Poultry Litter Application on Pastures and Hayfields
Nutrient management planning and recommended rates ensure poultry litter is used in ways that maximise its benefits without harming the environment, according to Julia Gaskin and Glen Harris of the University of Georgia, Alan Franzluebbers of the USDA Agricultural Research Service and John Andrae from Clemson University.
Poultry Litter as Fertiliser
Poultry litter is commonly used as a fertiliser on pastures and hayfields in North Georgia. As the poultry industry expands to South Georgia, more litter will be available and its use in this region is expected to increase. Poultry litter is a good source of many nutrients. In fact, it is much like a complete fertiliser containing not only primary nutrients but secondary and micronutrients (Table 1).
The fertiliser equivalent is typically about 3-2-2 (N-P2O5– K2O). However, the actual nutrient content depends on the type of bird, what the birds are fed, the number of grow-outs before the house is cleaned out, the feed efficiency, and how the litter is stored and handled.
More information on nutrient variability in poultry litter can be found in ‘Maximizing Poultry Manure Use through Nutrient Management Planning’ listed in the Further Information section.
Not all of the nutrients in poultry litter are immediately available for plants to use. Most of the nitrogen in poultry litter is in an organic form (about 89 per cent) but poultry litter also contains ammonium (about nine per cent) and a small amount of nitrate (about two per cent). The inorganic nitrogen (ammonium and nitrate) can be immediately used by plants.
Organic nitrogen is not available to plants until it is converted to ammonium or nitrate by microorganisms in the soil. Because this is a biological process, the rate of conversion depends on soil moisture and temperature. The conversion takes place over time with the largest release of nitrogen shortly after application if the soil conditions are favourable, i.e. moist and warm (above 50°F). If conditions are extremely dry or cold, little or no nitrogen may be released.
One advantage of poultry litter for pastures is that the slow conversion of organic to inorganic nitrogen distributes available nitrogen more evenly over the growing season.
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