Poultry

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July 4, 2017, Somerset County, NJ - A giant facility being planned in Somerset County may convert tons of chicken litter into electricity some day, but first it may need to make converts out of skeptical neighbors and environmentalists.

Its critics charge that the anaerobic digester, if built, would pollute the air with methane and nearby waterways with nutrients while giving further license to the region's poultry industry to continue its expansion. READ MORE
May 16, 2017, Lancaster, PA - Farmers have been referred to as the first environmentalists. Their livestock and crops depend on a healthy environment to thrive. Still, there’s often room for improvement.

According to some early findings from a study by Penn State graduate student Erica Rogers, poultry producers are potentially lowering their impact on the Chesapeake Bay.

Rogers and fellow Penn State graduate student Amy Barkley discussed those initial findings from their two master’s thesis projects with the poultry service technicians attending Monday’s Penn State Poultry Health and Management Seminar at the Lancaster Farm and Home Center.

Her project’s goal is to accurately depict poultry’s contribution to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load. The Chesapeake Bay “is one of the most studied watersheds in the world,” she said, but the problem with the current model is “they are using outdated information for poultry.”

Rogers built her work around the concept that poultry litter management has changed and farmers have adopted more precise diets for their flocks. READ MORE

March 13, 2017, Owasco, NY – A farm that placed poultry manure on the edge of a field has removed it, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The operation was issued a notice of violation by the DEC on Feb. 24 for violating its comprehensive nutrient management plan. The DEC did not issue any fines. READ MORE

March 13, 2017, Raleigh, NC – In a surprising conclusion, a new report finds North Carolina poultry farms generate far more nutrients in manure than do hog farms.

The report, produced by the state Department of Environmental Quality, concludes poultry growers produced 56.6 million pounds of nitrogen and 79.8 million pounds of phosphorus in 2014. That amount is three times the nitrogen and six times the phosphorus produced statewide by swine operations in the same year, the DEQ estimates. READ MORE

March 8, 2017, Ionia County, MI — Five fire departments responded to reports of a fire at Herbruck's Poultry Ranch in a manure storage building March 7.

Luckily it was nothing more than a hot spot in the dehydrated chicken manure pellets stored there, which led to a smoking wall, said Harry Herbruck, vice-president of operations at the facility. READ MORE

 

In Europe, where intensive livestock production is common in countries like the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, concern has been raised about its environmental consequences, including runoff of excessively applied nitrate and phosphate contamination of surface water and soil.

Manure produced by intensive livestock production can lead to atmospheric emissions of ammonia, nitrous oxide, and mono-nitrogen oxides, like NO and NO2, especially when directly spread on cropland. In the 1990s, EU council, parliament and commission met to discuss possible solutions. Those discussions led to the implementation of new, more stringent regulations, including the nitrates directive – better known as 91/676/EEC – which limits application rates of livestock manure to arable land. These restrictions led farmers to look for alternatives, such as composting and biogas production.

In the Netherlands, where agricultural production is especially intensive, the issue prompted poultry farmers into action. Together, they came up with a unique solution – convert poultry manure into electricity.

“We were producing too much manure in comparison to the arable land we had,” explained Wil van der Heijden MBA, director at Duurzame Energieproductie Pluimveehouderij (DEP), a co-operative of more than 600 Dutch poultry farmers who supply the Moerdijk-based power plant with poultry manure for fuel. “We also had a problem with too much phosphate in the soil and nitrogen in the water.”

Van der Heijden is right; Dutch farmers do produce more manure than the arable land around them can use. The issue doesn’t just affect poultry farmers either. In fact, Dutch dairy farmers were recently told they have to reduce herd size in order to comply with EU phosphate regulations.

Overproduction of manure has also been a problem for Dutch poultry farmers. Each year, poultry in the Netherlands produce approximately 1.3 million tonnes of litter. Of that, 650,000 tonnes is exported to Germany, Belgium and France for use as fertilizer – a job that is facilitated by traders who make money by taking manure out of the hands of farmers and putting it into the hands of other farmers. For decades, Dutch poultry farmers were at the mercy of these traders, who charged €30-35 ($33.34 to $38.90 US) per tonne for removal. For a 100,000-bird broiler farm, this amounted to €30,000 to €35,000 ($33,350 to $38,900 US) each year, a hefty fee that left many struggling.

