Chicory Mops Up After Turkey Litter
Chicory may be just the plant to clean up nutrients leached from turkey
litter compost used to fertilize pastures.
"Turkey litter is the nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich manure cleaned from
turkey houses along with the wood shavings used as bedding," says
agronomist David P. Belesky. "When spread at high rates, it looks like
chipboard on the ground."
Sometimes, however, there are more nutrients in that litter than plants can
use, and this may pose problems for water quality.
"We're finding that chicory could be a biological sponge that soaks up
the excess nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil," says Belesky, who
is based at ARS' Appalachian Farming
Systems Research Center in Beaver, West Virginia.
For the past 4 years, Belesky and colleagues have been testing three
varieties of chicoryGrasslands Puna, Forage Feast, and Lacertaon
Appalachian pastures. They want to see whether the chicory can boost cattle and
sheep production, as well as catch excess nutrients and improve marginal soil.
"Chicory has a big taproot, like a parsnip or carrot. This taproot
could break up soil layers that block other roots," says Belesky.
The taproot may also help the plant go deep for water, which would explain
in part why chicory "stayed green and leafy when most other pasture plants
stopped growing during last year's hot, dry summer."
Belesky found the chicory could keep soaking up nitrogen and respond to
commercial nitrogen fertilizer application rates as high as 424 pounds an acre.
Now he is testing composted turkey litter as fertilizer.
The tests are part of a project involving many of the lab's
scientistswith specialties ranging from plant nutrition to groundwater
qualityas well as British United Turkey of America, a turkey-production
firm with breeding operations in southern West Virginia.
Farmers often stockpile the litter in the fall and apply it to their fields
in spring. Recommended rates are under 3 tons an acre.
The only major problem with chicory grown in mixture with other pasture
plants, Belesky says, is that lambs choose the other plants before eating
Lab tests by ARS animal scientist Kenneth E. Turner led him to speculate
that the high amounts of nitrogen mopped up by the plants might cause a buildup
of compounds that temporarily retard digestive microbes in the lambs' rumens.
This concept hasn't been tested on cattle yet.
ARS chemist Joyce G. Foster is studying the chemical makeup of the chicory
plants to see whether they hold something objectionable to the lambs.
Since scientists in New Zealand have had success with Puna chicory grazed by
sheep as well as cattle, Belesky suspects climate plays a role, along with
fertilizer and management practices.
ARS hydrologist Douglas G. Boyer is analyzing soil water to be sure that
chicory isn't allowing significant amounts of nitrate to escape.
The scientists are also working with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation
Service to test chicory in the Southern West Virginia Grazinglands Program.
They see potential in chicory to provide forage in summer and increased protein
to improve per-acre production of beef and lamb.By
Don Comis, Agricultural Research
Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Grazinglands Management, an ARS National Program
described on the World Wide Web at
David P. Belesky, Kenneth
E. Turner, Joyce G. Foster, and Douglas G. Boyer are at the USDA-ARS Appalachian Farming Systems Research
Center, 1224 Airport Rd., Beaver, WV 25813-9423; phone (304) 256-2858, fax
"Chicory Mops Up After Turkey Litter " was published in the
June 1999 issue of Agricultural