Linn Soil & Water

Conservation District


Office Location:
33935 Hwy 99E
Suite C
Tangent, Oregon 97389

Phone: 541-926-2483
Fax: 541-926-2369

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UPDATE Articles

Composting 101

If you've been stockpiling your manure in a single pile for as long as you can remember, you may have found that if you dig into the middle of the pile, you'll find something that resembles dirt more than it does manure. If this is the case, at least some of your manure has already gone through the decomposition, or composting, process. Manure that has been left uncovered in large, spread out piles will eventually compost. However, this version of composting often creates unpleasant odors because there is not enough air reaching the inside of the pile. These piles also rarely reach high enough temperatures to kill parasites, fly larvae, weed seeds, and pathogens. The following information on composting will help you learn how to compost all of your manure, instead of what's just in the middle, speed up the process dramatically, and help heat manure up to temperatures that will kill parasites, fly larvae, weed seeds, and pathogens

What does compost do? It can improve aeration and water retention. Adding compost to soil builds good soil structure and texture, increasing the amount of air that can infiltrate and the amount of water it can hold. Adding compost to heavy clay soil loosens the packed soil by opening up pore spaces that, like little tunnels, carry air and water down into the soil. Sandy soils, which tend to let water drain away too rapidly, are also improved with the addition of compost. The fine particles are united into larger ones that can hold a greater amount of water-100 pounds of compost can hold about 195 pounds of water! By increasing the soil's moisture-holding capacity, compost also helps control erosion that would otherwise wash topsoil away. Compost can also supply nutrients. When fresh manure is spread on a field, about 50 percent of the nitrogen is in a highly soluble form and will be washed out by rain when it is spread on a pasture. In compost, however, 95 to 97 percent of nitrogen has been converted to a much more stable form and will be slowly released, allowing plants to use it over a longer period of time. Compost doles out nutrients slowly when plants are small and at greater rates as soil temperatures warm up and the major growth period begins. (Soil microorganisms that release the nutrients from compost work harder as temperatures increase.) The benefits of adding compost will also last for more than one season. Composted manure releases about 50 percent of its nutrients in the first season and a decreasing percentage in the following years. This means that with constant additions of compost, the reserves of plant nutrients in the soil are being built up to the point where, for several seasons, little fertilizer of any kind may be needed. How do I properly maintain my Manure pile? Maintenance of the compost pile involves turning the pile and adding water to maintain conditions conducive to the composting process. If the pile is not turned, decomposition will occur, but at a slower rate. The following maintenance procedure will yield compost in the shortest time.

Turning a compost pile weekly can yield compost in one to two months with the right combination of materials and moisture content. Without turning, decomposition takes six months to two years. Excellent quality compost can be made either way. When selecting a composting method, consider economy, neatness, permanence, need for finished compost, and time available for maintenance.

In a pile constructed according to the method described here, the pile temperature will increase rapidly and soon reach about 110'F. After about a week, the pile should be opened to the air and any compacted material should be loosened. Then the pile should be reconstructed; material previously on the top and sides of the pile should be moved to the center.

At the second turning (after about another week), the material should be a uniform coffee-brown color and moist. The relatively undecomposed outer layer can be scraped off and turned back in to the center of the pile. The center material should be spread over the outer layer of the reconstructed pile. By the third turning, the original materials should not be recognizable. At each turning, the moisture content should be checked using the squeeze test. Squeezing a handful of compost you should be able to make some water droplets appear around the edges. If you can't squeeze some water out of the compost it is too dry. However, if more than four drops appear it is too wet. Water or moisture absorbing materials should be added, as indicated.

During the first few weeks of composting, the pile should reach a peak temperature of about 140'F. If temperatures surpass 140'F, the pile should be turned to cool it off. Extremely high temperatures can kill many beneficial organisms. If the pile does not reach at least 120'F, more nitrogen or water may be needed. Cold weather can also prevent the pile from heating. Piles that give off strong ammonia smells contain too much nitrogen, and may need more high-carbon ingredients.

Simple carbohydrates and proteins provide most of the energy for the initial, rapid stages of decomposition. When the more resistant materials, such as woody fibers and cellulose, become the main food sources, the activity in the pile will slow down. Less heat will be produced, and the temperature will begin to fall to about 100'F. Even after the temperature falls, the compost will continue to stabilize slowly.

The compost will be finished when the pile cools off and decreases to about 1/3 of its original volume (depending on the original ingredients). It will be dark, crumbly, and have an earthy odor. The C: N ratio will be less than 15:1, approaching the value of humus in soil, and the temperature usually will be within 10F of ambient air temperature. Unfinished compost can be toxic to plants, especially to seedlings and newly established plants. Therefore, compost must be allowed to decompose thoroughly before use.

