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By Manure, PLANT & SOIL NUTRITION No Comments

Dung and urine are rich in plant nutrients, and clear evidence of this is the accelerated pasture growth where these products are deposited. Each animal is in a sense a “fertilizer spreader”, and farm management practices need to take this into account in order to make the best use of these nutrients and to avoid unnecessary expenditure on fertilizer and lime. Nutrients in dung and urine The feed consumed by animals – be it pasture, hay, silage, TMR or concentrates – is rich in plant nutrients. Only small proportions of these nutrients are used for meat and milk production, with the remainder being excreted in the dung and urine. In the case of dairy cows on pasture, the approximate percentages of N, P and K excreted are shown in Table 1. The total amounts of nutrients excreted by a cow in a year are considerable (Table 2), with the amounts of nitrogen and potassium being the largest. Attaching a rand value to these nutrients underlines the economic significance of the recycling process. It should, of course, be borne in mind that the monetary value reported in Table 2 does not include that of the secondary nutrients, sulphur, calcium and magnesium, or of micronutrients such as zinc, copper, manganese and boron. And there is also the value of the dung in terms of its contributions to soil health (through improving soil organic matter levels, soil structure and biological health). Why the high fertilizer requirements on livestock farms? Given that the removal of plant nutrients from the farm in milk and meat is minimal, why is there an ongoing need for such large amounts of fertilizer in typical livestock operations? In the case of nitrogen, there is a partial explanation, in that large amounts of this nutrient may be lost by leaching from the rooting zone and by volatilization to the air from urine patches. But phosphorus and potassium are not lost in these ways, and one would expect long-term fertilizer requirements for these nutrients to be low on intensive livestock farms. The principal reason for the ongoing high requirement for fertilizers is that because of the movements of animals and feeds, nutrients get depleted from certain areas of the farm and concentrated in other areas. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at nutrient flows in a typical pasture-based dairy-farming operation (which includes silage and/or hay-making). On a farm of this kind, because of the movements of animals and feeds, there are large-scale flows of nutrients from one area to another. These flows are illustrated in the diagram, and result in a concentration of nutrients in areas where animals spend significant amounts of time and are fed (shown in blue), and a depletion of nutrients in more distant areas (yellow), and in particular in those areas in which feed is grown and removed. Plant nutrients are, of course, brought into the system in the form of fertilizers, lime and purchased feeds. Similar nutrient flows occur on intensive beef and sheep operations….

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