Reviewed October 1993

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WQ203, Estimating Land Area Requirements for Poultry Operations: Conservative Litter Management Approach

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Estimating Land Area Requirements for Poultry Operations: Conservative Litter Management Approach

Charles D. Fulhage
Department of Agricultural Engineering

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources requires that a permit or letter of approval be obtained for the construction and/or operation of poultry enterprises above a certain size. In general, turkey and broiler operations that are using the litter system of waste management and are equal to or larger than the numbers in Table 1 must obtain a permit or letter of approval from the Department of Natural Resources.

These numbers refer to "on-hand" capacity of the buildings at any one time, rather than birds marketed per year. Operations smaller than the numbers in Table 1 may not be required to obtain a permit or letter of approval but are still required to operate in compliance with the Missouri Clean Water Law.

Table 1
Size of operation requiring letter of approval from the Department of Natural Resources (effective 1/13/92)

Animal type Construction and operating letter of approval required
Poultry broilers 100,000 birds
Turkeys 250,000 pounds1
1Based on average daily weight for a 365-day period.

Approval of a waste management system by the Department of Natural Resources requires that enough land be available to receive the waste generated by the poultry enterprise. If this land is not available under the ownership of the poultry enterprise, a legally binding agreement must be reached with adjacent landowners to allow spreading of litter on their land. A specific form, M121-F Spreading Agreement, available from the Department of Natural Resources, outlines the necessary requirements.

The Department of Natural Resources currently accepts three approaches in estimating land-area requirements for litter spreading from poultry operations. They are

  • Conservative management approach
  • Intensive management approach
  • Plant-available nitrogen approach

These approaches vary in the degree of detail required for estimating land-area requirements. In general, the conservative management approach results in the greatest land-area requirements, with less land required for the intensive and plant-available nitrogen approaches, respectively. This publication deals only with estimating land area requirements using the conservative management approach.

Under the conservative management approach, land-area requirements are based on the application of 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year. No restrictions are implemented regarding crop grown, nutrient uptake capability, or waste/soil analysis.

Land-area requirements in this approach are based on average levels of nitrogen in turkey and broiler litter and the average amount of litter produced annually.

This procedure is not intended to be a fertilization program for the crop being grown, but is intended to ensure that enough land will be available to receive waste in an environmentally sound manner.

In estimating land-area requirements, the amount of nitrogen produced annually is simply divided by 100 to give the acres required. Table 2 shows the land area required by the Department of Natural Resources for turkey and broiler litter operations under the conservative management approach.

Table 2
Land area required for broiler and turkey litter operations under the conservation management approach

  Land area1, acres per 1,000 pounds bird liveweight2
Broilers 2 acres per 1,000 pounds of bird
Turkeys 1.7 acres per 1,000 pounds of bird
1Adjust land area based on fraction of year building is occupied by birds.
2Bird live weight based on "on-hand" building capacity and average weight during their period in building.

The following example illustrates the use of Table 2 to determine land area needed in a broiler operation.

Estimate land-area requirements under the conservative management approach for a broiler operation with two buildings having a capacity of 25,000 birds each. Total "on-hand" capacity is 50,000 birds; they will have an average weight of two pounds during their growout period. Six flocks per year will be grown in the buildings; the growout period for each flock is estimated at seven weeks.

Bird live weight = 50,000 birds x 2 pounds per bird = 100,000 pounds = 100 thousandweights

Land area = 100 thousandweights x 2 acres/thousandweight = 200 acres

This value can be adjusted based on number of flocks and growout period. Building occupancy = 6 flocks per year x 7 weeks per flock x 7 days per week = 294 days per year

Adjusted land area = 200 acres x (294 ÷ 365) = 161 acres

Hence, 161 acres must be available for litter spreading in order to obtain a letter of approval for this operation.

Table 3 shows land area requirements for different size broiler and turkey operations under typical management schemes.

Table 3
Land area required for Department of Natural Resources approval of poultry operations

"On-hand capacity" number of birds Land area
Broilers1 Turkeys2
20,000 64 acres 311 acres
40,000 128 acres 622 acres
60,000 192 acres 933 acres
80,000 256 acres 1,244 acres
100,000 320 acres 1,555 acres
12 pound average bird weight, 6 flocks per year, 7-week growout period.
212 pound average bird weight, 2.25 flocks per year, 18-week growout period.

As noted previously, this procedure is primarily intended to ensure that sufficient land is available to receive waste from a given size poultry operation. Spreading litter on the correct acreage for a given size operation will not necessarily meet the nutrient needs of the crop.

The reference for this publication is Missouri Department of Natural Resources Manual 121, second edition, July 1989.

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