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Poultry Industry Trends for Litter Utilization

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Broiler litter, a combination of primarily organic bedding material and excreta, has been routinely applied for decades as fertilizer. Poultry litter improves soil quality by adding organic material, an advantage over commercial fertilizers. Once a hindrance to be disposed, rising costs of commercial fertilizers have increased the popularity of litter use which now extends beyond pastures and hay fields to crops like cotton and soybeans, as top dressing in landscapes such as private lawns and golf courses, in plantation forestry, and in land reclamation at mine and construction sites. July 2009 litter sales for fertilizer in MS represent a profit to the grower of approximately 10-14/ton. Because of nutrient imbalances relative to plant needs, litter usage is governed by application rates set by state regulatory agencies. Regulations exist to avoid surface and ground water quality degradation. Farmers are encouraged to utilize litter with appropriate application guidelines via cost incentive programs from the Natural Resource Conservation Service EQIP program.

Other poultry litter uses include poultry litter incineration, such as the large scale Fibrominn power plant in Benson, MN, and as a component of cattle feed. Litter for cattle feed, has occurred since before 1967 and has been in and out of usage. More recently, because of media “mad cow” coverage, a ban on litter as feed was again proposed in 2004, but was not included in the final 2008 Food and Drug Administration rule. The concept of litter-to-energy is popular. A novel approach is on-farm anaerobic digestion to produce methane gas and concentrated, nutrient rich co-products. Methane is burned as fuel on the farm to provide a heat source for houses. Co-products (solids and liquids) can be used on the farm or marketed off the farm, both again provide fertilizer sources; this usage requires the addition of substantial amounts of water to the litter, potentially increasing disposal/usage costs of the co-products.

Alternative uses are attractive when the land base is too small to apply litter in an environmentally advantageous manner. When considering unconventional markets for litter, knowledge of production quantities is essential. These have been estimated by extension and research scientists as ranging from 1 to 1.6 tons of litter/1,000 birds (Chamblee and Todd, 2002). The number of birds grown in the top 19 broiler producing states in the U.S. was just under 9 billion in 2008, representing 97% of the total production (National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2009). Thus, a gross estimation of litter production might be thought of as a minimum of 9 million tons. However, all farms would not be cleaned out annually.

The above serves to outline only a few aspects surrounding poultry litter usage. The purpose of this work is to overview broiler litter usage trends for those interested and for the broiler industry as a “state of litter utilization.” In addition, the paper provides information on litter composition and production rates for potential niche markets.
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Keywords: broiler; fertilizer; litter; manure; poultry

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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