In 1998, Dutch poultry farmers met to discuss how they could separate themselves from the traders, as well as regulations and borders. Their solution was to join forces with a power plant and turn poultry manure into electricity. In 1999, the farmers formed DEP. The farmer members supply litter to BMC Moerdijk, a company that produces electricity using a fluidized bed combustor.

“They wanted to be independent from traders, from the weather, from the borders, and the regulations in Germany and France,” said Van der Heijden. “They learned that poultry manure could be used as fuel for electricity production and they found that there was some experience in the U.K., although very small scale.”

From conceptualization to the plant’s opening, it took 10 years for their plan to become a reality. First, explained DEP co-operative director Wil van der Heijden, they had to find the right location, which turned out to be Moerdijk, a town in the south of the Netherlands in the province of North Brabant. Then they had to apply for permissions and subsidies, look for partners and financing, and finally draw up fair contracts, which Van der Heijden said were crucial for reducing risk. Construction on BMC Moerdijk began in 2006 and concluded in 2008.

Financing for the plant came from the bank, which fronted 80 percent of the overall cost. The rest came from BMC Moerdijk’s shareholders. Delta, the company that buys the electricity BMC produces, owns 50 percent of the shares. The farmers association ZLTO and DEP own the remaining shares at 33 and 17 percent respectively.

While Dutch poultry farmers were once paying €30 to €35 ($33.34 to $38.90 US) per tonne to traders for removal, in 2008, when BMC started production, farmers who joined the co-operative were contracted at €20 ($22 US) per tonne. Immediately, the traders dropped their rate to match that of BMC’s, said Van der Heijden.

“We told farmers that we could process their manure for 10 years for between €15 and €20 ($16.65 US to $22 US) [per tonne],” he said. “That’s why they signed the contract. But immediately after that, the traders dropped the price to €20 ($22 US) – and then even dropped to €10 ($11 US) two years later. You can imagine that all the members in 2012 were very angry.”

Today, the farmers are happy. They now pay just €11.50 to €12 ($12.75 US to $13.30 US) per tonne.

“We dropped the price in 2013,”explained Van der Heijden. “We had to drop the price from €20 to €11 ($22 US to $12.20 US) or €12 ($12.75 US) because they were so pissed off… because they all wanted to move. And if there is no fuel, there is no possibility to produce electricity. So, we had to join them.”

Today, BMC processes some 430,000 tonnes of poultry manure – one-third of the total amount of poultry manure produced in the Netherlands – each year. Everyday, 60 trucks supply approximately 2,000 tonnes to the power plant. Using that manure, BMC generates 285,000 MWh of power each year. The plant uses a small amount of the electricity it produces and supplies approximately 245,000 MWh to the electrical grid. The electricity the company produces is enough to meet the needs of 80 percent of all Dutch poultry farmers for one year.

BMC Moerdijk doesn’t just produce electricity, though. It also produces ash, which is a by-product of the incineration process. The ash contains highly valuable minerals, like potassium and phosphorus. It is sold to customers in the agricultural and horticultural sectors outside of the Netherlands. Those customers use the ash, sold under the name PeaKsoil, as a fertilizer to improve soil.

In its first years of operation, BMC Moerdijk learned several important lessons. First, not all types of manure are suitable for processing.

“We thought poultry manure is poultry manure, but it isn’t,” said Van der Heijden. “There are a lot of differences between manure from layer hens and broilers, and turkeys and breeders.”

Storage was also an issue. Without storage the company sometimes had to work 15 days off and 15 days on. Today, BMC can store 10,000 to 12,000 tonnes.

“It is very important to have stable supply and demand,” explained Van der Heijden. “We also learned that the cooperative structure was useful for this type of corporation. We also learned that fixed contracts are very crucial because otherwise halfway all of the members would have left the co-operative. The fixed contracts were very useful for us and the bank to reduce the risks.”

Electricity from poultry manure is a cleaner alternative to direct land application, explained Gerd-Jan de Leeuw, MSc, at a recent visit to the plant. De Leeuw is responsible for the fuel and PeaKsoil at BMC Moerdijk. Electricity production from poultry manure saves on emissions from fossil fuel combustion. Spreading poultry manure on the land also causes larger emissions of NH3, N2O and NOx than combustion does. Finally, the ash that’s recovered has a lower mass and volume than the manure, making it more suitable for export to regions that require phosphate.

