Maximising Poultry Manure Use Through Nutrient Management Planning

Information about the appropriate application and most effective use of poultry fertiliser by Casey W. Ritz and William C. Merka, Extension Poultry Scientists with the University of Georgia.
calendar icon 20 January 2014
clock icon 9 minute read

Poultry manure fertiliser contains all the essential nutrients required for crop production, and its value as an organic fertiliser and a source of plant nutrients has been recognized for centuries. Even with its beneficial effects on plant growth, however, manure constitutes only a small percentage of the nutrients applied to crop-land when compared to commercial fertiliser.

Poultry manure fertiliser is not used to its maximum potential for several reasons, including:

  • lack of information on its value as a source of plant nutrients,
  • failure to recognise how and where to use it, and
  • lack of recognition of its economic value.

This publication provides current information about the appropriate application and most effective use of poultry fertiliser. It will also help poultry producers develop a simple nutrient management plan that meets permitting authority standards.

Quantity of Poultry Fertiliser Generated

Georgia’s poultry industry produces large quantities of poultry manure. Georgia’s yearly poultry production is estimated at 1.3 billion broilers, 12 million commercial laying hens, 11.8 million broiler breeder hens and 12 million replacement pullets. The manure these birds produce is a valuable by-product with a potential gross value of more than $60 million.

For each pound of feed consumed, a chicken will produce approximately 0.5 pound of fresh manure with a moisture content of about 75 per cent. The manure rapidly loses water due to evaporation, and the final product typically has a moisture content of 20 to 40 per cent, depending on bedding type and quantity, bird concentration, watering equipment and ventilation systems.

Manure production can vary substantially with management programmes, so on-farm records are the most accurate means of determining manure production for each operation. Manure production estimates are as follows: 2.5 pounds per broiler, 20 to 30 pounds per commercial layer, 44 pounds per broiler breeder, and eight pounds per replacement pullet.

Poultry Fertiliser Composition

Covered storage enhances litter value and nutrient retention.

Poultry litter from floor-raised birds (broilers, turkeys, broiler breeder pullets) consists primarily of droppings and bedding (usually wood shavings or sawdust). Feathers and waste feed make up the remaining litter components. Poultry manure consisting of only faecal droppings is associated with caged layers and broiler breeders. Liquid manure from some laying hen operations is typically stored in lagoons — biological digesters in which bacteria decompose organic matter into gases, liquids and sludge.

Poultry litter and manure vary in both physical and chemical composition. Factors affecting composition include: type of birds raised, number of birds per unit area, feed nutrient density, bedding material type and amount, time in use and other management factors. Environmental factors during production and storage and post-production handling methods also influence poultry manure composition. Average poultry fertiliser plant nutrient content is listed in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1. Average nutrient composition of poultry manure on an as-received basis
Manure typeTotal NAmmonium
Broiler litter 64 10 54 48
Stockpiled litter 36 8 55 35
Breeder manure 31 7 40 35
Layer manure:

High-rise clean-out1
Lagoon sludge2
Lagoon effluent3












1Annual manure accumulation in lbs/ton.
2lbs/1,000 gallons.
3lbs/acre-inch. Acre-inch is equivalent to 3,630 cubic feet or 27,154 gallons.
Sources: North Carolina State University Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering; The University of Georgia Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratory.

Table 2. Mineral analysis of poultry litter on an as-received basis
Manure typeCaMgSFeMnZnCuBAlNa
Broiler cake 36 81 91 1,459 340 272 366 35 2,403 5,764
Broiler clean-out 43 9 15 1,610 334 265 319 33 2,632 5,498
Broiler stockpiled 54 10 12 1,437 362 286 121 22 2,897 4,097
Breeder manure 120 11 8 1,979 321 286 121 22 2,897 4,097
Pullet clean-out 37 67 59 2,158 294 246 142 19 3,393 3,908
Layer manure:
High-rise clean-out1 86 6 9 5 2 0.5 0.4 Trace - -
Lagoon sludge2 71 7 12 4 2 2 0.8 0.1 - -
Lagoon effluent3 35 7 8 5 3 0.4 0.4 Trace - -
1Annual manure accumulation in lbs/ton.
2lbs/1,000 gallons.
3lbs/acre-inch. Acre-inch is equivalent to 3,630 cubic feet or 27,154 gallons.
Source: The University of Georgia Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratory.

The cost of transporting poultry litter varies. Litter removed from a broiler house is usually very bulky (67 cubic feet per ton), increasing its transportation cost per pound of nutrient. The average delivered cost for commercial operators is $20 per ton of broiler litter; thus, litter can provide an economic benefit for many growers if it is effectively marketed.

Application of Poultry Fertiliser

To maximise poultry litter’s nutrient value, incorporate it into the soil immediately after spreading.

Forty to 70 per cent of the total nitrogen is available during the first six weeks. The remaining nitrogen will be slowly released as organic residues decompose and may require more than one growing season. Poultry manure’s nutrient availability during the first year of application is listed in Table 4. For optimum utilisation, use poultry fertiliser to meet as much of the crop's phosphorus and nitrogen needs as possible, then use commercial fertiliser to furnish other nutrients to the levels needed as indicated by a soil test.

