You can get all the nutrient performance on your pastures from manure that get from commercial fertilizer; in fact, you may even get a little bit more.
That’s according to Tim Schnakenberg, University of Missouri Extension forage agronomist. Schnakenberg told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor manure “is a slow release fertilizer, and you’re getting additional micronutrients you can’t necessarily get out of commercial fertilizer. Plus, you’re able to get microorganisms that also help in the process of improving the soil health and the properties of the soil.”
There are a few factors to consider before using chicken litter or dairy manure as fertilizer. First, soil test your pastures, hayfields and crop fields to determine your nutrient needs.
Dr. John Jennings, University of Arkansas professor of animal science, said poultry litter offers many benefits.
“Poultry litter can have the most value to the producer where the soil test shows that they need nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, because litter generally contains all three nutrients,” he explained. “When the soil test on the producer’s particular field has high phosphorus and high potassium, the nutrient content of the litter has no value to them, because you wouldn’t get a crop response.”
Next, analyze the manure source. This can be tricky, due to its nonuniformity. Schakenberg recommended sampling multiple places in the piles, and using that as a guideline for what will be an average for your applications. Also, measure moisture, especially for chicken litter.
“Turkey litter usually has a little more moisture to it and is a little harder to spread sometimes,” he said. “And the cleanouts are different; sometimes it’s a one year cleanout, sometimes two years, and sometimes it’s a four week growout versus an eight-week growout.”
Prioritize the fields to be treated; some will need nutrients more than others, particularly those that have had a lot of hay or crop production, or any that have not been performing up to par.
Also, identify the buffer zones.
“Most haulers understand how close they can get to wells and property lines, along with houses and streams. In Missouri, buffer zones are anywhere from 50 to 300 feet, and there are guidelines from the state Department of Natural Resources,” Schnakenberg said.
Counties may also have separate regulations.
And finally he said, it’s important to calibrate the application equipment, and make sure it’s putting out what it needs to.
“So much of the time, equipment gets old or in disrepair, and it’s not applying uniformly,” Schnakenberg said.
Jennings added there are many factors involved in getting the spreader calibrated.
“If you overapply, you’re wasting money,” he said. “If you’re putting a limited amount of litter on a certain number of acres, you can spread that out. If you underapply, you’re not going to get as much forage growth response as you’d like to have. There are a number of methods to calibrate, and make sure you get close on your application rate.”