“All of the minerals, except nitrogen and organic matter, are in the PeaKsoil, so in the ash,” said De Leeuw. “We can sell it as a fertilizer. We sell it to countries where they have a phosphate demand.”

Those countries include Belgium, France and the United Kingdom where it has been especially useful in corn and wheat crops.

All in all, BMC has proven itself as a sustainable and reliable electricity producer. Dutch poultry farmers, as a result of their cooperation with BMC, have not only complied with their obligation to process poultry manure, but also helped reduce the Dutch phosphorus surplus by approximately 8,000,000 kg P2O5 each year. The company also contributes to the Netherlands’ goal of lowering CO2 emissions and using 14 percent renewable energy by 2020. Finally, BMC has helped reduce poultry farmers’ NH3 emissions by 25 percent since 2008.

This summer, BMC was in heavy discussion with DEP, as the 10-year contracts with its members are up at the end of 2017. The discussions were a great success with 87 percent of poultry farmer members renewing their contracts, which will start January 1, 2018. Those contracts expire at the end of 2029. On average, members will pay €6.50 ($7.20 US) per tonne, an amazing reduction since 2007.

 

 

 

November 21, 2016, Lancaster, PA — Pennsylvania poultry experts are planning to work with manure haulers to find ways to cinch up biosecurity.

Pennsylvania’s poultry industry has done a lot of disease response planning, but collaboration with manure haulers has so far been a missing link, said Sherrill Davison, director of the avian pathology lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. READ MORE

 

Each year, more than 14 million tons of chicken litter is generated in the U.S. Studies have shown that using poultry litter to fertilize crops can be as effective as using synthetic fertilizers.

In a new study, researchers at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have calculated how much chicken litter farmers need to apply to cotton crops to maximize profits.

“Most research focuses on the amount of poultry litter needed to maximize crop yields,” says Haile Tewolde, lead author of the study. “We wanted to know if aiming for maximum yield always makes economic sense for farmers.”

Tewolde and his colleagues found that it doesn’t. Using less chicken litter than what was needed to maximize crop yields actually increased profits for farmers. Profits increased even though crop yields were lower.

It might appear that higher crop yields would lead to higher profits. But using more fertilizer also increases costs for farmers. The researchers predicted that once an optimal amount of fertilizer had been applied to crops, any more would raise costs more than profits.

The study was conducted in two farms in Mississippi. Researchers applied varying amounts of chicken litter as fertilizer on replicated plots then compared yield and profitability. They also compared the use of synthetic fertilizers and chicken litter.

They found that chicken litter applications over a certain level did not result in net economic gains. Instead, it led to economic losses even though yields were somewhat higher.

Maximum cotton yields were achieved by applying between 9,000 to 12,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre. In contrast, applying about 7,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre each year was enough to maximize profits.

The researchers also confirmed studies that showed chicken litter to be as effective – sometimes more so – than synthetic fertilizers.

If farmers can use less poultry litter and still maximize profits, pollution can be managed more effectively.

 

 

 

 

 

Prestage AgEnergy of North Carolina didn’t set out originally to build the largest co-gen plant to run solely on turkey litter. As vice president Michael Pope says, sometimes these things just “kind of evolve.”

Prestage began seriously considering a poultry litter project as far back as 2011. The company put in time doing its homework – and looking at various systems and why certain systems do and don’t work when dealing with poultry.

“Poultry litter doesn’t have the same BTU value as wood. It’s slightly less,” explains Pope. “But because litter is wood-based, it’s a much more traditional fuel source to work with.”

There was also a mandate to utility companies in North Carolina to purchase a certain amount of renewable energy from swine, poultry, wind and solar.

“We started looking at ways to address the mandate to utilities, and also address any potential issues that may come down the road with poultry litter and land application,” says Pope. “Where we’re located – Sampson and Duplin County – there’s a lot of litter that has to be land applied.

In addition, Prestage had successfully used wood chip boilers in the past, and in particular Hurst boilers.

“We’d had great success with their [Hurst] equipment and their products, and that’s part of what led to us collaborating with them on how we could make this work with poultry litter.”

Hurst Boiler, out of Coolidge, Georgia, was also a good choice because of its long history in the energy business. The international manufacturer of a complete line of gas, oil, coal and hybrid biomass fuel-fired steam and hot water boilers has been operating since 1967.

When Prestage initially went to Hurst with its idea, Hurst wasn’t sure if their boilers would handle 100 percent poultry litter, but an unexpected event occurred in Guatemala that would change the course of events.

