University of Missouri Extension

WQ220, Reviewed January 2009

Spreading Poultry Litter Without Lab Analysis or Soil Tests

Charles D. Fulhage and Donald L. Pfost
Department of Agricultural Engineering

A primary need and concern for most poultry producers is managing litter to protect ground and surface water and meet regulatory requirements. Meet the goals by applying litter to the land in such a way that the potential polluting nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and organic matter) are used by the soil/plant complex and are not allowed to enter the ground and surface water.

Litter as fertilizer

Litter should be viewed as fertilizer and managed like commercial fertilizer in your fertility program. The occasional practice of meeting fertility requirements with commercial fertilizer then applying additional litter can easily damage water quality.

In general, Missouri waste application regulations are based on the rate of nitrogen application. With this plan, the phosphate (P2O5) and potash (K2O) applied may greatly exceed crop needs. Therefore, the best use of plant nutrients may be to apply less nitrogen (N) from waste than the crop needs and buy extra N to balance the needs. Applying phosphorous to fields with a Bray 1-P test level of more than 800 pounds per acre may aggravate surface water quality problems.

It is highly recommended that you analyze a representative sample of litter for nutrient values immediately before spreading. Also, test the soil before determining the land application rate.

Managing litter as a fertilizer

Unlike commercial fertilizers, litter is a highly variable substance. Even within an animal species, test samples can vary 50 percent. Management styles for poultry operations, such as cleaning buildings on a certain schedule, dictate different techniques than commercial fertilizer that can be ordered and spread.

If a laboratory analysis is not available, use average values of manure nutrients in similar waste management systems. Table 1 lists values for poultry litter.

Table 1
Average nutrient levels in turkey and broiler litter.1

  Nutrients (pounds per ton)
Total N Organic N NH4-N P2O5 K2O
Broiler litter 54 46 8 59 38
Turkey litter 54 47 7 55 34
1Actual values are highly dependent on dilution, bedding, etc.

Note
P2O = 1.2 x K

In contrast to commercial fertilizer, litter has the potential for losing nutrients (primarily ammonia nitrogen) to the atmosphere after field spreading (Table 2).

Table 2
Manure ammonia N loss by days until incorporated into the soil. Unavailable portion is lost to the atmosphere

Days until incorporated Percent of ammonia N available for crops
0 to 2 80
2 to 4 60
4 to 7 40
more than 7 20

Table 3 lists the percent of available organic nitrogen available with time. Table 4 gives the percent of various nutrients available in the growing season after application. Table 5 provides a basis for estimating the expected nitrogen release from soil organic matter for major annual crops instead of a soil test. Table 6 lists N credits for crops following legumes.

Table 3
Manure organic nitrogen available by year

Manure applied Percent organic matter available during current year
Current year 40 to 60
1 year ago 10
2 years ago 5
3 years ago 5

Table 4
Minerals and micronutrients available in manure

Nutrient Percent available in growing season
P 80
K 100
S, Mn, Cu, Zn 80
Ca, Mg 100

Table 5
Expected nitrogen release from soil organic matter for major annual crops when a current soil test is not available. Assumes a cation exchange capacity from 10.1 to 18 meq per 100 grams and organic matter less than or equal to 2 percent. No nitrogen credit given for nitrogen released with perennial crops, such as fescue

Expected nitrogen release
Summer annuals (corn, etc.) Winter annuals (wheat, etc.)
pounds nitrogen per acre pounds nitrogen per acre
40 20

Table 6
Nitrogen supplied by legumes for following crops

Legume crop Nitrogen added (pounds per acre) next year
Alfalfa 80 to 100 percent stand 120 to 140
40 to 60 percent stand 40 to 60
less than 50 percent 0 to 20
Sweet clover (green manure) 100 to 120
Red clover (pure stand) 40 to 60
Soybeans (add about 1 pound per bushel) 15 to 60

