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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 34 No. 2, p. 644-655
    Received: Mar 18, 2004

    * Corresponding author(s): miller@email.marc.usda.gov
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Cattle Feedlot Soil Moisture and Manure Content

  1. Daniel N. Miller * and
  2. Elaine D. Berry
  1. USDA-ARS, U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, P.O. Box 166, Clay Center, NE 68933-0166


Beef cattle feedlots face serious environmental challenges associated with manure management, including greenhouse gas, odor, NH3, and dust emissions. Conditions affecting emissions are poorly characterized, but likely relate to the variability of feedlot surface moisture and manure contents, which affect microbial processes. Odor compounds, greenhouse gases, nitrogen losses, and dust potential were monitored at six moisture contents (0.11, 0.25, 0.43, 0.67, 1.00, and 1.50 g H2O g−1 dry matter [DM]) in three artificial feedlot soil mixtures containing 50, 250, and 750 g manure kg−1 total (manure + soil) DM over a two-week period. Moisture addition produced three microbial metabolisms: inactive, aerobic, and fermentative at low, moderate, and high moisture, respectively. Manure content acted to modulate the effect of moisture and enhanced some microbial processes. Greenhouse gas (CO2, N2O, and CH4) emissions were dynamic at moderate to high moisture. Malodorous volatile fatty acid (VFA) compounds did not accumulate in any treatments, but their persistence and volatility varied depending on pH and aerobic metabolism. Starch was the dominant substrate fueling both aerobic and fermentative metabolism. Nitrogen losses were observed in all metabolically active treatments; however, there was evidence for limited microbial nitrogen uptake. Finally, potential dust production was observed below defined moisture thresholds, which were related to manure content of the soil. Managing feedlot surface moisture within a narrow moisture range (0.2–0.4 g H2O g−1 DM) and minimizing the accumulation of manure produced the optimum conditions that minimized the environmental impact from cattle feedlot production.

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