Poultry Litter Reduces Fertilizer Costs

Linda Benedict, Hendrix, James  |  7/7/2010 1:41:26 AM

James Hendrix

Edgar and Christine Raymond own Riverosa Ranch, a registered Angus and Brahman X Angus F1 cattle operation in West Carroll Parish near Oak Grove, La. In 2009, Edgar completed all of the requirements and was recognized as a certified Master Farmer in the Louisiana Master Farmer Program. Riverosa Ranch, a 600-acre operation, was originally a row-crop farm until 1998, when the first 40 acres of cropland were converted to grass. From 1998 until 2004, more cropland was converted to pasture each year, and in 2005, the entire operation was devoted to pastures. After implementation of a comprehensive conservation plan, Edgar said he was astounded at how much topsoil he had been losing annually before his commitment to resource management practices. Currently, Edgar manages 300 head of females and has about 100 bulls aged 1-2 years old. Recently, 150 of the Angus females were selected to produce F1 Brahman X Angus offspring for marketing to commercial operations in the area.

Edgar is a firm believer in the benefits of poultry litter applications to pastures in his soil-management plan, especially with high prices for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. In 2005, when fertilizer prices began to skyrocket, Edgar took advantage of an abundance of reasonably priced poultry litter located in north Louisiana to provide essential nutrients to his pastures at a fraction of the cost of commercial fertilizers. Based on soil tests, the poultry litter was a good fit for recommended nutrient amendments for his pastures and met the requirements for his nutrient management plan designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Approximately 250 acres were fertilized with poultry litter at a rate of up to three tons per acre. Soil tests were important in prescribing additional applications needed and based upon his nutrient management plan.

About 400 acres on Riverosa Ranch are planted in Tifton, Alicia, Jiggs and Coastal Bermuda grass and 150 acres are common Bermuda grass and Dallis grass. Edgar doesn’t cut hay from his pastures two years in a row. To manage nutrients and minimize fertilizer costs, he generally grazes one to two years and cuts hay one year. To maintain high palatability and nutrient quality in his pastures and minimize weeds, he sometimes removes excess grass by cutting hay instead of clipping. Although this removes nutrients, it assists in meeting his hay requirements, and less land can be devoted to hay production. Edgar generally harvests and stores around 1,000 rolls of high-quality hay annually, weighing around 1,800 pounds each.

The closing of many poultry operations in north Louisiana has resulted in less poultry litter being available. Couple this with high transportation costs and declining commercial fertilizer prices, the cost effectiveness of applying litter on Riverosa Ranch has been reduced. It’s been two years since Edgar has applied poultry litter, but he still is reaping the benefits. The added organic matter and continued availability of nutrients from applications two years ago are still benefiting his forage program.

James Hendrix, Extension Watershed Agent and Master Farmer Coordinator for North Louisiana, Tensas Parish, St. Joseph, La.

(This articles was published in the spring 2010 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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