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Chemist Dick Pfeiffer with gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer: Link to photo information

New Device Analyzes Livestock Odors

By Dawn Lyons-Johnson
April 24, 1998

The unmistakable smell of livestock odor will wrinkle the noses of even the most hardened country folk. So it’s no surprise that as suburbia encroaches on farmland, people who haven’t previously smelled a farm are turning up their noses at livestock waste and other associated odors. That’s one reason Agricultural Research Service scientists are looking for solutions to the problem.

But how do you measure odors? ARS scientists at the National Soil Tilth Laboratory in Ames, Iowa, working with state and federal agencies and the National Pork Producers Council in Des Moines, are developing tools to measure the “stink factor” in livestock odors.

Currently, there’s no standard measure for nuisance livestock odors, nor are there scientific tools to determine when odors reach eye-watering levels. Even the human nose, which can detect many odors, can’t separate more than one or two odors in a mixture. And pungent odors like ammonia can overwhelm the sense of smell.

So the Ames-based scientists have devised a mechanical collector that can be transported to a foul-smelling site. A pump draws a specific amount of air into an absorbing tube where it’s collected. Then it’s returned to the laboratory. There, scientists analyze the sample by computer. To date, they’ve identified more than 27 different chemicals that create hog manure odors.

The results of the research may lead to improved farm management techniques to keep a smelly problem in check.

A detailed story on this research is available in the April issue of Agricultural Research magazine, the official publication of the Agricultural Research Service. The story is available on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Jerry L. Hatfield, National Soil Tilth Laboratory, Ames, Iowa, phone (515) 294-5723, fax (515) 294-8125,

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