During a biomass shortage, a Guatemalan poultry company began fueling their Hurst wood chip boiler with chicken litter. As expected, the boiler ran into some issues, but it continued to operate.

“It was a very manual, and very crude process, but it demonstrated that even without treating the litter like we should, these boiler systems could handle poultry litter,” says Pope.

Creating the innovative boiler system for Prestage became a team effort. Hurst made some slight modifications to its system and Prestage made modifications to how it would handle its litter prior to it reaching the boiler. The result was a 1500 HP biomass boiler, the largest in the United States, fueled 100 percent on poultry litter.

To run the boiler 24/7 will require approximately 175 tons of turkey litter per day.  Prestage doesn’t see that as a problem. Pope says that not only is the company located in a good area for procuring litter, the industry is expanding in the region.

Crews will go out, as normally scheduled, to approximately 60 turkey farms to do a complete clean out of litter or a “cake” cleaning under the feed and water lines. The litter will be transported back to the facility.  And, Pope notes, that although the boiler can run on chicken or turkey litter, the company is currently just focused on turkey litter.

At the Prestage facility, the litter will be brought to a litter building. There the litter will be blended for consistency – nutrient type and moisture content – and then conveyed to the boiler.

“Moisture content is key for utilizing litter in the boiler, and making sure that it gets a fairly consistent product coming in,” says Pope. “Our focus is power production and providing steam for our feed mill to get them off of natural gas. But we’re also focused on using the ash as a fertilizer, as it’s high in phosphorous and potassium.”

Storage is a big piece of the project – both for litter and ash.

While the litter is stored in a large covered facility, the ash will be stored in an enclosed facility because once wet it tends to harden like concrete. The storage space for the ash is large because Prestage anticipates seasonal use by famers.

Prestage doesn’t see itself going into the “Prestage labeled fertilizer bag” business.

“We are teaming up with a very successful regional fertilizer company. We will be using their existing sales channels, and they’re very excited and absolutely believe they can move every ton of ash that we produce.”

The facility will be up and running in December 2016 and Prestage is estimating they will annually produce the equivalent of 95 GWh of power and 9,000 tons of quality ash.

Pope says the nutrient-rich ash product not only gives the company options, but farmers as well.

“The ash can go to fertilizer manufacturers. It can also go straight into field application for the farmers,” says Pope. “That’s nice because a lot of farmers have used poultry litter in land application for their crops, but don’t always get consistent spread and can’t precision farm. So, instead of using litter, they sell us the litter and with the money we put in their pockets, they can take that and buy traditional fertilizer that allows them to precision farm, get better yields on their crops and give the fields exactly what they need.”

The challenges have been exactly what one would expect with a first-of-its-kind system – figuring out exactly what the boiler is capable of, and the make up of the litter to ensure it functions properly and efficiently.

“We’ve learned it’s expensive being innovative. But it’s good, because what it really does at the end of the day is benefit all the poultry growers,” says Pope.

“Growers have to get rid of the litter and land application has been an issue depending on time of the year and the weather. Currently, growers may or may not be able to get the litter out of their houses and land applied. There are certain areas that may be rich in phosphate, where you don’t want to put litter on the ground. Also, farmers never know what the EPA is going to do, and what sort of challenges they may have to face environmentally. What this system does is provide another outlet – a year-round outlet – for poultry growers to send their litter for processing.”

One challenge Prestage didn’t face was finding an experienced crew to run the new facility. An older power plant in the area wasn’t able to successfully complete a conversion from wood chips to poultry litter, and had to shut down. The timing was such that Prestage was able to step in and hire a significant number of people from that facility to operate theirs.

“We’ve got operators experienced in running a power plant and using a wood based product. And they do have some experience from testing poultry litter at their facility. We couldn’t be more blessed,” says Pope. “It was unfortunate that a facility had to close, but we were able to pick up the best of the best to operate this facility.”

Prestage is proud that it hasn’t rushed into this new area, and that it has put in the time and energy to ensure the road it’s taking and the technology sued will be successful.

“Because [Prestage] was new to this arena and because it was all poultry litter, we didn’t want to get out there, fall flat, and it be a failure and a disappointment to the industry,” says Pope. “We want to make sure it works and that it was long-term and that it would create avenues for others or ourselves to expand on what we’re doing.

