In-house composting in high-rise, caged layer facilities

Final Report for SW00-040

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2000: $60,975.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $20,325.00
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Richard Koenig
Utah State University
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Project Information

Abstract:

Composting inside high-rise, caged-layer facilities can reduce fly populations by generating temperatures above the lethal limit for fly larvae. This method of fly control has led to reduced pesticide use, and generated a product (compost) which is more marketable than fresh manure. Refinements in the technique have allowed for more precise carbon rate and turning frequency recommendations for different seasonal climates and bird ages. Atmospheric ammonia (a major consideration for bird and worker health) was shown to vary within high rise buildings and over time. Laboratory and in-house evaluations of physical and chemical controls show promise to reduce atmospheric ammonia.

Project Objectives:

1. Determine the effects of carbon rate and turning frequency on in-house composting and fly control for pullet manure;
2. Determine the effects of material moisture content on in-house composting and fly control;
3. Evaluate commercially-available amendments to reduce ammonia production during in-house composting;
4. Evaluate the economic feasibility of in-house composting relative to traditional poultry manure management practices (land application of manure, traditional outdoor composting procedures); and
5. Disseminate research results to poultry producers and assisting professionals in Utah, the Western SARE Region, and the United States.

Introduction:

In 1998, the Western U.S. accounted for 12.7% of total U.S. egg production (Figure 1; USDA, 1999). Egg production, however, is a growing industry in the West. Utah, for example, recently more than doubled the number of laying hens from 1.5 million to 3.6 million (UDAF, 1999). Manure handling, storage, and disposal is a major problem facing poultry producers throughout the United States (Buchanan and Fulford, 1992; Pitts et al., 1998; USEPA, 1999). Problems related to fly and odor control, urban encroachment, a limited nearby land base for manure disposal, and increased regulatory pressures necessitate the development of alternatives to traditional scrape, haul and spread systems for facilities. Composting of manures has provided options for other livestock producers, including reduced odor and fly problems, reduced manure volume and moisture content, and creation of a more uniform and marketable product (Buchanan and Fulford, 1992; Rynk, 1992).
A recent development in poultry manure management is the advent of in-house composting in high-rise, caged layer facilities (Pitts et al., 1998; Miner et al., 2000). Initial research indicates that the addition of a carbon source coupled with aeration of manure within layer houses can generate high temperature and low moisture conditions which inhibit fly reproduction (Pitts et al., 1998; Miner et al., 2000). This process offers promising solutions to common problems faced by egg producers. Since manure can be treated within the layer facility odors associated with manure handling are minimized, fly control can be achieved with heat thereby reducing the need for pesticides, and a more marketable and higher value product can be produced which greatly reduces the need for a nearby land base for manure disposal.
In-house composting is a relatively new process and option for manure management in high-rise layer facilities. After learning of the process from Eastern U.S. producers, three Utah egg producers initiated in-house composting programs. These family-run farms have experienced common problems related to fly and odor control, urban encroachment, and a shrinking land base for manure disposal. The facilities initially had varied success with in-house composting. Questions related to the type and amount of carbon source required, turning frequencies, ammonia control, and other operational parameters for birds of different ages and at different times of the year were presented. Only one refereed paper had been published on the in-house process (Pitts et al., 1998), and this was for Eastern U.S. (Pennsylvania) conditions. Therefore, facility owners contacted Utah State University for assistance and a series of in-house composting trials was initiated. The initial results of these trials have been published (Miner et al., 2000); however, many questions remain to be answered and operational parameters need to be developed for in-house composting. Therefore, the goal of this project is to build upon our initial research with in-house composting and address specific questions related to in-house compost management. Developing operational parameters for in-house composting will allow poultry producers to better evaluate the process for possible adoption.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Bruce Miller
  • Dean Miner

Research

Materials and methods:

Bud Shepherd and Sons Poultry is a 330,000 layer hen operation in central Utah. The Shepherds began in-house composting in 1997. After experiencing problems with low compost temperatures and inadequate fly control they contacted Utah State University for assistance. A series of in-house composting trails was initiated at the Shepherd farm in 1998. These trials were the subject of one journal article (Miner et al., 2000). The Shepherds have agreed to continue to cooperate on the work proposed below. The objectives described here are the result of questions the Shepherds and other Utah egg producers have raised after implementing the in-house process on their farms. The Shepherds currently practice in-house composting in three high-rise structures. These buildings are a standard high-rise construction and will allow several trials to be conducted simultaneously.

