether milked or dry
- 1,000 veal calves 1,000 cattle (other than mature dairy cows or veal calves), including heifers, steers, bulls, and cow/calf pairs
- 2,500 swine, each weighs 55 pounds or more
- 10,000 swine, each weighs less than 55 pounds
- 500 horses
- 10,000 sheep or lambs
- 55,000 turkeys
- 30,000 laying hens or broilers, if the AFO uses a liquid manure handling system
- 125,000 chickens (other than laying hens), if the AFO doesn't use a liquid manure handling system
- 82,000 laying hens, if the AFO doesn't use a liquid manure handling system
- 30,000 ducks, if the AFO does't use a liquid manure handling system
- 5,000 ducks, if the AFO uses a liquid manure handling system
Catch Basin - see Tile Risers and Catch Basins
The Center is an affiliate with the Center for Watershed Science and Education and is part of the University of Wisconsin Extension housed in the College of Natural Resources at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. For more information, see Central Wisconsin Groundwater Center
In some documents, the CNMP is referred to as a Nutrient Management Plan, or NMP. Intended to help protect water quality, a CNMP is a plan for managing all the nutrients in animal manure from an entire CAFO. The written document includes plans for manure handling, transfer, and storage; for spreading manure on cropland; land management and record keeping; feed management, and other options such as composting of the manure waste. The plan also lists fields that will be used for land application of the manure, and spells out emergency actions to be taken in case of a spill. Because the CNMP is a plan for nutrient management, it is not intended to manage pathogens from CAFOs. However, properly written and implemented, a CNMP should also help a CAFO keep pathogens from entering waters of the state.
Rain that falls from the sky is considered clean, and no special measures are required for its disposal or placement. If the clean stormwater is allowed to flow across contaminated or dirty surfaces, or to mix with manure, or to flow through a silage or compost pile (and create leachate), then it must be treated as dirty water, and added to the waste storage structures or treated prior to discharge. It is to the CAFO's advantage to keep rain water clean and away from the production area of the CAFO because it then needs no special treatment.
There are concerns that placing facilities too close to either of the receiving waters increases the chance of discharges. CAFOs have been found to have run drainage tiles from the barns, lagoons, milkhouses or other production areas directly into county drains or streams to discharge wastes. In addition, some county drains are located underground, and some CAFOs have actually built lagoons on top of the drains. Underground drains also can provide a conduit for liquid wastes traveling through the soil after being applied to fields.
Dissolved Oxygen (DO)
Dissolved oxygen is important for fish and their food organisms. Many kinds of pollution from CAFOs and other sources can reduce DO levels, and if the levels drop to 3mg/l or below, then fish kills can occur. Wisconsin standards for DO are found in NR 102. See this fieldnote from Stevens Institute of Technology for more information on DO.
Dissolved Oxygen Meter (DO Meter)
A DO meter uses a probe placed into the water to measure its concentration of dissolved oxygen, as well as water temperature. Measuring DO in waters both upstream and downstream of a pollution source can pinpoint problems. Finding different water temperatures upstream and downstream can signal problems, too, such as water warmed on a field then pouring off the surface or through a pipe into a drain or a stream.
Escherichia coli or E. coli
A specific fecal coliform found in the gut of all animals including humans, its presence in water indicates pollution from animal wastes. Many states now have a numerical state standard for E. coli in surface water.
EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program)
A federal program that pays farmers to take measures to prevent some of the environmental damage they cause, and to preserve wildlife habitat. See U.S.D.A. site for more information.
Often countryside air has an odor of manure, that some people associate with being out in farmland. Generally, an odor will not make you ill. But air emissions of gases and polutants from CAFOs can cause headache, nausea, burning sinuses, and sore throat. Severe or frequent exposures to hydrogen sulfide (H2S), one of several different substances, can cause neurological problems, including depression, anger, and memory problems. See Ohio State University's fact sheet Understanding Air Emissions from Animal Feeding Operations.
An air emission is “any physical, chemical, biological or radioactive substance or matter that is emitted into the ambient air surrounding a property and contains air pollutants”, as defined in Section 302 of the Clean Air Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C, 7602. The air emission rate indicates how much air pollutant emissions are emitted into the ambient air within a certain time period. Air emissions directly affect the environment and potentially degrade air quality and may thereby affect health.
The degradation of a body of water due to the growth and subsequent death of vegetation that lowers oxygen content as it decays, killing fish and other aquatic organisms. Excess nutrients nitrogen and/or phosphorus from overuse of fertilizers and other sources causes the problem. Run off from CAFOs can cause eutrophic conditions in receiving waters.
See E. coli.
A field tile is a subsurface drainage system of perforated pipe, a practice used to remove excess water from the surface and subsurface of soil intended for agriculture. Field Tiles usually drain underground horizontally directly to a ditch, and so are often a conduit for contaminated water to reach waters of the state (lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, wetlands, etc.). Many decades ago, field tiles were made of heavy ceramic, hence the name field "tile".
Many states have Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) or Open Records Acts which require the state to provide access to all files they hold. There may be fees associated with the cost of copying the files, or you may be able to visit the agency’s offices and review the files on site before asking for copies. For information about Wisconsin Public Records Law, click here.
