What is the Current Nutrient Value of Broiler Litter?

According to USDA-NASS, the southern region accounts for over 75% of the broiler production in the United States.  This provides an excellent opportunity for row crop producers to utilize broiler litter as an alternative to commercial fertilizer.  With commercial fertilizers reaching record prices and broiler litter abundantly available, understanding the economic value of broiler litter going into the 2022 growing season is critical for making nutrient management decisions.  The value of broiler litter will vary greatly depending on management practices (when applied, how it is applied, and to what crop), nutrient content of the litter, soil test data, and commercial fertilizer prices. 

Spring application right before a light rain or incorporating after application maximizes plant-available nutrients resulting in the maximum economic value of broiler litter.  However, buyers who do not measure litter for nutrient content before an application can face economic and environmental risks.  Unlike commercial fertilizer, broiler litter will vary in nutrient content depending on the timing and length between cleanout, type of cleanout (de-crusting or full), in-house litter management, bedding material, and feed mix differences between broiler companies.  Over 700 broiler litter samples submitted for analysis were evaluated to look at the range of nutrient content.  Like soil samples, broiler litter samples are sent to labs for nutrient analysis and, in this case, the University of Kentucky Regulatory Services for analysis.  Table 1 provides the statistics for the broiler litter samples that were assessed.   The average nutrient content of broiler litter was 50 lbs of nitrogen (N), 56 lbs of phosphorous (P2O5), and 47 lbs of potassium (K2O) per ton of broiler litter.  For spring application of broiler litter, 50% N, 80% P2O5, and 100% K2O of the nutrients are plant available.  Therefore, the nutrients available to the crop from an average ton of broiler litter would be 20 lbs of N, 45 lbs of P2O5, and 47 lbs of K2O.  

With current fertilizer prices of $899/ton for Urea ($0.98/lb N), $834/ton for DAP ($0.52/lb P2O5), and $800/ton for potash ($0.67/lb K2O), the average expected value of broiler litter is $80/ton.  Therefore, if you can buy broiler litter and have it delivered and spread for less than $80/ton this Spring, broiler litter is a better economic option than commercial fertilizer.  Last year, with lower fertilizer prices, the nutrient value of an average ton of broiler litter was $48/ton.  But remember, broiler litter nutrient content will vary (see max and min values in Table 1).  Figure 1 applies current fertilizer prices to each broiler litter sample submitted for analysis to illustrate the range and frequency in the value of a ton of broiler litter.  Given the wide range in value, make sure you measure broiler litter for nutrient content to understand what you are receiving and avoid the risk of overpaying for broiler litter. 

Table 1. Sample statistics for the nutrient content of broiler litter samples (n=740)

 N (lbs/ton of litter)P2O5 (lbs/ton of litter)K2O (lbs/ton litter)
Minimum 742

Figure 1. Variation in value of broiler litter samples given current commercial fertilizer prices and 50% N, 80%P2O5, and 100% K2O plant available nutrients (n=740)

Shockley, Jordan. “What is the Current Nutrient Value of Broiler Litter?“. Southern Ag Today 2(8.3). February 16, 2022. Permalink