Objective 1. Determine the effects of carbon rate and turning frequency on in-house composting and fly control for pullet manure.

Approach. Two, six-week composting trials will be conducted in a building housing pullets. Two carbon (straw) rates (1.9 kg/m2 and 9.5 kg/m2) and two turning frequencies (two days/week and four days/week) will be evaluated in a factorial design with four replications per treatment. The 1.9 kg straw/m2 carbon rate and two day/week turning frequency has become the standard for in-house composting of layer manure, but this rate failed for pullets (Miner et al., in press; Figure 4). The higher rate of carbon and turning frequency will be evaluated to determine if more intensive management can maintain higher compost temperatures for fly control in pullet manure.
Compost temperatures will be measured at one hour intervals with a HOBO brand temperature data logger connected to an external thermocouple. Weekly compost samples will be collected from each treatment and analyzed for moisture, carbon and nitrogen content, and carbon/nitrogen ratio. To evaluate fly control in the treatments, weekly compost samples will be collected from each treatment and frozen. Third instar house fly larvae (maggots) will be determined by thawing the samples, submerging them in water, and counting larvae detached by flotation (Pitts et al., 1998).

Objective 2. Determine the effects of material moisture content on in-house composting and fly control.

Approach. Two, six-week trials will be conducted in buildings housing layers to evaluate higher carbon rates during winter composting (December-February; Trial 1) when excess manure moisture is a problem, and adding supplemental water in summer composting (July - September; Trial 2) when excessive drying normally occurs. Two carbon (straw) rates (1.9 kg/m2 and 9.5 kg/m2) and two turning frequencies (two days/week and four days/week) will be evaluated in a factorial design with four replications per treatment during a winter composting cycle. A single carbon rate (1.9 kg/m2) with two moisture treatments (control and moisture addition) will be evaluated with four replications during a summer composting cycle. Moisture will be added based on the measured moisture content of weekly compost samples to increase moisture content to 50-60% by weight. Data collection (temperature, moisture, carbon, fly control) will be the same as for Objective 1.

Objective 3. Evaluate commercially-available amendments to reduce ammonia production during in-house composting.

Approach. Two commercially-available odor control amendments will be evaluated for ammonia reduction during in-house composting: inorganic aluminum sulfate and a zeolite-based ammonia absorber. These products will be applied at rates recommended by the manufacturer/supplier in two separate buildings housing layers. Standard rates of carbon (1.9 kg/m2) and turning frequencies will be used and a control (no ammonia-reducing amendment; third building) will also be included in the evaluation. These buildings are similar and will be managed identically with the exception of the amendment during the ammonia control trial. There will be four replications of each treatment with replications occurring over time (one week/replication). We have adapted a method (Bremner and Mulvaney, 1982) to quantitatively compare ammonia production by capturing ammonia gas in a pH 5.2 boric acid solution containing a methyl red indicator. Ammonia dissolving into solution raises the pH of the boric acid. The amount of ammonia captured is then determined by back-titrating the boric acid with standardized acid to pH 5.0. One-hundred boric acid vials will be placed in a grid pattern throughout each building. After one week (one replication), vials will be replaced with fresh boric acid traps. The spatial distribution of ammonia as well as total ammonia captured will be compared among treatments.

Objective 4. Evaluate the economic feasibility of in-house composting relative to traditional poultry manure management practices (land application of manure, traditional outdoor composting procedures).

Approach. Partial budget analysis will be used to compare changes in expenses and income resulting from the implementation of in-house composting on the Shepherd farm. Traditionally, the Shepherds applied fresh poultry manure to area agricultural fields at no charge. Since converting to in-house composting they have been able to sell all of the compost produced to area homeowners and landscapers. A comparison will also be made to a traditional outdoor poultry manure composting operation where manure is removed from the high-rise structure and composted outdoors. Resulting budget sheets will be used by other producers to project the economic impact of in-house composting on their operations.