“We’ve taken our bumps and we got our lumps and bruises, and we know that going forward, we can do this more cost-effectively. I definitely think that this can be replicated at better cost and can provide more benefit to growers and producers in the industry as a whole.”

Does that mean Prestage may build more of these facilities?

“There’s definitely the possibility of putting in additional plants,” says Pope. “We always evaluate what comes along and what makes sense, and we try to stay true to who we are as a company and focus on what we do well. We’re a very successful national pork and poultry company. We’re very good at live production and very good at poultry processing, so getting into power generation and fertilizer production is a new realm, but we’ve got 30-plus years of success behind us and we wouldn’t step out and do these types of things if we weren’t positive we’d be successful
with this.”

 

 

 

 

Poultry producers in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and other areas of the United States and Canada are dealing with added nutrient management regulations on a continuous basis. Insight into best practices in stockpiling and application is critical.

Dr. Peter Tomlinson and agronomy graduate student Barrett Smith are now two years into a large research project evaluating improved storage sites for stockpiling of poultry litter for application to crop land. Dr. Tomlinson has been an assistant professor and extension specialist for environmental quality at Kansas State University since 2011 and his interest in studying manure and nutrient management began during his undergraduate years at the University of Connecticut.  

“Poultry producers in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma continue to face nutrient management regulations,” Dr. Tomlinson notes. “Kansas row crop producers in the southeast corner of the state are looking for cost-effective sources of N, P, and K and have found that poultry litter can cost effective way to meet their P, K and a portion of their N requirements. However, before the litter is applied it must be stored, and stored properly. The keys to a good storage site are that it’s accessible in all-weather conditions, is at least 300 feet away from water, has the ability to exclude extraneous drainage, and has an adequate buffer area before the runoff reaches water.”

This is exactly what Dr. Tomlinson has been studying, and he uses the word “encouraging” to describe his and Smith’s preliminary research findings from the last two years.

“Our initial look at the data is encouraging based on flow-weighted mean concentrations of run-off nutrients,” he explains. “We are in the process of calculating total load losses from the pad and buffer, which will allow us to determine if we are retaining the nutrients lost from the pad in the buffer area.”

From previous research and experience in small feedlot design, a chicken litter storage site evaluation sheet [agronomy.k-state.edu/extension/environmental-quality/poultry_litter/index.html] and improved storage site specifications have been developed by Herschel George – Kansas State Research and Extension watershed specialist – and Dr. Tomlinson, with input from state agency personnel, the Kansas Farm Bureau and local watershed restoration and protection strategy groups. Dr. Tomlinson says the evaluation tool can be used to identify suitable locations for developing an improved storage site as well locating suitable locations for short-term in field storage of poultry litter. The lowest score possible (lowest risk possible of detrimental runoff) is desirable.

The general guidelines for litter storage sites include:

  1. Elevated earthen pad to eliminate ponding of water at the storage site
  2. Extraneous drainage diverted around the storage site
  3. From four- to six-inches of agricultural lime or equivalent added to provide an elevated level pad to store poultry litter

Year-round access to the storage site is also critical, says Dr. Tomlinson.

“In conversations with poultry litter brokers/transporters, they have indicated that they really like good all-weather access of the service entrances. What we mean by ‘all-weather’ access is access from a gravel road whereby a semi-truck with a 40-foot trailer can access the pad, even when weather conditions are rainy and or soil conditions are wet and might cause the semi to get stuck.”

Dr. Tomlinson notes that when the popularity of poultry litter increased in southeastern Kansas because fertilizer prices went up, one of the major issues was fear of getting stuck. He explains that drivers would only back the trailer into the field. By the time they finished off-loading the litter, the end of the pile was near or in the road ditch, and/or the trailer had left ruts where runoff was funneled directly into the ditch.

Dr. Tomlinson adds that producers have found the agricultural lime base of the storage pad is helpful when they are loading the manure for spreading because it gives a visual indicator that they have reach the bottom of the pile.

Farmers also need to exclude extraneous drainage from their poultry litter storage sites by limiting water from a higher landscape position from entering the site, obviously because adding water to the runoff that’s already being filtered through the buffer is not desirable.

“This typically involves constructing an earthen berm, during the pad construction building phase, that directs water that would normally run onto the pad away from, and around, the pad,” Dr. Tomlinson explains. “The other option is to find storage locations sites that are at the top/crest of a landscape position such as the top of a hill. The key here is minimizing the water that has to be treated through the buffer to just that which is coming from the storage pad.”

