Cattle manure from feedlots is a valuable organic fertilizer and soil amendment, but also a potential environmental liability. A recent manure marketing survey conducted by the University of Nebraska indicates that many cattle operations, especially larger feedyards, have difficulty finding enough cropland for distributing manure.

Keith Glewen, UNL Extension Educator, and Rick Koelsch, UNL Extension Livestock Bioenvironmental Engineer, report on the 1998 survey, which was mailed to 210 Nebraska feedyard owners. The survey was separated into six sections, titled as follows:

A. About Your Livestock Operation

B. About Users of Your Farms Manure

C. Manure Export Services Provided

D. Environmental/Nuisance Problems Encountered

E. Lessons Learned

F. Information Needs

On average, operations responding to the survey maintained an average one-time population of 5,650 animal units, which were primary finishing cattle. The average land base under the management of the operator was 1,323 acres, with a range of between 0 and 10,000 acres.

Less than 10 percent of those surveyed had sufficient land to maintain a density of less than 1 AU per acre. About half (54 percent) reported livestock to crop density between one and six AU per acre of cropland. More than one-third (36 percent) reported a density in excess of 6 AU per acre and 1 in 5 maintained a density in excess of 20 AU per acre. Typically, lots under 1,000 animal units were likely to have access to sufficient land for meeting both nitrogen and phosphorus needs.

Farms between 1,000 and 10,000 animal units had sufficient land for utilizing the nitrogen. However, a comparison of animal units per acre manured suggest that many may not be utilizing sufficient land for nitrogen management. These farms also lack sufficient land for managing
phosphorus. The largest feedlots were short on land for both nitrogen and phosphorus management.

To make up for their lack of adequate land for manure application, 80 percent of the larger operations report that they export manure. Overall, 64 percent of the respondents said they did not export manure nutrients off farm. The most common reason for not exporting, 89 percent, was that they had a sufficient land base for utilization of the manure. The next most common reason for not exporting manure off-farm, 24 percent, was that they did not have the time to spend exporting manure off-farm. Those farms that export manure have, on average, 30 animal units per available crop acre. Those who chose not to export manure have only seven animal units per available crop acre.

As for expenditures for manure collection, handling, and land application, the largest response, 37 percent, indicated that the total financial expense was between 5 percent and 9 percent of their total expenses. The next highest breakdown of responses indicated that 30 percent of operators have manure expenses that total less than 5 percent of their total operating expenses.

The most common financial management arrangements was to give manure away at no charge, 54 percent, to at least some users. More than half of the producers were charging some or all customers for manure. The most common charge, 30 percent, was per unit volume, weight, or load. For those who charged for manure, a wide range of approaches for charging were reported.
Many producers combined a charge per unit volume or weight with a charge for application area or distance traveled. Very few producers charged for manure as an organic fertilizer with a charge based upon the nutrient content of the product. For the primary user of the manure resource,
the livestock operator was most often responsible for transport of the manure, 68 percent, followed by the customer, at 34 percent.