Objective 5. Disseminate research results to poultry producers and assisting professionals in Utah, the Western SARE Region, and the United States.

Approach. We anticipate that the research from this project will result in four refereed journal articles. These results will be disseminated to poultry professionals primarily in the Journal of Applied Poultry Research (a producer-oriented publication). As little information is available on in-house composting, and we are conducting some of the first research on the process in the Western U.S., we plan to publish a series of Extension bulletins on the process. These bulletins will be published in electronic format and be housed on the Utah State University Extension web page. In addition, we anticipate developing a Western U.S. in-house composting web page housing all of the research trial results and Extension publications. Finally, we propose to conduct two annual field days to exhibit the process and research results.

Research results and discussion:

Objective 1
Two in-house composting trials were completed to evaluate the effect of carbon rate and turning frequency on composting success (indicated by the ability to achieve target temperatures ≥43o C, the lethal limit for fly larvae). Trials indicated that initial carbon rates of 1.9 kg/m2 are adequate to achieve the target temperature as long as material was turned at least once every three days during early stages of composting. Material volume increased linearly over time, but critical volumes of 0.18 m3/m windrow were required to consistently achieve temperatures ≥43o C on the day of turning. We determined that this volume could be achieved by either initially adding the appropriate amount of bulking agent, or by leaving a portion of the compost from a previous cycle (“starter”) in the house at clean out. These data are presented in the Miner et al. (2001) paper, and summarized in Figs 2 through 7.

Objective 2
Initial trials demonstrated the importance of turning frequency to maintain high compost temperatures. Both wheat straw and sawdust were effective as bulking agents and a regular (every 2 to 3 days) turning frequency was essential to maintain high in-house compost temperatures in layer manure. In-house composting with pullet manure was generally unsuccessful due to the higher moisture content of pullet compared to layer manure. These results are summarized in Miner et al., 2000 and in figures 8 and 9. Two additional trials were completed evaluating the effects of turning frequency (3 or 6 days/week) and carbon rate (1x or 2x standard rates) on composting with young bird (pullet) manure. Results indicated that increased turning frequency could be used to accelerate pullet manure drying and increase compost temperatures, but that doubling the rate of carbon was less effective.

Objective 3
In all of the studies referenced above, the C/N ratio of composting material remained constant at approximately 12/1 throughout a cycle (Miner et al., 2000, 2001; Figure 9). Composting at these low C/N ratios generated high levels of ammonia within the poultry facilities. While no reductions in egg production or increases in bird mortality were measured in these studies, high ammonia levels were a concern expressed by the cooperators on this research. High in-house ammonia concentrations were a greater concern during winter when the use of ventilation fans is limited by the need to maintain temperatures inside the laying facility.

