Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Clay Center, Nebraska » U.S. Meat Animal Research Center » Livestock Bio-Systems » Research » Research Project #431148

Research Project: Sustainable Management and Byproduct Utilization of Manure Nutrients and Environmental Contaminants from Beef and Swine Production Facilities

Location: Livestock Bio-Systems

2021 Annual Report

Objective 1: Determine the impact of meat animal dietary changes on manure and the environment. Sub-objective 1A: Determine if a moderate and aggressive implant strategy with and without ß-agonists reduces odorous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and GHG production from fresh and stored beef manure (Spiehs). • Sub-objective 1B: Determine if the addition of ferric citrate to beef feedlot diets reduces nutrient excretion, GHG, and odorous VOCs from fresh and stored beef manure (Spiehs). • Sub-objective 1C: Determine if the addition of an ionophore to improve feed efficiency reduces odorous VOCs and GHG production from fresh and stored beef manure (Spiehs). Objective 2: Develop practices for reducing environmental impacts of nutrients, pharmaceutical residues, gaseous emissions and other agricultural waste on soil and air quality through improved manure management and control systems. • Sub-objective 2A: Conduct a series of laboratory studies to determine the impact of within pen spatial location and climatic conditions on GHG and odorous VOCs emissions from beef feedlot pen surfaces and the effectiveness of surface amendments as a mitigant (Woodbury and Spiehs). • Sub-objective 2B: Evaluate the use of electromagnetic induction (EMI) and response surface sampling design (RSSD) as tools for predicting emission spatial variability on commercial-sized pen surfaces (Woodbury). • Sub-objective 2C: Evaluate the addition of surface amendment on commercial-sized pens for reducing odorous VOCs and GHG emissions (Woodbury and Spiehs). • Sub-objective 2D: Determine occurrence of antimicrobial resistance following land application of cattle manure to agricultural soils (Spiehs and Woodbury). • Sub-objective 2E: Determine residual steroid and ß-agonist concentrations in feces and urine of beef cattle administered a moderate and aggressive implant strategy with and without ß-agonists (Spiehs). Objective 3: Develop measurement technologies for manure contaminants that can be used for conducting field-scale fate and transport studies in crop and pasture systems. Sub-objective 3A: Develop techniques and analysis software protocols that will enable the wide-spread use of resistivity array (RA) technology by pond managers as an early-warning system for detecting unintended sub-surface discharge (Woodbury and Eigenberg). • Sub-objective 3B: Develop techniques for tracking and mapping the 2-dimentional transport of antimicrobial residues in crop and hay fields (Woodbury and Eigenberg). • Sub-objective 3C: Determine the effectiveness of flocculation for removing excreted veterinarian pharmaceuticals from beef runoff wastewater and swine-manure lagoon water (Woodbury and Spiehs).

Concentrated animal feeding operations are a source of environmental concerns, and are creating unease between livestock producers and the rural and urban communities, dependent upon livestock production. The organic, inorganic, pathogenic, and pharmaceutical residues in manure are potential sources for contamination of soil, surface and groundwater, and air quality. The multifaceted, integrated research proposed here will provide valuable information for managing the impact of manure on the environment. This work is centered on beef production and the pen surface since it is where manure is most concentrated and management can have the greatest impact. The approach begins at the pen surface by examining inputs such as diets. Experiments will investigate how inputs such as feed additives and pharmaceutical supplements alter the nutrient composition of beef manure and resulting air quality. Next, a series of experiments are planned to better understand how emission characteristics vary based on the spatial location within the pen. In addition to the spatial component, a series of studies will continue developing a database of the impact climatic conditions have on the types and amounts of emissions from pen surfaces. It is anticipated this information will provide insight for the development of precision pen surface management practices for improved environmental control. Additional experiments will examine the transport and fate of antimicrobials and nutrients through commercial-sized beef production systems. Successful completion of this work will benefit livestock producers by helping them apply best management practices and equipping them to be good stewards for sustainable agriculture.