In terms of best practices in creating a sufficient buffer between the storage area and natural bodies of surface water such as streams, Dr. Tomlinson says the storage site location should be at least 300 feet away. The distance from the pad to the edges of occasionally or frequently-flooded soil should be factored in as well (on the storage site evaluation sheet, the greater the distance, the lower the score).

“We have also given different buffer types different values on the evaluation sheet,” explains Dr. Tomlinson. “Dense grass is a more efficient buffer than crop ground, for example. However, this is coupled with the buffer size calculation. So if you have crop ground present, you can reduce the score (risk) by increasing the buffer size. If the area is limited in size, then establishing a grass buffer would reduce your score.”  

The project will be continuing for two more years. Although Dr. Tomlinson has only studied storage of broiler chicken litter, he anticipates that the principles and best management practices would be the same for turkey litter.

Kansas State University Soil Science Professor Dan Sweeney and colleagues have compared the application of fertilizer and turkey litter to sorghum grown in clay pan soils (common in Kansas) and found that application of litter is a viable option. At the eight-leaf stage, there were no significant differences between fertilizer and/or turkey litter treatments.

“I haven’t done any price comparisons,” Dr. Sweeney says. “Pricing can certainly be important to producers, but with swings in fertilizer pricing and maybe litter pricing too, it can vary whether it is a cost savings to use poultry litter or commercial fertilizer.”

However, Dr. Sweeney says applying turkey litter annually to clay pan soils must be done carefully.

“Poultry manure has a greater ratio of P to N in comparison to other manures, so if poultry litter application is based on the crop’s N needs instead of its P needs, P can be greatly over-applied.”

Dr. Sweeney and colleagues have also studied nutrient run-off from application of turkey litter versus fertilizer. He found that run-off rates from fertilizer were usually lower than from N-based, and similar to P-based, turkey litter applications.

“Incorporation of the litter reduced the nutrient losses in runoff, but it didn’t always make any significant difference,” he explains. “Applying a lot of litter will build up soil P levels, and annual P runoff losses can accelerate when soil P values are very high.”

The chicken litter storage site evaluation sheet is available here:

http://www.agronomy.k-state.edu/extension/environmental-quality/poultry_litter/index.html.

 

 

 

October 13, 2016, There are more chickens in the United States than people in the entire world. Raising huge numbers of chickens generates large quantities of waste. This waste includes feces, feather, and bedding materials – collectively called chicken litter.

Each year, more than 14 million tons of chicken litter is generated in the U.S. Other poultry – such as turkeys, ducks, and geese – also contribute litter. Poultry litter is often recycled as manure by farmers. Studies have shown that using poultry litter to fertilize crops, such as cotton, can be as effective as using synthetic fertilizers.

In a new study, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service have calculated how much chicken litter farmers need to apply to cotton crops to maximize profits.

"Most research focuses on the amount of poultry litter needed to maximize crop yields," says Haile Tewolde, lead author of the study. "We wanted to know if aiming for maximum yield always makes economic sense for farmers."

Tewolde and his colleagues found that it doesn't. Using less chicken litter than what was needed to maximize crop yields actually increased profits for farmers. Profits increased even though crop yields were lower.

It might appear that higher crop yields would lead to higher profits. But using more fertilizer also increases costs for farmers. The researchers predicted that once an optimal amount of fertilizer had been applied to crops, any more would raise costs more than profits.

The study was conducted in two farms in Mississippi. The researchers applied varying amounts of chicken litter as fertilizer on replicated farm plots. Then, they compared yield and profitability between the seven plots. They also compared the use of synthetic fertilizers and chicken litter.

They found that chicken litter applications over a certain level did not result in net economic gains. Instead, it led to economic losses even though yields were somewhat higher.

Maximum cotton yields were achieved by applying between 9,000 to 12,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre. In contrast, applying about 7,000 pounds of chicken litter per acre each year was enough to maximize profits.

The researchers also confirmed studies that showed chicken litter to be as effective – sometimes more so – than synthetic fertilizers.

Poultry litter contains high levels of nitrogen, an important nutrient for plants. It also contains other minerals needed by crops, including phosphates and potash. Using poultry litter as manure also recycles a waste product and can benefit the environment.

However, using too much poultry litter can cause environmental pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorus in the poultry litter can dissolve in runoff from storms. These dissolved nutrients can pollute surface and ground waters. If farmers can use less poultry litter and still maximize profits, pollution can be managed more effectively.

