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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Livestock Nutrient Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #331398

Title: Reactive N emissions from beef cattle feedlots

item Todd, Richard
item Waldrip, Heidi
item Parker, David
item COLE, N - Retired ARS Employee

Submitted to: American Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/23/2016
Publication Date: 7/20/2016
Citation: Todd, R.W., Waldrip, H., Parker, D.B., Cole, N.A. 2016. Reactive N emissions from beef cattle feedlots. American Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting 1(2016):44.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Large amounts of nitrogen (N) are fed to meet the nutritional needs of beef cattle in feedlots. However, only from 10 to 15% of fed N is retained in animals. Most N is excreted. Chemical and biological processes transform manure N into ammonia, nitrous oxide and nitrate. These reactive forms of N (Nr) are those most readily lost into the environment. Fugitive ammonia is a precursor to particulates in the atmosphere that cause air quality problems or overburden N sensitive terrestrial ecosystems and initiate species changes and loss of diversity. Reactive N contributes to the eutrophication of surface waters and the creation of hypoxic zones in the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas with almost 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Stringent regulations to control runoff have virtually eliminated nitrate as a source of Nr from beef feelots. Direct nitrous oxide emissions from beef cattle production are only about 0.1% of the national greenhouse as inventory of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. However, animal agriculture is the major source of U.S. amonia emissions (81%), and beef cattle production contributes aout 15% to the total national ammonia emissions. Research on ammonia emisions has matured to where we have a good understanding of the pattern and magnitude of emissions. Ammonia volatilization depends on temperature, reflected in the daily and annual patterns of emission, with peak emissions during the warmest time periods. The magnitude of ammonia emissions is consistent across the cattle feeding region from Texas to Nebraska. Reported winter emissions range from 25 to 35% of fed N, while summer emissions range from 50 to 75% of fed N. Research on multiple scales shows that crude protein content of diets is a critical driver of emissions. Diets that meet guidelines for crude protein lose about 50% of fed N as ammonia. Diets with byproducts like distillers grains often exceed recommendations, with increases in ammonia emissions from 25 to 50%. Several technologies offer promises of ammonia emission mitigation, but most are expensive and hard to apply. Carefully managed cattle diets remain the most effective and practical way to limit the loss of ammonia from beef feedlots.