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Manure Management and Composting

Manure Management and Composting

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Published by qfarms

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Published by: qfarms on May 30, 2011
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Manure Management and Composting
Manure is a valuable resource on an organic farm. Livestock are inefficient in extractingnutrients from feedstuffs; typically, 75-90 per cent of major nutrients that are fed to livestockpass directly through the animal into the manure. The extent to which these nutrients can bereturned to the soil and made available to subsequent crops will depend on the way themanure is stored and handled.Organic farmers rarely apply raw manure to their fields; they use composted manure. Thecomposting process imitates the decomposition of organic matter on the surface layer of thesoil to turn raw manure into humus. Composted manure slowly releases its nutrients into thesoil, enhancing the soil microbiological life, whereas the highly-soluble nutrients in raw manureare quickly leached away and can damage both the soil biology and the crop.Standards for organic production allow the use of manure that has been stacked and aged forat least six months unless it has been brought in from off the farm, in which case composting isrequired. Raw manure can also be used but only on perennials or crops not for humanconsumption. Raw and aged manure should be spread when the soil is warm enough (i.e., whenplants are growing) for the micro-organisms to be active.
1. Storage of solid manure
 As composted manure is the primary source of fertilizer for an organic farm, care should betaken that nutrients are not lost from the raw manure. Losses of nitrogen can occur as soon asthe urine hits the concrete under the animal. Therefore use generous amounts of bedding tosoak up liquid wastes and to provide a carbon source for composting the manure. Considerablelosses, especially of potassium, can occur as a result of leaching and runoff during storage. Thisis not only a serious pollution problem, but also a waste of valuable nutrients.Plans and information regarding manure storage and handling are available from yourprovincial department of agriculture. The following was extracted from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food's factsheet #85-052.Solid manure storage systems should contain three parts:1. an enclosed area, on a sloped cement pad, preferably under a cover;2. a perimeter curb to contain and direct the liquids to the low end; and3. a pit to contain the liquid runoff until it can be pumped and spread on the land.
Locate the manure storage in such a way as to allow for future expansion of the livestock
operation. Also, do not block livestock or vehicle flow. Don’t locate the storage within 30
metres (100 feet) of a well or excavate into ground with a high water table. Adjacent existingtile drains should be blocked off. Check your local zoning by-law to ensure that you comply withany municipal requirements. The
 Agricultural Code of Practice
contains information on sitingmanure storages. Minimum separation distances are provided for distances to neighbors'houses, lot lines and roads.
2. Composting
 Composting is the process of decomposing organic matter, whether manure, crop residue ormunicipal wastes, by a mixed microbial population in a warm, moist aerobic environment. Theorganic matter is decomposed by the successive action of bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes. Inthe final stages of decomposition, redworms (or manure worms) assist in the production of stable humus which is the final stage of the composting process.Young compost that has not reached the stable humus stage, will be high in effective humusand available nutrients but low in stable, colloidal humus. Mature compost, which is close tothe final decomposition stage, will have a higher proportion of stable humus, and will beconsiderably reduced in bulk. Compost at various stages, from young to fully-aged, may be usedaccording to the needs of the soil and the crop.The nutritive and other benefits of the material will depend very much on the source materials,the conditions under which it was made and the maturity of the compost when it is applied.Young or medium compost will encourage biological activity in the soil. Mature compost willmake a greater contribution to soil organic matter levels and soil structure. In general,however, the process results in a net improvement to soil fertility, compared to an applicationof manure. For example, a field application of 30 tonnes of farmyard manure might supply 3tonnes of stable humus after a 4-5 year breakdown period. The same material applied as about22 tonnes of young to medium compost supplies about 4 tonnes, or applied as 15 tonnes of mature compost supplies 5 tonnes of stable humus after the same period.
Advantages of composting
 The additional storage and handling requirements involved in the production of compost areoffset by the advantages of compost to the organic farmer. These advantages are as follows:1. Compost supports and encourages the growth of earthworms, bacteria, fungi and othermicro-organisms and adds organic matter to the soil. In this way, compost improves thebiological, physical and chemical properties of the soil. In comparison, raw manure also addsorganic matter but can cause a period of disruption to the soil life by creating an imbalance of nutrients.
2. Manure is acidic; composting increases the pH of the material which can help make the soil abetter environment for plant growth.3. The composting process stabilizes the volatile nitrogen of raw manure into large proteinparticles and thereby reduces losses.4. Compost returns nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium and themicronutrients back to the soil. Amounts vary, but a well-prepared mature compost maycontain 7.5-15 kg/t (15-30 lbs/ton) N, 2.5-5 kg/t (5-10 lbs/ton) P
and 15kg/t (30 lbs/ton) K
O.5. The nutrients from mature compost are released to the plants slowly and steadily. Thebenefits will last for more than one season.6. The nature of the material and the fungal/actinomycete mycelia contained in the compostand stimulated in the soil by its application help to bind the soil particles into crumbs, greatlyincreasing the stability of the soil to wind and water erosion.7. Compost has a lower density, 400-600 kg/m
compared with typical manure that may be400-1000 kg/m
. Handling is easier and fewer trips are made to the field.8. Odor is reduced.9. Weed seeds are reduced by a combination of factors including the heat of the compost pile,rotting and premature germination. (Any weeds found growing on the pile should be destroyedbefore they go to seed.)10. Fly eggs are killed and plant and animal pathogens are reduced if the high heat method of composting is used to raise the temperature of the pile to 60
C.11. Raw manure is one of the primary culprits for pollution of the waterways, and odor fromfarms is considered an increasing problem in the rural areas. Composting raw manure reducesthese problems.
 Making good compost depends on having the proper sources of nutrients with a balance of carbon and nitrogen, keeping the pile of compost moist and making sure that there is adequateaeration. The compost pile can heat up to 60-70
C due to the microbial activity. However, hightemperatures will result in substantial losses of nitrogen in the form of ammonia gas. Farmerswith many years experience at compost-making recommend that temperatures are kept below50
C to avoid overheating and nutrient losses.

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