Initial efforts to control atmospheric ammonia were focused on documenting the spatial and temporal variability of ammonia inside high-rise facilities during composting. Atmospheric ammonia levels were shown to vary spatially within the buildings, with higher concentrations found near the center of the building away from ventilation fans (Figure 10). Concentrations frequently exceed 25 ppm NH3 (the upper limit for long term exposure of facility workers or birds) in the manure storage area (Figure 12). However, atmospheric ammonia concentrations were approximately 50% lower in the cage area (data not presented). Over time, atmospheric ammonia varied considerably, with spikes occurring immediately after a compost turning event and lasting for < 60 minutes (Figure 12). Over time as manure accumulated and compost volumes increased, basal atmospheric ammonia levels increased (Figure 11). Laboratory studies on amendments to reduce ammonia. In order to rapidly evaluate amendments to reduce ammonia volatilization we developed a laboratory incubation procedure to simulate in-house composting conditions and monitor ammonia production from the compost. A fixed amount of poultry manure is incubated at a constant temperature of 50 oC and moisture content of 50% on a dry weight basis. Replicated amendment treatments are added at various rates to separate bottles. A 10 ml boric acid trap vial is included in each bottle, and each unit is sealed with a 1.15 ml plastic sheet. Boric acid vials are replaced at 3 day intervals. The incubating material is agitated manually at this time to simulate the process of aeration under in-house composting conditions. The boric acid vials are titrated to determine ammonia captured, and the amount of ammonia captured expressed over time for each incubation period. We initially evaluated the effect of aluminum sulfate (Al2(SO4)3 • nH2O) amended at rates ranging from 0 to 100 g kg-1 manure. The amount of ammonia captured in boric acid vials increased with the duration of incubation (Figure 13). Aluminum sulfate at rates ≥30 g kg-1 manure reduced the amount of ammonia captured by 65% compared to lower aluminum sulfate rates or the control during the last 3 day incubation segment. The laboratory incubation method seemed to work well for evaluating the effects of aluminum sulfate rates on ammonia volatilization from poultry manure incubated under simulated in-house composting conditions. A second laboratory trial was conducted to determine if gypsum (calcium sulfate, CaSO4 • 2H2O) or calcium chloride (CaCl2) would also reduce ammonia volatilization from incubating poultry manure. A control (manure alone), two rates of gypsum (40 and 120 g kg-1 manure), and two rates of calcium chloride (20 and 40 g kg-1 manure) were compared at 3 day intervals for a total of 12 days (Figure 14). As in the first trial, the amount of ammonia captured increased with the duration of the incubation. Both gypsum and calcium chloride reduced the amount of ammonia captured; however, calcium chloride was more effective than gypsum. The high rate of calcium chloride (40 g kg-1 manure) was also as effective as 30 g aluminum sulfate kg-1 manure in reducing ammonia captured (Figures 13 and 14). These laboratory trials indicate a potential for aluminum sulfate, gypsum, and calcium chloride to reduce ammonia volatilization from in-house composting poultry manure. However, these results are preliminary and further evaluation of these and other amendments both under laboratory conditions and in poultry facilities is warranted. Initial evaluation of chemical amendments in poultry houses during a composting cycle produced mixed results (Figure 15 and 16). Results showed some tendency for chemical amendments to reduce ammonia evolution at certain times during the composting cycle (Figure 15). However, results were not consistent. More detailed sampling showed considerable variability along a treated windrow segment in ammonia evolution (Figure 15), due apparently to inadequate mixing of the amendment with the compost. At the end of a compost cycle manure sampling show higher nitrogen concentrations in manure treated with aluminum sulfate than untreated manure, suggesting that less nitrogen was volatilized from this treatment. Objective 4: A complete evaluation of the economic feasibility of in-house composting compared to traditional manure handling practices is scheduled for 2002. Some economic data has already been provided by the producer-cooperators. They report that the cost savings associated with reduced pesticide use to control flies nearly equals the cost of composting (capital and equipment maintenance costs, labor costs). In addition, the compost is a more marketable product than fresh manure. More farmers and homeowners are willing to accept and/or pay for in-house produced compost. The in-house composting process and product has reduced complaints lodged to local health departments about fly problems. Objective 5: To date, results have been disseminated through three professional articles (Journal of Applied Poultry Research, Compost Science and Utilization, and American Society of Agricultural Engineers), two professional meetings and abstracts, and several individual consultations with poultry producers throughout the U.S. Contacts have also been received and information provided to producers in several Midwestern U.S. states, and several European countries. At least three additional research manuscripts are planned before the end of this project. We are also considering enhancing the information dissemination aspect of this project by developing an in-house composting manual for egg producers. References
Al-Mashhadani, E.H. and M.M Beck. 1985. Effect of atmospheric ammonia on the surface ultrastructure of the lung and trachea of broiler chicks. Poul. Sci. 64:2056-2061.
Barnard, D.R., and R.H. Harms. 1992. Growth and survival of house flies (Diptera: Muscidae) in response to selected physical and chemical properties of poultry manure. J. Econ. Entomol. 85:1213-1217.
Bremner, J.M. and C.S. Mulvaney. 1982. Nitrogen – Total. Chapter 31 In A.L. Page (Ed) Methods of Soil Analysis Part II. Chemical and Microbiological Properties. American Society of Agronomy Monograph 9.
Buchanan, M. and B. Fulford. 1992. California egg ranch solves manure problem. Biocycle, March, pp 56-57.
Carlile, F.S. 1984. Ammonia in poultry houses: A literature review. World’s Poultry Sci. J. 40:99-113.
Elwell, D.L., H.M. Keener, D.S. Carey and P.P. Schlak. 1998. Composting unamended chicken manure. Compost Science and Utilization 6:22-35.
Fenn, L.B. and D.E. Kissel. 1973. Ammonia volatilization from surface applications of ammonium compounds on calcareous soils: I. General theory. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 37:855-859.
Fenn, L.B. and S. Miyamoto. 1981. Ammonia loss and associated reactions of urea in calcareous soils. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 45:537-540.
Fenn, L.B. and L.R. Hossner. 1985. Ammonia volatilizationf rom ammonium or ammonium-forming nitrogen fertilizers. Adv. Soil Sci. 1:1123-169.
Lysyk, T.J. and R.C. Axtell. 1987. A simulation model of house fly (Diptera: Muscidae) development in poultry manure. Can. Ent. 119:427-437.
Miner, F.D., R.T. Koenig and B.E. Miller. 2000. In-house composting in high-rise layer facilities. J. Appl. Poultry Res. 9:162-171.
Miner, F.D., R.T. Koenig and B.E. Miller. The influence of bulking material type and volume on in-house composting in high rise, caged layer facilities. Compost Sci. Util. 9:50-59.
Moore, P.A., T.C. Daniel, D.R. Edwards and D.M. Miller. 1995. Effect of chemical amendments on volatilization from poultry litter. J. Environ. Qual. 24:293-300.
Moore, P.A., T.C. Daniel, D.R. Edwards and D.M. Miller. 1996. Evaluation of chemical amendments to reduce ammonia volatilization from poultry litter. Poultry Sci. 75:315-320.
Moore, P.A., T.C. Daniel and D.R. Edwards. 2000. Reducing phosphorus runoff and inhibiting ammonia loss from poultry manure with aluminum sulfate. J. Environ. Qual. 29:37-49.
Nakaue, H.S. J.K. Koelliker. 1981. Studies with clinoptilolite in poultry. I. Effect of feeding varying leels of clinoptilolite (zeolite) to dwarf single comb white Leghorn pullets and ammonia production. Poultry Sci. 60:944-949.
Perrin, T.S., J.L. Boettinger, D.T. Drost and J.M. Norton. 1998. Decreasing nitrogen leaching from sandy soil with ammonium-loaded clinoptilolite. J. Environ. Qual. 27:656-663.
Pitts, C.W., P.C. Tobin, B. Weidenboerner, P.H. Patterson and E.S. Lorenz. 1998. In-house composting to reduce larval house fly, Musca domestica L., populations. J. Appl. Poultry Res. 7:180-188.
Rynk, R. (Ed.). 1992. On-Farm Composting Handbook. NRAES 54. Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service, Ithaca, New York.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. 1999. Unified Strategy for Addressing Environmental and Public Health Impacts from Animal Feeding Operations. USEPA, Washington, D.C.
United States Department of Agriculture. 1999. Chickens and Eggs - Final Estimates. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Web address: www.usda.gov/nass.
Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. 1999. Utah Agricultural Statistics. Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Watson, K. 1999. Too much of a good thing? Dairy Herd Management. May. Pp 22,24.

