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Environmental Impacts of In-House Windrow Composting of Broiler Litter Prior to Land Application in Subtropical/Semi-Arid Conditions

R. Daren Harmel, Craig Coufal, Scott Winkler, Eddie A. Caraway, Terry Gentry, Jason Lee
Applied engineering in agriculture 2014 v.30 no.3 pp. 423-433
Escherichia coli, bacteria, composted manure, detection limit, environmental impact, heat treatment, humans, land application, odor compounds, odor emissions, odors, olfactometry, poultry manure, runoff, semiarid zones, smell, water content, water quality, windrow composting, Texas
Land application to crop and pasture land is a commonly-applied and effective method of utilizing the resource value of poultry litter. In-house windrow composting of litter is an emerging management practice with the potential to mitigate water quality and nuisance odor concerns associated with land application, but few studies have evaluated these effects. The present study was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of in-house windrow composting to reduce litter bacteria concentrations, improve runoff water quality, and mitigate nuisance odors relative to fresh litter. Results related to bacterial reductions were not definitive due to extremely low Escherichia coli (E. coli) counts in fresh litter prior to in-house windrow composting, which is attributed to dry litter conditions. Likely due to low litter moisture and less than full heating of the windrowed litter, few differences in litter properties or in runoff water quality were observed. In terms of nuisance odor, human monitors reported higher odorant concentrations from the in-house windrow composted litter site, but they noted that the fresh litter application site had a more offensive “manure” smell. Analysis of sorbent tubes also produced inconclusive results related to odor mitigation. Laboratory-based olfactometry, however, determined that the odor detection threshold was almost twice as high (odors were twice as strong) for fresh litter compared to in-house windrow composted litter. In spite of the low moisture content of litter in this study, in-house windrowing of litter prior to land application does appear to have the potential to be an effective litter management practice in terms of environmental impacts, especially reduction of nuisance odors in the subtropical to semi-arid climate of Central Texas. This potential benefit complements other possible benefits such as reduction in food borne pathogens and poultry disease.