Table 7
Nitrogen, phosphate and potash removal from soil by various crops.1,2

Crop Pounds removed per unit production
Units N P2O5 K2O
Corn, grain bushel 1.0 0.4 0.3
Corn, stover ton 20.6 7.5 37.2
Corn, silage ton 7.4 2.9 8.9
Soybeans, grain bushel 3.4 1.0 1.5
Soybeans, residue ton 15.0 6.5 15.8
Wheat, grain bushel 1.3 0.5 0.3
Wheat, straw ton 13.0 3.6 24.6
Oats, grain bushel 0.7 0.3 0.2
Oats, straw ton 12.4 4.6 32.9
Barley, grain bushel 1.0 0.4 0.3
Barley, straw ton 13.5 4.7 31.0
Sorghum, grain bushel 1.1 0.4 0.3
Sorghum, silage ton 7.0 2.6 10.0
Rye, grain bushel 1.0 0.5 0.3
Rye, straw ton 10.0 6.0 16.9
Alfalfa ton 49.0 11.0 50.0
Reed canary grass ton 60.0 13.4 49.0
Orchard grass ton 50.0 16.6 62.5
Brome grass ton 33.2 13.2 50.8
Tall fescue ton 55.0 18.6 52.9
Blue grass ton 25.8 18.3 60.0
Clover grass ton 41.0 13.3 38.9
Timothy ton 37.5 13.8 62.5
Sorghum-Sudan grass ton 39.9 15.3 55.9
1Six sources listing nutrient removal for a given yield were averaged to estimate removal for a unit of production.
2About 70 percent of the above nitrogen in inoculated legumes is fixed from the air. The percentage goes down when adequate nitrogen is available from the soil.

If soil tests are not available for nutrient application rates, use a standard rate of 100 pounds of N per acre per year. This application rate would conform to the regulatory guideline for sizing soil/plant filters under the conservative management approach. However, this publication estimates the amount of manure to apply to satisfy the projected crop needs for nitrogen. It may exceed the 100 pounds per acre allowed under the conservative management approach. You may wish to use this worksheet with 100 pounds of N per acre applied to see what happens with P and K. Two blank worksheets are included for actual applications.

You cannot apply more than 100 pounds of nitrogen per year if the Department of Natural Resources has issued a letter of approval based on the conservative approach of applying not more than 100 pounds of nitrogen per year, regardless of the crop and the production level of the crop.

Example 1

A fescue hay field soil/plant filter is available for receiving litter from a turkey operation. No lab analysis of the litter is available. No soil tests have been performed on the soil/plant filter area. The yield goal is 3 tons of hay per acre. How many tons per acre of turkey litter should be applied?

Since no soil data is available, use the nitrogen requirement for fescue found in Table 7. Manure will be applied to supply nitrogen. Fescue, a perennial, receives no credit of nitrogen release from soil organic matter or from a previous legume crop.

From Table 7, for a yield goal of 3 tons per acre per year, we calculate the following nutrient removal:

55 pounds N per ton x 3 tons per acre = 165 pounds N per acre

18.6 pounds P2O5 per ton x 3 tons per acre = 56 pounds P2O5 per acre

52.9 pounds K2O per ton x 3 tons per acre = 159 pounds K2O per acre

Because no laboratory analysis of the litter is available, use the average values from Table 1. Assume the litter is not incorporated into the soil and the loss of ammonia nitrogen is 80 percent.

Worksheet 1
Turkey litter on fescue

(Crop N (line 1)) - (residual N (line 4)) - (N from O.M. (Table 5)) - (legume N (Table 6))
_____________________
(Available NH4-N (line 2)) + available organic nitrogen (line 3))

= application rate tons per acre

165 - 0 - 0 - 0
_____________________
1.4 + 23.5

= 6.6 tons per acre

*Note
290 pounds per acre P2O5 is applied v. 56 pounds per acre removed by crop.

*Note
224 pounds per acre of K2O is applied v. 159 pounds per acre removed by crop.