Witter, E. and J. Kirchmann. 1989. Effects of addition of calcium and magnesium salts on ammonia volatilization during manure decomposition. Plant and Soil 115:53-58.
Zia, M.S., M. Aslam, Rahmatullah, M. Arshad and T. Ahmed. 1999. Ammonia volatilization from nitrogen fertilizers with and without gypsum. Soil Use and Management 15:133-135.

Research conclusions:
Impact of Results/Outcomes

All livestock producers are under increasing pressure to manage manure properly. In addition, many poultry facilities are located in areas with increasing urban encroachment. In-house composting offers benefits of reduced pesticide use to control flies, reduced fly problems, increased manure marketability, and reduced manure volume and moisture content. Adoption of in-house composting by the egg industry has been rapid. At the beginning of this research only one egg producer in Utah (Shepherd Egg Farm) was practicing in-house composting. Mid way through this research, three out of the four egg producers in Utah were composting indoors, and a fourth facility was composting outdoors. In addition, egg producers in Idaho and Arizona have begun in-house composing. Since completing this work one operator has switched to outdoor composting for enhanced market opportunities. Widespread adoption of in-house composting process is taken as an indication of the impact of this work.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

2 Peer reviewed journal articles (copied attached)
Miner, F.D., R.T. Koenig and B.E. Miller. 2001. The influence of bulking material type and volume on in-house composting in high-rise, caged layer facilities. Compost Science and Utilization 9:50-59.

