Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS)

A concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, is a large-scale agricultural operation in which animals are raised in confinement. Typically, the animals—and the manure they produce—are concentrated on a relatively small area of land.

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In Wisconsin, CAFOs are defined as livestock or poultry operations housing more than 1,000 animal units (AU)—the equivalent of 700 dairy cows, 1000 beef cattle or 2,500 hogs. As farms have become bigger and fewer in the past two decades, CAFOs have come to represent an increasing percentage of Wisconsin’s livestock industry. In 2005, there were 135 permitted CAFOs operating in the state. That number exceeds 300 today.


Water & Soil Contamination

Manure runoff can pollute streams, lakes and wetlands, while improper manure application, manure spills, and leaking manure storage structures can pollute drinking water. In addition, soil contamination can occur when CAFO waste containing pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, cleaning agents or other chemicals is spread on farm fields.

Air Pollution

CAFOs emit ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and other noxious gases in concentrations that can cause unpleasant odors and harm human health. Methane and carbon dioxide—potent greenhouse gases—are produced by the anaerobic digestion of manure in large storage structures known as lagoons.

Declining Property Values

Numerous studies, including a study conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue in 2017, have shown that proximity to a large CAFO has a negative impact on property values,


The Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System Program

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) administers the Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) program, All CAFOs must have a WPDES permit to operate. The WPDES permitting process includes important opportunities for public input which are discussed on pages 4-6 of the guide.


The Livestock Facility Siting Law

The Livestock Facility Siting Law (Wis. Stat. § 93.90) regulates local government approval of new or expanding livestock facilities in Wisconsin. Administrative rules (ATCP 51) developed by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) set standards for the siting of new facilities in areas that are zoned for agriculture. Issues addressed by the standards include:

  • Property line and road setbacks
  • Management and training plans
  • Odor management
  • Nutrient management
  • Manure storage facilities
  • Runoff management

Under the Livestock Facility Siting Law, local units of governments—such as cities, villages, towns, or counties—do not have to require conditional use or other permits for new or expanding CAFOs. If they choose to require permits, they must adopt all the standards and procedures of Wis. Stat. § 93.90 and ATCP 51.


Local Control

Local units of government have the authority to enact ordinances related to the siting and operation of CAFOs. When they do so, they typically choose to enact manure storage and/or siting ordinances with standards that have been defined by DATCP. However, there are a number of scenarios in which local governments may impose more stringent local requirements:

  • Under Wis. Stat. § 93.90, more stringent requirements may be enacted if they are grounded in science and necessary to protect public health and safety.
  • Under Wis. Stat. §92.15, more stringent requirements may be enacted if they are necessary to protect water quality.
  • Under a local government’s police powers, more stringent requirements may be enacted for the “health, safety, and welfare of the public.”

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