Poultry is a growing industry in Elkhart County. It seems every time you turn a corner in the rural areas, a new chicken or duck barn has been put up.
Of course, when you raise poultry, you also create manure. Manure used to be considered a waste, but these days, it has become more of an asset than a liability.
I read a recent article by some Extension researchers in Kansas, who studied manure and its value as a fertilizer. Their findings were very interesting.
One of the first things they noted was that poultry manure is very high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, three key nutrients for crops. However, the content of the nutrients can vary considerably from farm to farm, and depending on how the manure is handled, the moisture content can vary considerably as well. In practical terms, that means that producers should test the manure to determine the values of the manure on their own farm, and not rely on values from tables in a book or publication.
Manure from 67 farms was analyzed. The nitrogen content ranged from 14 pounds per ton to 75 pounds per ton, with the average being 55 pounds. The phosphorus content was 55 pounds per ton, with a range of 24 to 110 pounds per ton. For potassium, the average ton of manure contained 47 pounds with the samples varying between 9 to 76 pounds per ton.
How valuable is poultry manure? This may not be a straightforward answer and depends on several factors, including the nutrient(s) required for a specific field, but here’s one example using the average nutrient analysis values from these samples of 55-55-47 (N-P-K lbs/ton): During year one about 35% of N is in an inorganic (all available) form, and about 65% of the N is in an organic form, with about ¼ of the N available that first season. The total N available in year one is about 28.2 lbs./ton, which at 51 cents per pound is worth about $14.38.
About half the phosphorus is available the first year, or about 27.5 pounds per ton. At 65 cents per pound, the P is worth about $17.88 per ton. About 85% of the potassium is available the first year, or about 40 pounds per ton. At 48 cents per pound, the K is worth about $19.20 in a ton of the average manure. All totaled, our average ton of poultry manure was worth about $51.46 per ton for the nutrients the first year. The value of the remaining nutrients, which would be released over time, would be about $31.55 per ton.
With poultry manure being a rich nutrient source, it also could be a source of pollution if allowed to wash into a stream or otherwise runoff. Using good practices to incorporate the manure or cover it while stored can help to reduce runoff, nutrient loss and potential odors.
Jeff Burbrink is an Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources. Write to him at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; or fax 533-0254.