Example 2

Turkey litter is to be spread on a fescue hayfield soil/plant filter, as in Example 1. However, in this example, assume that litter was spread at the rate of 3 tons per acre on the hay field the previous two years. No lab analysis or soil test is available. Yield goal and nutrient requirements are the same as in Example 1.

Worksheet 2
Turkey litter on fescue

1 year ago "3" tons per acre x "47" pounds per ton x "0.10" percent available = "14.1" pounds per acre
2 years ago "3" tons per acre x "47" pounds per ton x "0.05" percent available = "7.1" pounds per acre
Total = "21.2" pounds per acre

(Crop N (line 1))- (residual N (line 4)) - (N from O.M. (Table 5)) - (legume N (Table 6))
_____________________
(Available NH4-N (line 2)) + (available organic nitrogen (line 3))

= application rate tons per acre

165 - 21.2 - 0 - 0
_____________________
1.4 + 23.5

= 5.8 tons per acre

*Note
255 pounds per acre P2O5 is applied vs. 56 pounds per acre removed by crop.

*Note
197 pounds per acre of K2O is applied vs. 159 pounds per acre removed by crop.

Example 3

Turkey litter is spread on corn ground that was in soybeans last year, but no soil tests or litter lab analyses are available. Litter is not incorporated within 7 days. Ammonia nitrogen loss is 80 percent. Litter was spread on the area the past 3 years at 4 tons per acre. Yield goal for the corn is 150 bushel per acre. Because corn is a summer annual, nitrogen release is 40 pounds per acre (Table 5).

Since soybeans were the last crop, expect about 30 pounds N per acre available from the legume, see Table 6.

From Table 7, we calculate the nutrient requirements as follows:

1 pound. N per bushel x 150 bushels per acre = 150 pounds N per acre

0.4 pounds P2O5 per bushel x 150 bushels per acre = 60 pounds P2O5 per acre

0.3 pounds K2O per bushel x 150 bushels per acre = 45 pounds K2O per acre

Worksheet 3
Turkey litter applied past three years on corn

1 year ago "4" tons per acre x "47" pounds per ton x "0.10" percent available = "18.8" pounds per acre
2 years ago "4" tons per acre x "47" pounds per ton x "0.05" percent available = "9.4" pounds per acre
3 years ago "4" tons per acre x "47" pounds per ton x "0" percent available = "9.4" pounds per ton
Total = "37.6" pounds per acre

(Crop N (line 1))- (residual N (line 4)) - (N from O.M. (Table 5))- (legume N (Table 6))
_____________________
(Available NH4-N (line 2)) + (available organic nitrogen (line 3))

= application rate tons per acre

150 - 37.6 - 40 - 30
_____________________
1.4 + 23.5

= 1.7 tons per acre

*Note
75 pounds per acre P2O5 is applied v. 60 pounds per acre removed by crop.

*Note
58 pounds per acre of K2O is applied v. 45 pounds per acre removed by crop.

Worksheet 4
Litter fertility worksheet

Crop ________
Yield ________ tons per acre
Nitrogen ________ pounds per acre
P2O5 ________ pounds per acre
K2O ________ pounds per acre

1 year ago ____ tons per acre x ____ pounds N per ton x ____ percent available = ____pounds per acre
2 years ago ____ tons per acre x ____ pounds N per ton x ____ percent available = _____pounds per acre
3 years ago ____ tons per acre x ____ pounds N per ton x ____ percent available = ____pounds per acre
Total = ______ pounds per acre

(Crop N (line 1)) - (residual N (line 4)) - (N from O.M. (Table 5)) - (legume N (Table 6))
_____________________

(Available NH4-N (line 2)) + (available organic nitrogen (line 3))

= application rate tons per acre

_____ - _____ - _____ - _____
_____________________
_____ + _____

= tons per acre

WQ220, new May 1994

WQ220 Spreading Poultry Litter Without Lab Analysis or Soil Tests | University of Missouri Extension

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