Poultry litter a great pasture nutrient or a deadly stock hazard?

It’s that time of the year in the district when livestock producers are starting to fertilise their pastures with poultry manure or litter. Poultry litter typically consists of waste from poultry sheds consisting of manure, bedding material and water.

“Poultry litter can be an economical way to fertilise your pastures with the phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium in the product all available to help boost your pasture yield.” said South East Local Land Services Sr Agricultural Advisor, Jo Powells.

“However, careful consideration and planning needs to be carried out prior to its use including arranging for the safe storage of the litter, identifying the timing and application rates of the product and pasture management considerations”.

The key points to remember when using poultry litter are:

  • Fence off litter stockpiles – livestock should never have direct access to the poultry litter.
  • Unfertilised vegetation buffers need to be left around watercourses to prevent contamination.
  • Take into consideration potential odour and dust impacts both on-farm and to neighbouring properties.
  • Apply to pastures when they are actively growing and at rates to meet the nutrient demands of the pasture (a soil test will help determine this).
  • Always wait at least 3 weeks before allowing livestock to graze pasture that has been fertilised with poultry litter.
  • If cutting silage from a paddock where poultry litter has been applied, waiting until the second regrowth period to cut for silage is the safest option to reduce pathogen contamination of the silage.

Whilst there are plenty of advantages in using poultry manure on pastures, direct interactions between livestock and the poultry litter can be a significant problem.

“If used incorrectly, poultry litter has the potential to be a deadly stock hazard, contributing to stock illness and death from botulism, salmonella and clostridial diseases,” said South East Local Land Services District Veterinarian, Evelyn Walker.

“I have seen devastating outbreaks of botulism when hungry stock had access to poultry litter.

Poultry litter may also contain feathers, dead birds or other bird parts. This feeding practice as well as permitting access to it, is illegal as it contains restricted animal material (RAM).

“Obvious bird tissue or feathers should be removed before spreading litter on pastures. This will also reduce the risk of botulism in grazed stock. In addition, botulism and other clostridial diseases are easily prevented with vaccination.”

Producers can check out the latest best practice guidelines from DPI NSW. (www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pastures-and-rangelands/establishment-mgmt/soils-fertilisers-manures/poultry-litter).

Producers with any questions or concerns about livestock health or pasture management should contact their local agronomist, private veterinarian or their South East Local Land Services Office, 1300 795 299.


Media contact: Dave Michael, Local Land Services, 0418 513 880

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