Progress Report
This is the final report for project 3040-63000-001-00D “Sustainable Management and Byproduct Utilization of Manure Nutrients and Environmental Contaminants from Beef and Swine Production Facilities. This project will be replaced with project 3040-63000-002-00D in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021. Objective 1: Research focused on determining dietary changes on beef cattle manure and its impact on the environment. Researchers measured greenhouse gases (GHG, methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), odorous gases like ammonia (NH3), and hydrogen sulfide (H2S)) emissions and odorous volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from beef cattle manure when aggressive and moderate steroid implants strategies were used. Ammonia, H2S, CH4, and N2O were lower when an aggressive implant was used compared to a moderate implant indicating that an aggressive implant strategy may improve air quality through better nutrient utilization. Also, gaseous emissions from beef cattle manure fed diets with and without an ionophore, which improves nutrient utilization were determined. Methane and sulfide emissions were lower from cattle fed an ionophore than cattle without the additive. All other gases and odorous VOCs were similar with and without the ionophore. Finally, air quality was also assessed from beef cattle manure when beta-adrenergic agonists (BAA) were fed to cattle during the last 20 days before market. Beta-adrenergic agonists are used to repartition nutrients towards greater lean meat production and less fat deposition. The BAA were fed in combination with 0 or 30% wet distillers grains (WDG), an ethanol co-product commonly fed to beef cattle. While the inclusion of 30% WDG in cattle diets increased odorous VOCs, the addition of BAA to the diet containing WDG lowered emission of many of the VOCs. Hydrogen sulfide emission was lower from manure of cattle fed BAA than cattle not fed BAA, regardless of whether WDG was included in the diet or not. These results provide cattle producers with options for economical management practices for lower some greenhouse gases and odorous emissions. Objective 2: Research was conducted to develop practices for reducing environmental impacts of nutrients, pharmaceutical residues, gaseous emissions, and other agricultural waste on soil and air quality through improved manure management and control systems. A series of lab experiments were conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of feedlot surface amendments such as lime and alum to reduce emissions (CH4, CO2, N2O, NH3, H2S, and VOCs) from the beef feedlot surface. These studies were followed by additional evaluation of these amendments on the surface of a commercial beef feedlot. Additional work was conducted to determine the spatial variability of emissions on the feedlot surface using electromagnetic induction (EMI). In general, lab-scale studies determined 5-10% alum (g alum/g soil) effectively lowered NH3 emission for up to 14 days. Greenhouse gases were variable but H2S was higher when alum was used. The use of lime on the feedlot surface caused an immediate release of NH3 and NO2 but CO2 was suppressed when 5-10% lime was added to the feedlot surface. Research continues on the strategic use of these amendments on areas of the pen identified by EMI as areas with high emission potential. Preliminary result shows promise this approach will control emission while reducing costs. Another study was completed that demonstrated the effectiveness of EMI for identifying the movement of a pesticide in the soil profile at the field-scale. The spatial distribution of the soil contaminant transport parameters correlated strongly with EMI and could be used to predict atrazine movement. This allows EMI to be used to identify critical control points at the field-scale for mitigating off-site contaminant movement. These spatially variable transport parameters were used as inputs for a computer model to quantitatively predict spatial contaminant leaching. Combining both EMI technology with computer modeling provides researchers with additional information for developing better management practices for protecting surface and