Miner, F.D., R.T. Koenig and B.E. Miller. 2000. In-house composting in high-rise layer facilities. J. Applied. Poultry Research. 9:162-171.

1 Proceedings article (copy attached)
Miller, B.E., R.T. Koenig and F.D. Miner. 2001. Managing in-house composting within a high-rise layer facility. Paper no. 01-2264 of the American Society of Agriculture Engineers, July 30-August 1 Annual Meeting.

2 Abstracts
Miner, F.D. and R.T. Koenig. 2000. Composting inside high-rise layer houses. Abstract published for the 2000 Utah Nonpoint Source Water Quality Conference, July 18-19, Logan, Utah.

Miner, D., R. Koenig and B. Miller. 1999. In-house composting in high-rise, caged-layer facilities. P. 295 in Agronomy Abstracts. ASA, Madison, WI.

Other - Three additional refereed journal articles are in preparation from this work.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

A comprehensive comparison of in-house composting compared to conventional, outdoor windrow composting is in progress. This element of the project is being conducted by Dean Miner and was facilitated by the cooperators decision to switch from in-house composting to outdoor composting for biosecurity and market reasons.

Ammonia control has previously been studied in poultry facilities (Moore et al., 2000). In this study, aluminum sulfate was shown to reduce ammonia volatilization under static (non-aerated) manure conditions. The ability of aluminum sulfate and other previously-tested amendments to reduce ammonia volatilization under conditions of regular aeration common during in-house composting has not been tested. Furthermore, aluminum sulfate is a relatively expensive amendment for ammonia control. The local price for standard grade aluminum sulfate in Utah is $0.23 per pound. Based on this price the cost of aluminum sulfate used at referenced rates (Moore et al., 2000) would be approximately $0.05 bird-1 year-1. This is a significant annual cost.

Other, lower-cost amendments may be available to reduce ammonia volatilization from poultry manure. For example, naturally-occurring zeolites, which have a high affinity for ammonium, can trap ammonium and thereby reduce gaseous loss (Carlile, 1984). Research from soil science indicates that other amendments such as gypsum (Zia et al., 1999) and more soluble sources of calcium (Fenn and Hossner, 1985) reduce ammonia volatilization from ammonium-based fertilizers applied to alkaline-calcareous soils. Preliminary work conducted in a laboratory setting showed that chloride salts of calcium and magnesium also reduced ammonia volatilization from decomposing poultry manure (Witter and Kirchmann, 1989). Gypsum and chloride salts are readily available in the arid western U.S. and, if effective, would provide lower-cost options for reducing ammonia volatilization from poultry manure during in-house composting.

Farmer Adoption

In-house composting offers benefits of reduced pesticide use to control flies, reduced fly problems, increased manure marketability, and reduced manure volume and moisture content. Adoption of in-house composting by the egg industry has been rapid. At the beginning of this research only one egg producer in Utah (Shepherd Egg Farm) was practicing in-house composting. Now, three out of the four egg producers in Utah are composting indoors, and the fourth facility is composting outdoors. In addition, egg producers in Idaho and Arizona have begun in-house composing. Widespread adoption of in-house composting process is taken as an indication of the impact of this work.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

In-house composting offers benefits of reduced pesticide use to control flies, reduced fly problems, increased manure marketability, and reduced manure volume and moisture content. Adoption of in-house composting by the egg industry has been rapid. At the beginning of this research only one egg producer in Utah (Shepherd Egg Farm) was practicing in-house composting. Now, three out of the four egg producers in Utah are composting indoors, and the fourth facility is composting outdoors. In addition, egg producers in Idaho and Arizona have begun in-house composing. Widespread adoption of in-house composting process is taken as an indication of the impact of this work.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.