What Poultry Manure Has To Offer Your Land
Reading Time: 6 minutes
by Dorothy Rieke One afternoon, Mother and I returned to our farm home. I attended college classes, and Mother had been teaching in a rural school. As I drove the car to a parking space near our home’s porch, we both heard a loud yell.
“Help me! Hello, me!” We knew that was Dad’s voice.
Mother and I ran north toward the sound. We were astounded by the scene before us. Dad’s red Massey Harris tractor was upside down on a pile of chicken manure, and Dad was pinned under the tractor!
Dad said, “Dorothy, go downtown and get some men to turn over this tractor!”
I ran to the car and drove erratically down the hill and another block to the village. I stopped the car in the street and ran into the general store. Jake was cutting meat. I yelled, “Dad is pinned under his tractor. We need help!”
Jake dropped his knife and ran across the store to the door shouting all the way, “Come with me; Roy is pinned under his tractor!” Several men who had been visiting followed Jake. Three men talking near one of the parked cars ran forward. Several others, attracted by the noise, joined the group. Those men ran up the hill at top speed. I drove the car back to the accident scene. The men gathered on one side of the tractor and were able to tip the tractor up and away from Dad with great effort.
Dad slowly, stiffly, got to his feet.
Mother said, “Roy, are you able to walk?”
“I landed in a soft spot,” Dad replied. “The tractor did not touch me.”
Later, Dad was black and blue, so the tractor did touch him but did not do a lot of damage. He was weak but coherent. Our neighbors helped with evening chores. Dad thanked them. He was very lucky. That manure, litter, and straw had been there some time. It was rather soft; otherwise, Dad would have been seriously injured.
Farmers of years ago cleaned their hen houses and chicken pens quite often. They piled the contents alongside the buildings. Later, they loaded the manure on their manure spreaders and used the contents to fertilize their fields. This was an excellent idea. Waiting to use the manure gave it a chance to dry out and become good organic material.
At that time, most chicken manure was in piles by chicken houses with no apparent use. However, current research has proven the value of chicken manure as an organic fertilizer, and in fact, some regard it as a “valuable wealth.”
The Value of Utilizing Chicken Manure as Fertilizer
Recycling is good for green reasons, including environmental and economic benefits. Poultry and crop production interweave because poultry manure can be incorporated as a fertilizer.
Chicken manure, urine, and the bedding or litter materials like straw or sawdust add organic waste matter, increase water-holding capacity of the soil, and add beneficial biota in soil. This mixture provides nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium for plants. It is better than horse, cow, or steer manure in most cases. It also reduces bulk density, increases aggregate stability, and increases soil biological activity. Manure can also protect soil, water, and air quality.
So, today, poultry manure, including litter, is an excellent, low-cost fertilizer if used properly. Another advantage is that as poultry digest the plants and other foods they eat, the food is broken down by anaerobic bacterial action in their stomachs, so manure is like a compost that has been broken down at high speed by the animals producing it.
How Important is Organic Matter?
Organic matter is also crucial to soil to keep it fertile and productive, and agricultural land should have 3-5% organic matter. Organic matter provides nutrients for crops and makes it possible for the soil to retain nutrients.
Microorganisms in invertebrates living in the soil break down minerals and organic matter into forms that plants then utilize. An application of manure integrates organic matter into the soil and restarts or feeds microbial life. Remember that soil microbiological activity depends on organic matter. Organic matter also increases the soil’s water-holding capacity and helps with aeration
Plant nutrition is essential in the production of crops. Plants take nutrients from the soil, which improves yields. Truthfully, chemical fertilizers do not always meet the specific needs of plants’ demands for growth and development. Chicken manure does a better job of meeting the nutritional needs of most plants.
This type of fertilizer increases the amount of soil organic matter, thereby increasing its fertility. Another benefit is that chicken manure raises soil pH and eliminates adding lime to acidic soils.
Coping with Soil Acidity
Specific agricultural practices often increase soil acidity, including chemical fertilizers, increased cultivation intensity, high-yielding hybrid varieties, excessive moisture, and decomposition of organic matter.
A soil with high acidity affects plants’ ability to take in nutrients. Lime is often used to remove soil acidity. With high acid, soil yields are often affected. Chicken manure contains calcium or lime, so its application solves soil acid problems. No additional lime application is necessary.
Increasing Crop Yields
Studies have shown that utilizing chicken manure as fertilizer brings an increase in crop yields of at least 12%. In addition, soil conditions improve with less pest disease infestation. This brings to mind another advantage for this fertilizer. Few seeds pass through a chicken’s digestive system, so weeds are not a problem. Some have criticized the use of manure because of the high levels of heavy metals or contaminants. However, studies show that most chicken manure contains less of these substances than other organic manures.
Applying Chicken Manure to Land
Composted chicken manure should be applied to land during soil preparation before sowing seed or seedling transplanting. It can be applied directly onto the soil or around root zones.
How and When to Store Poultry Manure
Using fresh manure may pose problems. At times, if the fresh manure is high in ammonia or contains too much nitrogen, it may burn the roots and stems of plants. It may also contain different weed seeds or pathogens from the animals. That is why manure must sit in piles for a short time.
That old custom of piling manure beside the henhouse for a few weeks or even months solved certain problems. Storing manure allows it to act as compost does. With compost, bacterial action causes the buildup of heat that kills weed seeds and other pathogens. If the manure has strong odors, it is not ready for application.
Stored manure often means “rotted manure.” This manure has no unpleasant odor because its texture has changed, and some of its natural nitrogen has been lost. Some producers store manure in piles with steep, compacted sides for a year. This allows it to retain some nitrogen and moisture. Do not allow it to dry out completely. You may also cover it.
Precautions for Using Poultry Manure
Take certain precautions when using chicken manure in gardens. Like other wastes, chicken manure may contain pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, and others. Any stockpiled manure should be kept away from children, pets, or livestock. If composted properly, it destroys harmful disease-causing organisms.
Manure should be applied no later than 90 days before harvesting non-ground-contact crops such as trellised tomatoes and peppers and no later than 120 days before the harvest of ground-contact crops such as lettuce and strawberries.
Composting manure requires around 140 degrees F or more to kill most human and animal pathogens. Aging manure reduces disease-causing microbes because conditions are unfavorable for growth.
Applying Poultry Manure
Some gardeners ask how much manure should be used and when they should apply it. Apply a two to three-inch layer of well-composted manure over the garden, tilling it into the soil. Specialists recommend 50 pounds of poultry manure per 1,000 square feet of garden soil.
If you are a gardener looking to build up the soil in your garden with organic matter, manure will make a good addition to soil fertility, but be sure to use it correctly.
Poultry manure contains essential nutrients for crop production. It also has great value as an organic fertilizer in fields and gardens. So, today the use of poultry manure fertilizer is becoming a common practice with many farmers and gardeners throughout the world as its content has many nutritional elements for various fields of crops and garden produce.
There are many uses for poultry and their manure in the world. Of course, the most popular use is as an important source for fertilizing crops. It is the most effective ingredient of all animal wastage as a measure of soil amendment and as a plant nutrient. An application of manure decreases fertilizer costs, increases yields, and results in long-time soil resilience. The better care you give your land now, the better you will leave it for future generations. Don’t ever underestimate the power of a load of poultry manure in improving soil!
Originally published in the April/May 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.