"Ten to 15 years ago it was not common to use poultry litter as fertilizer for row crops such as cotton," says Tewolde.

Today, there is increasing acceptance of poultry litter as fertilizer, including in commercial farms. But research on the use of poultry litter as fertilizer is not often geared towards maximizing profit in larger, commercial farms.

"This is the first comprehensive study looking at chicken litter use and profitability in commercial farms," says Tewolde. "We are the first to identify ways to calculate optimal rates of applying chicken litter manure and maximize earnings at this scale of farming."

One benefit of conducting the study on commercial fields is that "farmers can start applying our findings straightaway," says Tewolde.

Though the study was conducted in Mississippi, it has wider implications.

"The approach we use to determine optimal rates of chicken litter application will be applicable in other cotton-growing areas around the country," says Tewolde.

Tewolde's research has been featured in Crop Science.

October 18, 2016, Ocean City, MD – Being inspected by state officials does not need to be a bad experience for poultry growers.

Gary Kelman from the Maryland Department of the Environment told poultry growers at a recent meeting that farm inspections are meant to help and assist, not to drop the heavy hand of government regulation on poultry growers. READ MORE

 Using a grant from the Alberta government, Marty Winchell purchased a used cement mixer, outfitting it to be used as a compost system for animal mortalities on his farm. Contributed photo.

The Winchell family farm in Alberta is relatively small – around 300 laying hens, 70 sheep, as well as a number of pigs and cattle. But not long ago, the 120-acre farm raised around 12,500 layer breeders as well as 4,200 egg laying ducks for the Filipino and Vietnamese market. When Marty Winchell went back to full time work in 2011 as the agriculture program supervisor for Clearwater County, the poultry population had to be substantially cut back.

Faced with depopulation, the Winchells first looked at selling the layers. Unfortunately, there was no market for the chickens.

“I ended up paying people 20 cents a bird to pick them up, and then another 25 cents to 30 cents a bird to get rid of them. It was quite expensive,” says Winchell.

The same thing happened with the depopulation of the ducks.

“There was no market for spent fowl in the duck world here in Alberta,” he says. “Certainly nothing that wasn’t without risk.”

Winchell decided to compost the ducks himself. He built a trough using two rows of square straws bales. He filled the trough with the mortality and then covered it with three to four feet of manure. Although it worked, it wasn’t the optimum solution.

“Every time you turn compost with any animals in it, you often expose bones and there was also odor,” Winchell says. “And although the odor dissipates quickly, we’re in close proximity of town.”

The odor can also bring in predators, which Winchell doesn’t want to expose his sheep to.

Another environmental consideration is that the farm is on the bank of the North Saskatchewan River, a river that provides water for the city of Edmonton. For that reason, they are extra cautious about any composting practices.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing,” he says.

Winchell can’t tell you when he came up with the idea of using a cement mixer to compost mortality, because he says he feels like he has always been on the lookout for one. It was definitely before the mortalities, when he was dealing with composting cracked eggs and similar materials.

“Cracked eggs are probably one of the biggest attractives I have on my farm. And, I also wanted to compost with less work,” says Winchell. “I knew that composters they sell at the hardware store weren’t large enough. I guess I was just looking for a practical way to size it up, and when I did that, it looked like a cement mixer.”

He wasn’t the only one who thought it was a good idea. Bear Smart, an Alberta provincial program, gave him a $1,000 grant to try out his innovative idea.

It took some time to get it all in place. Not only did Winchell have to find an inexpensive, used mixer, but also find a way to get it to the farm.

“With the grant, I bought a cement mixer with a bad hydraulic drive and no truck,” he says. “It cost me $1,000 to transport it here and around $800 for a new hydraulic drive, plus I had to buy some hoses. I figure I’ve got about $2,000 of my own money in it.

“If the average person were to go and buy one, they’d probably just need hoses to attach it to a tractor or a skid steer,” he adds. “I didn’t know what I was doing, so when I picked it up, it didn’t actually have the hydraulic pump, or the drive on it, so I had to find one of those and that was difficult to locate because of the age of the cement mixer.”

In the end though, the idea was sound, and the composter worked just as he had anticipated.

One of the big benefits of using a mixer as a composter is that when it turns one way it stirs the material, and when it turns the other direction the material exits.

