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What is that smell? It’s poultry litter used as fertilizer

By Morgan Watts

Rowan Cooperative Extension

With the warm and nice sunny weather we had this past weekend it has me itching for vacations at the beach, more afternoons outside and fresh fruits and vegetables that will be on everyone’s table this summer.

As you are dreaming about all of this and looking forward to the warmer days, farmers are in preparation for the new growing season. Farmers are already hard at work planning and preparing their fields for planting.

As warmer weather starts to approach, you may start to notice an odd smell in the air as you pass some of the fields in the rural parts of our county. Farmers are fertilizing their fields and pastures. One of the common types of fertilizer for our area is poultry litter. In case you don’t know what that is, it is poultry manure mixed with their bedding (wood-like shavings).

Most of you have probably noticed the smell when a farmer has applied it to a field. It’s not too pleasant at first, but normally the smell is minimal and only lasts a few hours. However, in dry conditions with no rain, the smell can hang around for a couple of days.

Farmers do try to avoid spreading litter when the wind is strong or conditions are really wet, as that will increase the smell. Another thing would be a shift in the wind. The smell may get stronger if the wind shifts in the direction of your house.

The reason farmers use poultry litter is because it’s an excellent source of nutrients. Not only does it contain primary nutrients, but it also contains secondary and micronutrients. Poultry litter is used more in areas where it is easy to acquire.

It is normally a cheaper source of fertilizer than conventional for growers that are located in an area where poultry houses are close. The reason being is that it cuts down on transportation and there is extra litter to buy. Litter is a good fertilizer that can be incorporated into almost any grower’s fertilizing plan.

One of the biggest things that people seem to be worried about is breathing in the poultry litter as they drive by or in some cases, if they live near the area with litter on the fields. Farmers have their soil tested to make sure that the correct amount of litter is applied according to recommendations. Poultry farmers also have their litter tested to see if it is OK to use and to get the proper nutrients available.

Just remember that the next time you drive by a field and get a whiff of that smell not to fret. It’s just farmers giving back to the earth and working towards growing food for you and for the livestock in the world.

If you have any questions about the use of poultry litter, please contact Morgan Watts, livestock agent at Rowan County Cooperative Extension, 704-216-8970.

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