The US EPA and all other federal agencies are subject to the federal Freedom Of Information Act. The Act allows for the full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents controlled by the United States government. The Act defines agency records subject to disclosure, outlines mandatory disclosure procedures and grants nine exemptions to the statute. The acronym is often used as a verb, as in "You need to FOIA those documents."
CAFOs will sometimes “inject” waste into the soil through the use of chisel blades or other devices pulled behind tractors or trucks. Injection of waste into the soil will reduce surface run-off and is intended to reduce odors from waste applied to the surface of the fields. However, injected waste may flow more quickly into field tiles or groundwater.
Open-air pits, lagoons are waste-storage structures the size of football fields or larger that store millions of gallons of waste from CAFOs. Most Wisconsin CAFOs must have capacity to store 6 months' worth of manure and animal waste, and some even more, due to Wisconsin's long winter season. CAFOs tend to empty their lagoons, by land-applying the stored animal waste, in late fall and spring, making these times some of the worst for air quality for CAFO neighbors.
Mad Cow Disease
Mad Cow Disease refers to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), a chronic, degenerative disorder affecting the central nervous system of cattle. Similar to BSE, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is a rare disease that occurs in humans. In 1996, following outbreaks of BSE among British cattle, scientists found a possible link between BSE and a new variant of CJD (vCJD). While it is not certain how BSE may be spread to humans, evidence indicates that humans may acquire vCJD after consuming BSE-contaminated cattle products. See this Food and Drug Administration webpage for more information.
Manure is defined to include animal feces and urine, bedding, compost, and raw materials or other materials commingled with manure or set aside for disposal. Read more about CAFO manure in What is in CAFO manure?
Waste sprayed onto farm fields through irrigation equipment can cause contamination in several ways, from directly spraying wastes into waterways, from broken hoses spewing wastes onto the field, and from over-application. There are several types of irrigation, including: travel irrigators, pivot irrigators, gun irrigators, and sub-irrigation.
Methane digesters are anaerobic (low or no oxygen) chambers which facilitate the breakdown of manure by anaerobic bacteria with the release of methane and other gases as a byproduct of their metabolism, including ammonia, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide. Methane can be burned directly in stoves or burners, to heat the digester, and it can be converted to electricity. There are several different types of systems but all commercially available systems are expensive to install and require manure from a large number of animals to operate.
Most environmental damage caused by CAFO wastes remains unabated. Excess nutrients still exist, the volume of solid waste remaining is not significantly diminished and still requires proper disposal. Anaerobic digestion does not remove antibiotics and heavy metals from manure. Although pathogen numbers may decrease, the decrease may be ephemeral as the pathogens regrow. See this Sierra Club Guidance factsheet for more information.
This can include anything from bad milk, or milk that was contaminated and cannot be sold, to the chemicals and cleaners used to sanitize the milking parlor. If a ditch near a dairy CAFO appears to be filled with white liquid, it may be milkhouse waste. Milkhouse wastes are a huge source of nutrients, and can cause degraded water conditions if allowed to reach surface water. See Nutrients.
Nitrogen or Nitrates
Nitrogen is an element needed by all living plants and animals to build protein. In aquatic ecosystems, nitrogen is present in many forms. It can combine with oxygen to form a compound called nitrate. Nitrates may come from fertilizers, sewage, and industrial waste. They can cause eutrophication of lakes or ponds. Learn more from this fieldnote from Stevens Institute of Technology.
NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System)
The Clean Water Act pollution control water discharge permit system that:
(1) names specific pollutants with amounts and limits that may be discharged from a site such as a waste water treatment plant or a CAFO,
(2) sets rules for water discharge permit issuance, and
No Till is a method of growing crops without tilling the soil. It's a more common practice with GMO crops (genetically modified) or Bt crops (grown with natural insecticide produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis .) No till crops need more chemical usage than traditional tilling because soil is not broken up prior to planting.
A nuisance lawsuit usually entails a neighbor suing a livestock or animal product producer to stop a harmful farming activity or force payment of damages for harmful farming actions. The lawsuit starts when a neighbor cannot enjoy or use their property because of the CAFO's activities next door.
Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) (see CNMP)
Nitrogen and Nitrates and phosphorus and phosphates are plant nutrients. CAFOs have many sources of plant nutrients, including manure, milkhouse wastes, and compost and silage leachate. When excess nutrients make it to surface waters, they often cause algae blooms and other nuisance conditions.
Most CAFOs have open ditches within 500 feet of the facilities, and some have ditches immediately adjacent to the buildings. Fields that are land-applied with animal waste have ditches either next to them or running through them. There are even some CAFOs with buried waterways directly below the facilities themselves. Ditches connect to surface waters, and may have field tiles connected to them directly from the facility.
