Fertilizing With Poultry Litter

By Joni Ross, Agronomy Specialist, University of Missouri Extension. With the cost of commercial fertilizer increasing, more farmers are starting to look for a less expensive source of nutrients.
calendar icon 4 January 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

Poultry litter, for an increasing number of Missouri farmers, is becoming a natural choice as a low-cost fertilizer. When properly applied, poultry litter can be a valuable resource for grass, small grains and row crop production. The economics of using poultry litter varies considerably. To make economic decisions on the value of poultry litter, see UMC Guide G9330: Calculating Manure as a Fertilizer Source http://extension.missouri.edu/explore/agguides/soils/g09330.htm

Poultry litter is made up of raw poultry manure and bedding materials such as sawdust, wood shavings or rice hulls. This combination provides an excellent source of organic nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and sulfur (S), as well as micronutrients and organic matter. The table below is the estimated range of nutrient concentrations in different types of poultry litter on a pound per wet ton basis. This information was provided by Dr. John Lory with University of Missouri Extension in the MU guide sheet G9340 Sampling Poultry Litter for Nutrient Testing:

Litter Type Total N Ammonia N Phosphate Potash
Broiler 45 to 75 8 to 20 50 to 80 35 to 75
Broiler Cake 40 to 60 5 to 15 50 to 80 45 to 90
Broiler Breeder 20 to 50 5 to 15 40 to 70 15 to 55
Turkey 50 to 80 8 to 20 45 to 105 25 to 65

It is important to remember that poultry litter can be highly variable in the amount of nutrients it contains. Thus, to effectively use poultry litter as a fertilizer, a litter analysis should be done.

When applying poultry litter, it is important that farmers use proper litter management. Over-application or improper application timing of poultry litter can cause nutrient contamination (N and P) of surface and ground waters. Farmers should use this material in order to obtain maximum value of the fertilizer while preventing environment pollution.

Proper rate and timing of litter application is essential for efficient use of nutrients and the prevention of pollution. Litter should be applied as near to field crop planting dates and or forage crop growing season as possible. It is important to know that when you are determining litter rates only 60% of nitrogen in poultry litter is available as an N source in the year of application. Poultry litter has been shown to be a good fall N fertilizer for cool season pastures. Poultry litter should be applied until the soil test results show optimum phosphorus levels. At that point, the best option is to manage nutrient levels and apply nitrogen as required.

Poultry litter can be an excellent nutrient supply for farmers when a few good litter management steps are followed.

Good litter management steps are:

Soil test and follow recommendation. Test litter for nutrient content. Calculate crop nutrient requirement based on realistic yield goal. Calculate the litter application rate to supply crop nutrient needs. Calculate the amount of supplemental nutrients needed for maximum crop growth. Apply litter as close to planting as possible.

December 2007

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