Covered poultry litter storage.

Getting a handle on manure

By Mary Wicks

Demand for poultry litter, a combination of manure, feathers, and bedding, has grown as the price of commercial fertilizer has increased and farmers recognize its value in providing nutrients and organic matter. As with any fertilizer or manure, understanding of nutrient content and availability, soil fertility, and plant requirements is needed to ensure the application rate is optimal to meet yield goals while reducing costs and protecting water quality.

But not all poultry litter is created equal. Poultry litter from broiler facilities includes bedding, while litter from layer facilities is manure, without the bedding, plus feathers and calcium from eggshells. These differences affect the nutrient and moisture content. Storage practices also have an effect. As poultry litter ages, nitrogen is converted to ammonia gas, while microbial activity can drive off water, concentrating nutrients and reducing odors.

Due to the nutrient variation in poultry litter, and other manures, a lab analysis is always recommended before application. Then, once the poultry litter application rate has been determined, it is important to calibrate the spreader to make sure it is accurate. An easy calibration method, promoted by Glen Arnold, OSU Field Specialist in manure nutrient management systems, uses a 56-inch by 56-inch plastic sheet or tarp. The square is weighed and then laid on the ground. After the manure is applied, the weight of the manure on the square, in pounds, is equal to the tons per acre being applied as the area of the tarp is 1/2000 of an acre. Most commercial poultry litter applicators typically apply between two and three tons per acre.

In-field poultry litter stockpiles.

More on manure . . . The annual Manure Science Review, which will be held on Aug. 3 at Innovative Ag near Bryan, Ohio, is a great way to learn more about best practices for using manure for growing crops. This year’s speakers will provide the latest on poultry litter logistics, composting mass mortality, application do’s and don’ts, effects of incorporating manure, and other hot topics. Field demonstrations will include new and retrofitted liquid manure applicator tool bars, dry box solid applicators, a dragline pipe bridge for crossing roads, and lots more. Plus, there are optional tours of Vandermade Dairy’s center pivot irrigation of manure liquids and EnviroKure’s system for producing biostimulants from chicken litter.

Continuing education credits have been approved for Certified Crop Advisors, ODA Certified Livestock Managers, OH Fertilizer Recertification, and Indiana State Chemist certifications. For program and registration details, click on the link at or contact me (; 330.202.3533).

Mary H. Wicks is a Program Coordinator in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering of The Ohio State University.  E-mail: Phone: (330)202-3533.  This column is provided by the OSU Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, OSU Extension, Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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