It’s also easy and quick to use.

“It takes about 30 seconds to hook the hoses up to my skid steer,” Winchell says. “I turn it, and I’m done.”

The first thing he composted with the mixer was 300 birds. Within a month – and only spinning it three or four times – the birds were completely composted.

“I felt like it worked really well,” he says. “I would turn it in the evening and could see the steam coming out and that it was heating.”

Winchell says he could be more scientific about the process, but for now if there is any odor he adds more carbon, like a bale of straw or a bucket of shavings. And if it’s not heating, he adds water.

Over the last year, the Winchells have put into the mixer anything that they don’t feel comfortable putting in a windrow or exposed to the water. They have composted a llama, mortality from lambing, wiener pigs, as well as other waste like broken eggs – all the while adding shavings, straw and water.

“Truthfully, after over a year, I still haven’t emptied the mixer,” Winchell says.

The cement mixer holds around five yards of compost. But it’s definitely the smaller variety. Many of the newer cement mixers hold around eight cubic yards.  

Winchell doesn’t have any intention of spreading the compost from the mixer on his land.

“I was at one seminar where Environment Canada indicated that if you had compost with a dead cow with BSE, spreading it on your land and then allowing cows to eat off that could be dangerous. They weren’t sure how prions moved, and were very reluctant for animal compost to be put back on pastureland. Because there are sheep in our compost, and sheep can have scrapie (not that I’ve ever had that on my farm) I will not be using this compost on anything that is used for food production for animals or humans.”

When Winchell does empty the mixer, he will be using the compost for other projects, like bank stabilization.

The Winchells do, however, still have a lot of manure left from the farm when it was larger, and continue to compost with windrows and sell that compost to neighbors.

“I usually turn it once in the spring, once in the fall. Because we live close to the river, we don’t do a lot of spreading of manure on the land. We’re trying to be responsible landowners and not put nitrates in the river. I suspect I will be spreading some compost on the property in the next couple years though.”

Winchell believes the mixer would be an ideal tool for smaller farms, not just because it’s effective, but also because it’s inexpensive and simple to use.

“If you were looking for one, I would check out industrial auctions. They aren’t expensive, because nobody wants a cement truck. You can probably buy the truck and the cement mixer for a couple grand, then drive it home, take the cement mixer off, and then sell the truck for more than what you paid for the combination.”

And he adds, “There’s not a lot that can go wrong with them. They will probably last for a very long time.”

He can see the mixer as a great composter for small farm animals.

“You can compost something completely in six to eight weeks, so there’s no reason why a broiler operation couldn’t use something like this,” he says. “Because you don’t have a lot of mortality until the last couple weeks, and if you’re placing every six-and-a-half to eight weeks, you should be able to get a batch through.”

The Winchell family (wife, Cindy, sons Oliver and Henry and daughters Grethe and Josie) isn’t shy about showing off the new composter. During the Clearwater County West County Ag Tour, 120 people came to look at the composter in action. Also, a number of articles have been written on the innovative mixer and Winchell has received some emails.

This May, the Winchells had 275 students out to the farm.

“The Grade 4 curriculum in Alberta is animal waste and plant waste and composting. So, we incorporated the cement mixer into the Grade 4 curriculum in Clearwater County and had 275 students come through my place and look at it – in addition to seeing sheep being shorn and talk on bees and whatever else.

“We’ve been a part of that program for five years. I’ve talked to them about compost before because I’ve always been composting, but this is the first year I’ve shown them the compost.”

He says his family gets involved because it’s important to educate.

“Often agriculture is vilified in social media and in the media. Education is something that I think we need to do a lot more of in order to make sure people realize that farmers are the first stewards of the land.  We make our living off the land, so why would we do things that are not constructive?

We need to educate people that manure is a byproduct, but it’s also a resource.”

 

 

 

August 17, 2016, Raleigh, NC – A compost barn for North Carolina State University’s Chicken Education Unit, which contained manure from the chicken and turkey coops, caught fire recently.

No animals were harmed and no one was in the building at the time, though the compost barn sustained significant structural damage and will have to be torn down, according to Bill Stevenson, NC State University fire marshall. READ MORE

July 25, 2016 – Irish agri-tech firm BHSL has agreed a $3 million deal with the state of Maryland to trial its manure-fired biomass boilers in the U.S.

One of its patented systems has already shipped, and is due to be fully operational by October, according to the company. READ MORE

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