There are some starters on why composting might be a good option for you and how to get started with your composting project. I n the next couple of months I will try and give good ratios of Carbons to Nitrogen’s and how to effectively spread and use you compost on you farm.

Ditch Management

As we start to wrap up tillage for fall planting we all start to think about the improvements that need to be made in the field. There are always the trees along the edge of the fields that need trimmed to keep them from hitting or damaging the cabs on equipment. And, if the equipment is available, we straighten and level as we think it is necessary. Then there is often the issue of water removal that needs to be addressed. Ditch management should be included in our farming program to reduce erosion problems and water level control in our fields.

Ditch management is probably necessary for all farmers and landowners on heavy prairie soils. Usually plants will survive and produce more if they have soil that is aerobically active. The question is how to efficiently remove the water from the fields without causing loss of soil through erosion and consequently sedimentation in the streams and rivers. Ditch erosion usually occurs when water is carried in ditches for long distances especially on steep grades or at high volumes. On most ditches over 5% grade, ditch vegetation should be encouraged to keep soils from eroding. Narrow V-shaped ditches are generally discouraged; even though they expedite the removal of water, they increase the velocity or speed of the water. Just doubling the normal flow in a ditch will allow it to move particles 32 times bigger and 64 times heavier than it could previously. A better design for this would be a flat bottom ditch that will slow down the flow, with some rock steps placed at a 90 degree angle to reduce water flow and collect fine sediments. Even with the studies we have done on erosion in ditch banks at this time we don’t have all the answers to make this work. We have had some successes so far. The three vegetative trial projects we established last fall worked well in the tremendous rains we had this winter. The structures held form and are looking quite well this year. Grass establishment was good and the trial experiments for Native grass in the bottom of the ditches yielded there first year of data. This hopefully will give a solution for lack of vegetation in the bottom of the ditches in the future. I highly encourage farmers to look into these designs and structure as we wind up tillage and the ditching season begins.

Drainage Concerns

Rain and more rain. The past two winters in Oregon have far exceeded historical rainfall averages.  The extra water pools, ponds, and courses across the land, but most of it still needs to drain to our streams and rivers.  As we alter our land uses, building house, roads, and other structures, new problems and concern arise regarding drainage of surface water. These problems and concerns have become more prevalent by the encroachment of urbanization on our rural lands.  Recently, several problems have arisen in the urban/rural interface; in one instance, considerable fill soil was brought in before new housing was constructed causing flooding of an existing house.  Attention needs to be given to the potential effect the additional fill will have on the natural drainage course. Whose problem is this?  How do we come to a resolution? Was there a problem in the first place?  Drainage issues can lead to property damage and civil suits.  In order to avoid problems we need to understand our drainage rights in Oregon.


The State of Oregon observes the Modified Civil Rule when it comes to assessing liability for flooding, erosion and drainage alterations. Under this rule, adjoining landowners are entitled to have the normal or historical course of natural drainage maintained. This means that a down-gradient owner must accept the surface water that naturally drains onto his land from an up-gradient neighbor. However, the up-gradient owner may not do anything to change the natural system of drainage so as to increase the natural burden across the down-gradient property. The down-gradient owner may not obstruct the run-off from the upper land, if the upper landowner is properly discharging the water.


For a landowner to drain water onto lands of another in the State of Oregon, two conditions must be satisfied initially; first, the lands must contain a natural drainage course; and secondly, the landowner must have acquired the right of drainage supported by consideration. 


In addition, because Oregon has adopted the modified civil rule regarding drainage, these basic elements must be followed:

  • A landowner may not divert water onto adjoining land that would not otherwise have flowed there.  “Divert water” includes but is not necessarily limited to:
    • water diverted from one drainage area to another; and
    • water collected and discharged which normally would infiltrate into the ground, pond, and/or evaporate.
  • The upper landowner may not change the place where the water flows onto the lower owner’s land. (Most of the diversions not in compliance with this element result from grading and paving work and/or improvements to water collection systems.)
  • The upper landowner may not accumulate large quantities of water, and then release it, greatly accelerating the flow onto the lower owner’s land.  This does not mean that the upper landowner can not accelerate the flow of water at all; experience has found drainage to be improper only when acceleration and concentration of the water were substantially increased.


If you are concerned that your drainage has been changed by an adjacent property try to document the changes with pictures; historical aerial photos of drainages may also be available.  Generally, working with your neighbor is the best way to resolve drainage issues. 


Please note that the information in this article is provided as general information and not intended as legal advice.

Mud Management

In these times of increasing environmental awareness, employing appropriate mud, manure, and pasture management practices can be very beneficial. Winter rains can cause mud and manure run-off into nearby streams, rivers, or lakes. An since we are coming into the rainy season or as November has shown us the rainy season is here, mud and manure management should be on our minds. So there are several points that rural residents need to think about. Animals allowed free access to stream or lake banks can cause severe erosion, heavy siltation loads, and high coli form counts in the water. Appropriate practices include fencing livestock from stream banks. If this is the animal’s primary source of water, perhaps water could be pumped to a nearby trough.