Open Records Search (see FOIA)
Permit (see also NPDES)
This document gives permission to discharge some pollutant(s), spelling out quantities or concentrations, and specific conditions under which the discharge may occur into water or air. National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Water discharge permits are governed by the Clean Water Act, and air quality permits by the Clean Air Act.
pH of water ******NEED TO UPDATE******
The MDEQ's water quality standard document for pH (pdf) states, "Most aquatic plants and animals are adapted to a specific pH range, and natural populations may be harmed by water that is too acidic or alkaline. Immature stages of aquatic insects and young fish are extremely sensitive to pH values below 5. Even microorganisms which live in the bottom sediment and decompose organic debris cannot live in conditions which are too acidic. In very acidic waters, metals which are normally bound to organic matter and sediment are released into the water. Many of these metals can be toxic to fish and humans. Below a pH of about 4.5, all fish die." See more information on Michigan's water quality parameters and standards.
Phosphorus or Phosphates ******NEED TO UPDATE******
Phosphorus is usually present in natural waters as phosphate. Phosphates are present in fertilizers and can enter the water from agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and animal and human sewage. Phosphates, like nitrates, are plant nutrients. When too much phosphate enters the water, plants flourish. Phosphates also stimulate the growth of algae which can result in an algae bloom. As the plants and algae grow, they choke out other organisms, leading to nuisance conditions. See more information on Michigan's water quality parameters and standards, and see this fieldnotefrom Stevens Institute of Technology. .
Prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. See the Center for Disease Control and Prevention webpage on prions.
Production Area ******NEED TO UPDATE******
From MDEQ PART 21. WASTEWATER DISCHARGE PERMITS page 6:
"Production area” means that part of an AFO that includes animal confinement area, manure storage area, raw materials storage area, and waste containment areas. The animal confinement area includes open lots, housed lots, feedlots, confinement houses, stall barns, free stall barns, milk rooms, milking centers, cowyards, barnyards, medication pens, walkers, animal walkways, and stables.
The manure storage area includes lagoons, runoff ponds, storage sheds, stockpiles, under house or pit storages, liquid impoundments, static piles, and composting piles. The raw materials storage area includes feed silos, silage bunkers, and bedding materials. The waste containment area includes settling basins and areas within berms and diversions which separate uncontaminated storm water. Also included is any egg washing or egg processing facility, and any area used in the storage, handling, treatment, or disposal of mortalities. (e) “Production area waste” means manure and any waste from the production area and any precipitation (e.g., rain or snow) which comes into contact with, or is contaminated by, manure or any of the components listed in the definition for “production area.” Production area waste does not include water from land application areas."
Pumps can serve a legitimate purpose at a CAFO, particularly to move wastes from the livestock confinement areas into waste storage lagoons. However, permanent pumps installed at catch basins or portable pumps with hoses signal a potentially inappropriate use. Pumps have been used to illegally pump wastes into tiles, into drains, or into woods or wetlands.
A Wisconsin Statute 823.08 that favors farmers in lawsuits or discourages lawsuits where farmers are practicing what is deemed to be normal farming practices. For more information, see the Wisconsin Legislative Council Legal Memorandum on Right to Farm Law
Silage and Silage Leachate
Silage is fermented, high-moisture fodder that can be stored and fed to ruminants (cud-chewing animals like cattle and sheep). Silage leachate forms when water is allowed into the silage and it washes through the decomposing materials. If the leachate is not contained, it can get into water, bringing with it enormous amounts of nutrients, causing algae blooms, and decreases in dissolved oxygen.
Farmland that liquid animal waste is applied to (spread on), most likely in close proximity to an animal waste storage structure. This may include travel irrigation, gun irrigation, sub-irrigation, tractor and tanker application, drag-line application, and semi truck application.
Suspended Solids, also called Total Suspended Solids (TSS)
Total suspended solids (TSS) include all particles suspended in water that will not pass through a filter. Suspended solids are present in sanitary wastewater and many types of industrial wastewater. There are also nonpoint sources of suspended solids, such as soil erosion from agricultural and construction sites. As levels of TSS increase, a water body begins to lose its ability to support a diversity of aquatic life. Suspended solids absorb heat from sunlight, which increases water temperature and subsequently decreases levels of dissolved oxygen (warmer water holds less oxygen than cooler water). Some cold water species, such as trout and stoneflies, are especially sensitive to changes in dissolved oxygen.
Tile Risers and Catch Basins
Both of these are entry points for wastes to be discharged into field tiles and then to surface waters. Tile risers are located in low areas in fields so all water flows into them in order to more quickly drain fields. In fields, application of wastes is supposed to be substantially set back from tile risers to prevent discharges. Catch basins are similar to tile risers but can be larger and more like storm drains found in urban areas. When tile risers and catch basins are placed around buildings and production areas the will drain waste waters run off from the production areas into surface waters. Cement floors are sometimes run at an angle to allow wastes to run directly into catch basins.
Wisconsin addresses polluted waters by an analysis called Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)
Topographic Map (also called Topo Map)
These use lines to represent a general image of the earth's surface, including both natural and human-made features. Contour lines, usually in brown, give indication of shapes and heights of landforms. Blue lines are used for water, displaying connections between ditches, streams, larger rivers, inland lakes, Great Lakes, and the oceans. See this free source of online topo maps, or this more enhanced source that charges a small fee.