Chicken Litter Supply

first_imgPound for pound, litter contains about one-fifth of the nutrients of blended commercialfertilizer. If farmers can buy and spread litter for less than $25 per ton, Savage said,they’re coming out ahead of the game. “Anyone planning to use chicken litter should test their soil in the fall,” Harris said,”and test the litter to make sure they’re adding the nutrients their crops need.” Georgia farmers grew 2.53 million acres of cotton, corn and hay in 1996. All of thatland required fertilizer in some form. Many farmers chose chicken litter. But even if they could have used all the litter produced last year, they still could haveadequately fertilized only one-third of the cotton. The main drawback to using litter is the obvious one — the smell. Fortunately, the odordissipates quickly. But until it does, it’s something farmers using litter for fertilizer justhave to tolerate. “It holds more moisture, releases its nitrogen more slowly and can be much moreeconomical,” Savage said. “There’s just not enough chicken litter in Georgia to fertilize all the crops we growhere,” said Stan Savage, a poultry scientist with the University of Georgia ExtensionService. Neighbors, though, may be less happy with the situation. Glen Harris, an extension environmental fertilizers and soils specialist, said farmersshould use litter straight from the broiler house for best results. Gardeners shouldcompost it to use in gardens and landscapes. Picture this: 2.5 billion pounds of soil-like fertilizer. And it’s not enough. Another concern is nutrients leaching from piles of litter. Harris said if farmers can goahead and spread the litter onto their fields, leaching and runoff shouldn’t pose a risk tothe environment. Litter for farm use is usually worked into the soil before planting, he said. Raw littercan burn tender landscape and garden plants if not used very carefully. For every pound of chicken they raise, farmers must deal with a half-pound of litter.Georgia farmers produced 5 billion pounds of chicken in 1995. That left them with 2.5billion pounds of litter. Many farmers near south Georgia poultry farms have learned the value of litter, Savagesaid. The price of commercial fertilizer has risen greatly in the past three years, forcingfarmers to look for alternatives. Farmers can apply composted litter, which has less odor, near surrounding homes, butit has less fertilizer value. Savage calls litter a co-product of poultry production since it has value as fertilizer. There are problems keeping the litter from accumulating. “Although there isn’t enoughlitter to go around,” Harris said, “there are problems keeping it spread out due to theeconomics of hauling.” “Some south Georgia farmers are even buying litter from north Georgia poultry farmsand hauling it to their farms,” he said. “They’re still coming out better with litter.” Savage said just a few years ago, some poultry farmers were giving away litter. Overthe past five years, more poultry farms have sprung up, especially in south Georgia. Litter produced today has about half as much moisture as it did five to 10 years ago, hesaid. Nutrients in the drier litter are more economical to buy and haul. Georgia farmers now raise about 14 percent of the broiler chickens grown in the UnitedStates. They have to find a way to use the litter when they clean out the broiler houses. Why do farmers want chicken litter instead of commercially prepared fertilizers? “There’s such a difference between how much litter poultry farmers actually have andhow much crop farmers want to use,” Savage said. “You’d be hard-pressed to findlitter for your farm or even your garden unless you live near a poultry farm and getalong with the owner.”last_img

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