Managing Snowmelt on Farmsteads

With over three feet of snow across some areas of the northern US, two agricultural engineers at Minnesota are warning farmers to manage spring thaw to avoid treacherous farm conditions.
calendar icon 20 March 2014
clock icon 3 minute read

A few actions now can help prevent springtime snowmelt problems on farmsteads with big snow piles and drifts, urge Larry D. Jacobson and Kevin A. Janni, agricultural engineers with University of Minnesota Extension.

Reported frost depths range from 8 to 45 inches across Minnesota. With the coming warmer

"It can be hard on both animals and equipment to go through flooded roads or lanes."

weather, farmers should consider where the snowmelt will go and how it could impact farm operations.

The pair write that early snowmelt and spring rains can run across frozen ground, gather in low spots and create flooded areas. Melting snow can flood buildings and feed storages in low areas, which can damage feeds, bedding or equipment.

It can be hard on both animals and equipment to go through flooded roads or lanes. Refreezing can convert flooded lanes into slippery ice-covered areas that can give way as equipment or animals go over them.

Animal exercise lots or outdoor feeding areas can also become messy with snowmelt running across or gathering. Feedlot runoff needs to be managed properly to prevent contaminating surface waters. It is also important to prevent snowmelt from entering in-ground manure storage pits or basins.

Here are three actions to take now:

1. Remove deep snow
Plow or scrape snow off to the side if you have big snow piles or large drives within or uphill of outdoor exercise lots, feeding areas or heavy traffic lanes. This will reduce snowmelt that is in--or drains through--the lot. Avoid removing manure or wasted feed with the snow unless it will be land applied to cropland properly.

2. Pile snow strategically
Carefully consider where you place snow when you move it around the farm. Locate piles so snowmelt will drain away from animal lots or traffic lanes rather than through them.

3. Check covers on manure storage pits and basins
Ensure pump-out covers on deep manure pits are properly seated so snow and roof runoff do not drain into the pit. Adding snowmelt and rain runoff to a manure storage facility adds to land application costs.

Take these steps during summer to help avoid future snowmelt problems:

1. Divert drainage
In the spring, take a good look at the overall farmstead drainage pattern. If other parts of your property drain through the animal yards, feed storage areas, or high traffic areas, regrade the slope or add shallow diversion ditches so runoff water flows around the areas you want to protect.

2. Manage roof runoff
On some farms, water runs off the barn roof into animal lots. A shallow trench or ditch beneath the overhang can help direct this water out of the yard. Better yet, install gutters and downspouts that empty away from the cows. Also, grade the ground around farm buildings to slope away from the building. This helps move snowmelt and rain runoff away from the building and its contents.

3. Add a pad or use geotextile fabrics
Concrete or all-weather geotextile pads along feedbunks and around waterers can help keep eating and drinking animals high and dry. Make pads 10 to 12 feet wide for best results. Geotextile fabrics can also be added to traffic lanes to improve stability. Pads at the entrances to outdoor feed storage areas and machine sheds can be helpful, too.

For more information on geotextile pads and lanes, see "Using All-Weather Geotextile Lanes and Pads" from MidWest Plan Service, Iowa State University. To order, visit and look in the "construction" section under "catalogs" or call 800-562-3618.

4. Raise your grade
Another long-term solution is to grade your animal yard and farmstead to provide continuous drainage away from the animals, feed storage, and high traffic areas. A 4 to 6 percent slope is recommended.

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