A Texas A&M AgriLife researcher is advising feedyard managers to begin their spring manure harvesting or dust mitigation practices sooner than later as 2018 is beginning to look like 2011 did in Texas and surrounding areas.
“We are incredibly dry, and the upcoming dust season is going to be brutal if we don’t get some rain or snow,” said Dr. Brent Auvermann, Texas A&M AgriLife Research & Extension Center director and air quality researcher in Amarillo, Texas.
As the dust season begins, Auvermann said the number-one strategy for feedyards, whether they are equipped with a sprinkler system or not, is to keep the uncompacted manure inventory at a practical minimum on the feedyard surface.
“Keep the manure from blowing, keep the neighbors happy and capture this valuable fertilizer before it is contaminated with water,” he advised.
Feedyards typically harvest manure twice a year: once before any winter moisture falls, and then Auvermann said he generally advises that the second harvest be completed by May 1. This year, however, it needs to occur earlier, he said.
“We want to remind feedyard managers that if they haven’t already started harvesting manure, they should now, and you want to do it before turning on sprinkler systems if you have them,” Auvermann said.
The last significant moisture in Amarillo fell in mid-October, according to the National Weather Service.
Auvermann said the lack of moisture has left no opportunity at all for the cattle to compact the pen surfaces, which have dried manure lying on top that was pulverized by the hoof action.
He said the effort should include more than just “scraping pens.”
“We’re talking about collecting the dry, nearly pure manure that lies uncompacted on the pen surfaces,” Auvermann said. “We’re not talking about scalping the pens or peeling off a layer of the material that has already compacted in place. If it’s already compacted in place, we want to leave it there.
“It’s the dry, uncompacted stuff floating on top that turns into feedyard dust,” he added.
Auvermann said collecting it now costs less in diesel fuel and labor per pound of collected material, “if it is done right.”
In pens where the uncompacted manure is deep, box blades will fill rapidly, and manure will quickly begin to spill out the front corners, he said. Plan the path to empty as the box blade fills, dropping it at the back of the pen in a mound that can be watered for compaction or loaded out into manure trucks.
“Even feedyards with watering capability will waste water and play catch-up all summer long if they don’t get the uncompacted manure cleaned off before any water falls on it,” Auvermann said. “By the same logic, just building a pile at the back of the pens but not watering it and compacting it in place — or, alternatively, not loading it out to manure trucks — will waste a lot of diesel, equipment time and labor.”
That material also happens to have the highest fertilizer value, which makes it a superb phosphorus source for irrigated crops, he said, adding that “this manure matches up pretty nicely with cotton’s nitrogen and phosphorus needs.”
One plus, Auvermann said, is that the drier the harvested manure is, the more nutrients per ton will be on the truck.
“Because manure hauling is paid for on the actual weight, including water and soil, hauling costs per acre are much lower with the pure, dry, nutrient-dense stuff,” he said.