groundwater. Finally, projects were conducted to evaluate the effect of manure application on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in agricultural fields and to determine the impact of antimicrobials on soil microbial community. Beef manure amendment did not affect soil levels of resistant pathogens and indicator bacteria levels. Beef manure amendment minimally affected antimicrobial resistance gene levels. Soils receiving antimicrobials affected normal microbial respirations and nitrogen transformations. Discontinuing soil exposure to these antimicrobials allowed normal microbial function to return such as denitrification. Periodically exposing soils to livestock antimicrobials temporally changed soil microbial activities. A subtle long-term change in the microbial composition in the upper layer of the soil was observed; however, the changes for the lower soil levels were more transitory. Altering soil microbial communities can have long-term impact on soil nutrient cycles, particularly for nitrogen and possibly carbon. Taken together, these studies demonstrate that while the common U.S. Upper Midwest practice of applying beef cattle manure to land in the fall does not appear to result in significantly higher levels of the AMR tested in spring cropland soils, exposure to antimicrobials may impact soil health and productivity when manure and wastewater containing antimicrobials are repeatedly added to soil as a fertilizer amendment or irrigation water. Application of manure as a fertilizer amendment may have to consider the impact on the soil microbial communities when determining application rate and frequency. Better management of the impact on soil microbial communities will sustain soil productivities. Manure is a cost-effective fertilizer, and the ability to land apply manure without significantly increasing AMR in cropland or altering soil health is critical to economic and environmental sustainability for crop and livestock producers. Objective 3: Research developed measurement and treatment technologies for manure contaminants. First, a real-time leak detection technology was developed using resistivity arrays (RA). Features of the technology include: 1) site-calibration to tailor analysis for most geologic and geographic settings, 2) establishes statistical-based thresholds for detecting leakage, 3) allows for detection sensitivity to be scaled by the user, 4) provides a way to filter out background signal noise, and 5) provides a quantifiable framework for regulatory reporting. The technology is being used at several demonstration sites across the U.S. Also, the technology has incorporated telecommunication capabilities to alert pond managers immediately of potential problems. Second, treatment methodologies were developed to remove manure contaminants for beef wastewater. An initial study determined how antimicrobials remained on suspended solids contained in beef wastewater. Several antimicrobials partition extensively onto the suspended solids which indicated traditional flocculation, a primary wastewater treatment process, may be effective at removing. A follow up study investigated the use of flocculants at removing certain antimicrobials from wastewater at the laboratory-scale. Six different flocculants were investigated to determine how much of these antimicrobials were removed. It was determined that alum and ferric chloride were the most effective flocculants for two of the antimicrobials used extensively during beef production. However, flocculation was not effective at removing antimicrobials alone. A secondary treatment process was investigated using diatomaceous earth (DE) and was shown to be effective at binding and removing certain antimicrobials from agricultural wastewaters even under extreme conditions. The efficiency of DE for binding and removing these certain antimicrobials makes it ideal as a component for a cost-effective treatment option. Additional work is underway synthesizing organic coatings for the DE for expanding the types of antimicrobials, antimicrobial metabolites, and other endocrine disrupting contaminants removed from wastewater. The process under development is for agricultural use but can be used effectively for municipalities.