Table 4. Typical first-year nitrogen availability coefficients for different poultry manures
Manure typeSoil
Injection1Soil incorporation2Broadcast3Irrigation4
N availability coefficient
All poultry litters5 -- 0.7 0.5 -

High-rise clean-out1
Lagoon sludge2
Lagoon effluent3




1Manure injected directly into soil and covered immediately.
2Surface-spread manure ploughed or disked into soil within two days.
3Surface-spread manure uncovered for one month or longer.
4Sprinkler-irrigated liquid uncovered for one month or longer.
5Includes in-house and stockpiled litters.

Phosphorus in chicken manure is predominantly in organic form and becomes available much more slowly than nitrogen, being directly related to the rate at which the manure decomposes and its binding qualities within the soil.

Buffer development prevents nutrient run-off

Potassium is present in chicken manure as both an inorganic salt in the excretions from the kidneys and in the living and dead cellular material in the faeces. All forms of potassium in manure are readily available in most cases but may be rapidly lost by leaching if not incorporated.

Many other elements are present in chicken manure in small quantities (Table 2). Little is known about the rate of release of these elements, but essentially all become available through decomposition. These elements are not thought to significantly affect either plant fertility or environmental factors.

In addition to being an excellent source of plant nutrients, poultry fertiliser can increase the soil’s water infiltration rates by improving its structure. On a short-term basis, poultry fertiliser can also increase the soil organic matter content.

Poultry fertiliser can be successfully used on many crops. General rates and application timings are listed in Table 5.

Table 5. Yearly application rates for broiler litter based on nitrogen application.
CropMaximum application ratesTime of applications
Single applicationYearly total
Bahia, Bermuda & dallis grass pasture 4 6 Spring-Summer
Fescue & orchardgrass pasture 4 5 Fall & Spring
Bermuda & Bahia hay 4/cutting cutting dependent Spring-Summer
Cool season annual grass 4 6 Fall & Spring
Cool season annual grass with legume 31 3 Fall
Warm season annual grass 41 5 Spring-Summer
Row Crops2
Corn, grain 41 6.5 Fall-Spring
Corn, silage 41 8 Fall-Spring
Cotton 31 3 Fall-Spring
Grain sorghum & sweet sorghum 41 4 Fall-Spring
Sorghum silage 41 8 Fall-Spring
1Decrease the total application rate by 25% if incorporated immediately after application.
2Application rates should not be applied on cropland with greater than 8% slope. For recommendations, contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service or Cooperative Extension office.

A successful utilisation programme includes the following:

  • obtaining a soil test for application fields
  • calculating crop nutrient requirements
  • obtaining manure nutrient analysis, and
  • ensuring proper application rates.

To prevent excessively applying poultry fertiliser and potentially contaminating surface and ground water, prepare a nutrient budget worksheet for each field or crop (see Appendix for sample budget worksheet). Contact your county Extension agent for assistance generating site-specific field budgets.

Table 6. Crop fertilisation guidelines
Croplb N/RYE1lb P2O5/RYE1
Corn (grain) 135 lb/150 bu 53 lb/150 bu
Corn (silage) 100/4.5 T 37/4.5 T
Cotton (seed & lint) 63/2600 lb 25/2600 lb
Sorghum (grain) 50/60 bu 25/60 bu
Wheat (grain) 50/40 bu 25/40 bu
Rye (grain) 35/30 bu 10/30 bu
Barley (grain) 35/40 bu 15/40 bu
Oats 50/80 bu 20/80 bu
Bermudagrass (hay2,3) 400/8 T 92/8 T
Tall fescue (hay2,3) 135/3.5 T 65/3.5 T
Orchardgrass (hay2,3) 300/6 T 100/6 T
Sorghum-Sudangrass (hay2,3) 319/8 T 122/8 T
1RYE = Realistic Yield Expectation
2Annual maintenance guideline
3Reduce N rate by 25% when grazing
Reference Sources: The Fertilizer Institute, The Potash and Phosphate Institute, North Carolina CES Circular AG-439-16

The figures given in Tables 1 and 2 are average values for manure nutrient content. As indicated previously, the actual nutrient profile of a particular manure sample may vary. Having your manure analysed for its true plant nutrient content is recommended. Armed with this and appropriate soil test information, you and your county agent can decide on the best plan of action to use poultry fertiliser for your individual cropping needs.

Record Keeping

Keeping accurate records of all your poultry and commercial fertiliser uses and off-site transfers is an essential component of a working nutrient management plan. On-farm field applications and off-site manure transfers should be recorded. Such records can help to validate your use of appropriate BMPs (best management practices) and environmental stewardship practices on the farm should the environmental impact of your farm ever be called into question.


Soil Facts: Poultry Manure as a fertiliser Source. North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Poultry Waste Management and Environmental Protection Manual. Alabama Cooperative Extension.

Vest, L., M. Merka, and W. Segars, 1998. Poultry Waste: Georgia’s $50 Million Forgotten Crop. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, Leaflet #206.

Appendix: Links to related documents
A-1 Estimating Annual Farm Manure Production
A-2 Poultry Litter Utilisation Record
A-3 Field Record – Litter Application
A-4 Field Record – Liquid Manure Application
A-5 Litter/Manure Removal Record
A-6 Crop Nitrogen Requirement Worksheet
A-7 Crop Phosphorus Requirement Worksheet

January 2014

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