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Thomas Sauer and Van Brahana assess flow dynamics of a natural spring

Managing Poultry Manure Reduces Runoff

By Tara Weaver
June 9, 1998

Adding aluminum sulfate (alum) to poultry litter decreases phosphorus runoff and improves poultry production, according to scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

More than six billion broiler chickens raised in the United States each year produce up to nine million tons of poultry litter. The litter is a mixture of chicken manure, bedding material, spilled food and feathers.

Many farmers use the litter as an inexpensive fertilizer for crops because chicken manure contains nitrogen and phosphorus, two important ingredients in fertilizer. Water that runs off fields fertilized with poultry litter may carry excess nutrients, like phosphorus, to nearby waterways, hurting water quality and aquatic life.

ARS soil chemist Philip A. Moore developed and patented a method for treating poultry litter that effectively reduces phosphorus runoff from litter.

In recent field studies, researchers added alum to poultry litter in commercial broiler houses at two farms. Then they treated fields with the litter to see how it would affect phosphorus runoff. Alum applications not only reduced phosphorus by 70 percent, but also improved feed conversion and produced heavier birds.

The patent for this process has been licensed to General Chemical of Parsippany, N.J., which is currently selling poultry-grade alum under the name Al+Clear.

ARS soil scientist Thomas J. Sauer is also studying how soil's chemical and physical properties, seasonal dynamics--such as rain or freezing temperatures--and vegetation types affect runoff.

Sauer says silty alluvial soils along streams and rivers may capture runoff and could potentially play a big role in retaining nutrients flowing down from fields at higher elevations.

Detailed information on managing poultry manure appears in the June issue of Agricultural Research magazine. The story is also on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific Contacts: Philip A. Moore, Jr. and Thomas J. Sauer, Poultry Production and Product Safety Research Unit, Fayetteville, Ark.; phone (501) 575-2654, fax (501) 575-7465,;

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