An important key to mud management is the use of gutters, downspouts, splash blocks, and drain fields. A tremendous amount of roof runoff could be diverted through a drainage system. This would reduce the amount of mud and water around barns or buildings. To figure rain runoff...dimension of the roof X rain fall x 0.62 = gallons of runoff. For example, the dimension of the roof to the peakó20í X 50í = 1000 square feet X 1" rainfall X 0.62 = 620 gallons. There is funding for some of these designs through NRCS EQIP program and on small scale design money is available through OWEBs Small Grant Program.

Other important mud, manure, and pasture management practices include keeping animals confined to a smaller area or paddock during the wet months. This will reduce pasture destruction, compaction, mud, weed infestation, and may save on feed costs. Manure and soiled bedding should be composted if possible. It can be placed in a "manure dump" or designated area. It is recommended to cover the compost area with a roof or plastic. Composted manure can be applied to fields or pastures to meet some of its nutrient requirements. It is not an acceptable practice to dump manure down a bank of a ravine with a natural waterway flowing through it. This might even involve a fine if you are caught doing such a practice.

Now for a few tips on ways to improve pasture management. The Pacific Northwest has an abundant supply of grass for several months of the year. If managed properly, pastures can provide a major portion of an animal’s nutrient requirements. Important pasture management practices include: soil testing every three to four years, application of manure and/or fertilizer as indicated by the soil test, avoid overgrazing pastures, removing animals when the forage has been grazed down to 4 inches, dragging and clipping of pastures, controlling for weeds as necessary, removing animals from pastures during the wet months, employing practices of cross-fencing and intensive grazing as resources allow, and use common sense. Most of this pasture management information is available through you local Extension office or the Linn Soil and Water Conservation District Office.

In summary, these are some of the practices and technology that small and large livestock owners can put into practice. Sand, gravel, concrete, hogs fuel, and asphalt can improve a muddy situation. Use drainage to your advantage. Gutters, downspouts, and field drainage will carry water away from high traffic areas and prolong the life of foundations of buildings or wood posts. Temporary and permanent fencing can assist in the movement of animals to designated areas. Before building new barns or facilities, carefully think through and plan the many uses and purposes of the facility. Planning of some of these designs can be obtained through your local NRCS office if you’re involved in EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program).

Working Together to Protect Water Quality

The Agricultural Water Quality Management (AgWQM) Program is responsible for developing and implementing agricultural pollution prevention and control programs to protect the quality of Oregon's waters. The Agricultural Water Quality Management Program has evolved in response to water quality programs and requirements under various state and federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act and Senate Bill 1010, passed in 1993 by the Oregon legislature.


Working in partnership with Linn SWCD, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) designated the South Santiam AgWQM Area.  With the assistance of a local advisory committee (LAC), consisting of stakeholders residing in the watershed, a watershed plan was developed.  The plan identified local water quality problems and opportunities for improvement.   The South Santiam plan was adopted in 2003 and recently underwent a biennial review.


The goal of the South Santiam AgWQM plan is to limit water pollution from soil erosion and agricultural activities to achieve applicable water quality standards.  In order to address stream temperature and near stream area issues the plan suggests:  promoting site-appropriate riparian vegetation in order to minimize stream bank erosion and moderate solar heating, limit irrigation runoff, and to improve the watershed’s ability to capture, store, and release moisture to limit runoff.  To address bacteria and nutrient issues in our surface water the plan suggests reducing contaminants in runoff from agricultural lands.  The plan does not specify how each agricultural landowner comply with the plan, instead each owner or operator can decide which solutions best suit their operational needs.


Sound conservation practices are already being employed by many farmers and ranchers to protect water quality. Rotational grazing and manure storage are methods being used by confined animal feeding operations such as dairies. Nurseries are utilizing irrigation systems that return and recycle nutrient-laden water back to the plants. Innovative cropping strategies are being employed. A vegetative filter strip acts as a buffer between grazing livestock and a stream. Alternate watering sources are being used effectively to keep animals away from streams. Straw mulch and cover crops are being used in the field between rows, slowing water runoff and reducing both erosion and loss of nutrients.


Education and technical assistance are the focus of efforts by Linn SWCD and ODA to implement the plan. There may be situations that require corrective action to be taken by operators. In those cases when an operator refuses to take action, the law allows ODA to use civil penalties, if necessary, to get things cleaned up.


Linn SWCD offers technical assistance to assist with bringing each property into compliance with the plan. There are also cost-share programs available to help both large and small owners and operators implement water quality changes to their operations.