1. Composting as a treatment for reducing antibiotic resistance bacteria in beef manure. For both the winter-spring cycle and the summer-fall cycle, antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) concentrations declined below the limit of quantification rapidly in both composting piles and stockpiles. However, ARB prevalence was significantly greater in the composting piles than in the stockpiles due to the introduction of ARB from bulking agents. There was no significant change from initial and final concentrations of antibiotic resistant gene (ARG) for either manure storage treatments during the winter-spring cycle, but a significant reduction over time were observed for both the composting and stockpile during the summer-fall cycle. Results from this study suggest that (1) bulking agent may be an important source of ARB and ARGs for composting; (2) during cold months the heterogeneity of the temperature profile in composting piles could result in poor ARG reduction; (3) during warm months both stockpiling and composting can be effective in reducing ARG abundance. This study demonstrated that composting to reduce antibiotic resistance may require special considerations on both the selection of bulking agent and achieving the necessary temperature for the time required to eliminate ARB and ARG concentrations. This information will guide producers to best management plans for composting manure to reduce the propagation of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

2. Bedding material impacts air quality. A study was conducted to determine the effect on ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, greenhouse gas, and odor emissions from lab-scaled bedded packs when using four common types of bedding material (corn stover, bean stover, wheat straw, and pine wood chips). The purpose of the study was to determine which bedding material should be used in commercial beef cattle confinement facilities such as mono-slope or hoop barns that use bedded packs. Temperature was also evaluated to determine if seasonal differences were apparent between bedding materials. All emissions were higher from bedded packs housed in hot (30°C) environments compared to cooler environments (15°C) except hydrogen sulfide, which was higher in cool temperatures. Corn stover bedding produced the lowest ammonia emissions, while wheat straw produced the lowest hydrogen sulfide emissions. Based on seasonal differences, it appears that producers may be best served to use wheat straw bedding when temperatures are low because it produces less hydrogen sulfide emissions, while corn stover may be more favorable during hot months when ammonia emissions peak. This study demonstrated that choice of bedding materials can effectively reduce emissions from deep bedded barn pen surfaces used for beef production for varying seasonal temperatures.

3. The use of soil biofilters as a method for treating beef wastewater. Three horizontal flow soil biofilters (without earthworms and plants (Biofilter (BF)), with earthworms only (Vermifilter (VF)), and with earthworms and plants (Macrophyte Assisted Vermifilter (MAVF)) were evaluated for treating feedlot runoff wastewater. The MAVF biofilter was more efficient at removing organic, nitrogen, and phosphorus contaminants than the other biofilters. Plant roots, along with earthworms, create an aerobic ecosystem within the treatment filter, leading to high contaminant removal. However, observational analysis indicates using earthworms with the biofilter could be prone to clogging. This study demonstrates that soil biofilters can be used effectively to treat beef runoff wastewater but requires care to maintain hydraulic flow through the system to prevent clogging. These results provide a tool for producers and feedlot managers to effectively treat their wastewater flows reducing the potential for damaging nutrient releases into the environment.

Review Publications
Cortus, E. L., Hetchler, B. P., Spiehs, M.J., Rusche, W. C. 2021. Environmental conditions and gas concentrations in deep-pit finishing cattle facilities: A descriptive study. Transactions of the ASABE. 64(1):31-48.
Singh, R., D’Alessio, M., Meneses, Y., Bartelt-Hunt, S.L., Woodbury, B.L., Ray, C. 2021. Development and performance assessment of an integrated vermifiltration based treatment system for the treatment of feedlot runoff. Journal of Cleaner Production. 278:123355.
Jaderborg, J.P., Spiehs, M.J., Woodbury, B.L., DiCostanzo, A., Parker, D.B. 2021. Use of bedding materials in beef bedded manure packs in hot and cool ambient temperatures: Effects on ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and greenhouse gas emissions. Transactions of the ASABE. 64(4):1197-1209.
Jaderborg, J.P., Spiehs, M.J., Woodbury, B.L., DiCostanzo, A., Parker, D.B. 2021. Use of bedding materials in beef bedded manure packs at hot and cold ambient temperatures: Effects on odorous volatile organic compounds and odor activity values. Transactions of the ASABE. 64(3):843-855.
Waldrip, H., Parker, D.B., Miller, S., Miller, D.N., Casey, K.D., Todd, R.W., Min, B., Spiehs, M.J., Woodbury, B.L. 2020. Nitrous oxide from beef cattle manure: effects of temperature, water addition and manure properties on denitrification and nitrification. Atmosphere. 11:1056-1078.
Parker, D.B., Casey, K.D., Hales, K., Waldrip, H., Min, B., Cortus, E., Woodbury, B.L., Spiehs, M.J., Meyer, B.E., Willis, W.M. 2020. Toward modeling of nitrous oxide emissions following precipitation, urine and feces deposition on beef cattle feedyard surfaces. Transactions of the ASABE. 63(5):1371-1384.
Rotz, C.A., Asem-Hiablie, S., Cortus, E., Rahman, S., Spiehs, M., Rahman, S., Stoner, A. 2021. An environmental assessment of cattle manure and urea fertilizer treatments for corn production in the northern great plains. Transactions of the ASABE. 64(4):1185-1196.