HIGH RIVER, Alta. – A request for cattle manure was a classic win-win situation for an Alberta feedlot company and its neighbours.
Western Feedlots produces 300,000 tonnes of manure a year at its three southern Alberta feedlots and was looking for new farmland to spread it on.
Local farmers wanted to cut back on the cost of commercial fertilizer.
Scientists have proven the benefits of manure with its high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and its ability to improve soil tilth, but it is commercial enterprises like Western Feedlots that can make it work on a practical level, said company president Dave Plett.
“There is a lot more science and technology than most people realize,” he said.
Western Feedlots feeds 160,000 cattle and cleans its pens twice a year, delivering manure fresh to customers near its yards at Mossleigh, Strathmore and High River.
Customers can buy a package for $3 a tonne that includes soil testing, manure hauling and spreading on thawed ground. A stockpiling package at $1.50 per tonne is also offered.
Manure is a good source of nitrogen but often provides more phosphorus than the soil needs. Plett said Western has made adjustments for that.
The manure quality is fairly consistent because the feed ration is generally the same, said Melissa McWilliam, who looks after farming and resource management for Western.
The company works with farms individually and is looking for more customers.
“We want to haul the manure further out where the soil needs it,” she said.
An application of 40 tonnes per acre provides 868 pounds of nitrogen, 912 lb. of phosphorus, 660 lb. of potassium and 200 lb. of sulfur.
Nitrogen in manure comes in organic and inorganic forms. Plants can more readily use inorganic manure while the organic form breaks down over time to become inorganic.
Properly applied manure is a good source of nutrients for crops, controls erosion and increases water holding capacity, said Matt Gosling, a private agrologist who works with farmers and companies on soil management.
Manure has many benefits, but it does not turn number three sand into number one clay loam. It does improve water holding capacity, adds carbon and rebuilds organic material, which is something chemical products do not do.
“I have never seen soils rebuilt with chemical fertilizer,” Gosling said.
He is a strong advocate of soil testing because producers need to know the nutrient level in the manure and the soil.
Manure also adds micronutrients such as copper, boron and zinc, critical elements to help young plants survive cold stress in the spring.
In 2006, Statistics Canada reported that Canadian livestock produced half a million tonnes of manure daily, which translated into more than 180 million tonnes per year.
Of this total, 38 percent was produced by beef cows, followed by milk cows, calves and heifers at 12 percent each, steers and bulls at 10 percent each, pigs nine percent, poultry three percent, horses two percent and sheep less than one percent.
All types of cattle produce large amounts of manure:
•bulls 42 kilograms per day
•beef cows 37 kg
•steers 26 kg
•heifers 24 kg
•calves 12 kg
•milk cows produce the most manure at 62 kg per day, which is 10 percent of the weight of an average cow.
Pigs, including weaners, sows, boars and market hogs, produce much smaller amounts of manure at one to four kg per day.
Poultry are responsible for the least amount of manure, with each bird producing less than one kg of manure per day.