Using Manure to Mend Mine-Damaged Soils
October 26, 2012
From 1850 to 1950, the Tri-State Mining District of southwestern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, and northeastern Oklahoma produced 50 percent of the zinc and 10 percent of the lead in the United States. The last active mine closed in 1970, but mining’s ecological legacy remains throughout the region—lead-contaminated acidic soils, toxic smelter sites, large quantities of mine tailings called "chat," and thousands of acres of land with little or no vegetation.
Paul White, a soil scientist in the ARS Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma, Louisiana, was part of a team that studied whether adding beef cattle manure compost to post-mining sites would help jump-start revegetation. "Soil microbes recycle nutrients from soil organic matter, and this nutrient cycling is important for vegetation growth. But there is limited soil organic carbon at these sites," White says. "So we added carbon to the soil via compost to see if that would get these systems going." Kansas State University agronomy graduate student Luke Baker and professor Gary Pierzynski also partnered in this project.
The scientists also wanted to see whether compost could reduce levels of lead and zinc that could contaminate runoff during heavy rain. High levels of zinc can harm aquatic fauna in surface waters, and lead is linked to a number of serious health conditions in humans. Heavy metals in soils also disrupt the activity of soil microbes by damaging proteins or disrupting cell membranes.
A study plot after beef cattle manure compost was added to soils degraded by mining. Compost can increase soil pH, plant-available phosphorus, total nitrogen, carbon, and available water to support plant establishment and growth.
The researchers amended soils in 3- by 6-foot test plots with either 20 or 120 tons of beef cattle manure compost per acre. No manure was put on control plots. Then they applied switchgrass seed on all of the plots and took soil samples from the plots five times during the 2-year study.
Two years after they amended the plots with the compost, White and his colleagues found that soils in the high-compost plots had significant increases in pH, plant-available phosphorus, total nitrogen, carbon, and available water. High-compost amendments also increased microbial biomass, enzyme activity, and nitrification potential, all of which create and support favorable conditions for plant establishment and growth."Nitrification potential is a sensitive indicator of stress because nitrifying bacteria are especially sensitive to toxic conditions," White explains. "Soil microbes also produce the enzymes that convert organic phosphorus into an inorganic form that can be used by plants."
In this study, the researchers also found that high rates of compost lowered lead and zinc availability by about 90 percent, which may reduce the amount of lead and zinc that could run off and pollute nearby waterways. This reduction occurred because heavy metals generally bind tightly to the organic matter in composted material, which limits their solubility and potential bioavailability in soil. Since high levels of bioavailable zinc inhibit plant growth, this binding action also helps to promote the establishment of a vegetative cover, which in turn can minimize runoff and soil erosion.
Given these findings, White and his partners think that adding composts to contaminated soils could help stabilize post-mining sites. "The results strongly suggest that available soil carbon—which we were able to provide with the compost—may be a critical variable in establishing and maintaining a healthy microbial population in soils contaminated by similar mine wastes," White says.
A plot showing varying vegetation that occurred after different levels of beef cattle manure compost amendments. Plant growth suffered when no compost was used but excelled when high amounts were used.
Grazing of Cattle Pastures Can Improve Soil Quality
March 3, 2011
A team of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists has given growers in the Piedmont guidance on how to restore degraded soils and make the land productive. Researchers with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) found that if cattle are managed so that they graze moderately, soil quality can be restored and emissions of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) can be reduced.
ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency. The research, published in theSoil Science Society of America Journal, supports the USDA priority of responding to climate change.
Cotton, soybean, sorghum and wheat are widely grown in the Piedmont, an area which stretches from Alabama to Virginia. But decades of plowing have degraded the soil and growers have slowly allowed much of the land to revert to forests and pastures, according to Alan Franzluebbers, an ecologist at the ARS J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center in Watkinsville, Ga.
Franzluebbers led a project where grasses were planted on rolling, eroded land in northeastern Georgia and pastures were grazed by beef cattle to assess grazing effects on soil quality. Coastal bermudagrass was planted initially. After five years, tall fescue was drilled into the bermudagrass to extend the grazing season from five months to 10 months of the year. The research team included retired ARS scientists John Stuedemann and Stan Wilkinson.
The researchers varied the number of cattle per acre and assessed how the soils responded to different grazing scenarios. Under each scenario, they looked at the amount of soil compaction that occurred, the amounts of organic carbon and nitrogen in the soil, and the amounts of surface plant residues, which help prevent erosion. They also looked at how the soil responded to three different fertilizer treatments (inorganic, mixed inorganic and organic broiler litter, and organic broiler litter).
Growing tall fescue and allowing moderate grazing by cattle can help restore quality to soil degraded by decades of plowing, according to new ARS research. Photo courtesy of Alan Franzluebbers, ARS
From an environmental standpoint, grasslands have traditionally been viewed as best managed by leaving the land unused. But the team found that while fertilizer type made little difference, different grazing scenarios produced different effects, and the grazed land produced more grass than the ungrazed land and had the greatest amount of carbon and nitrogen sequestered in soil. Sequestering carbon and nitrogen in soil has become a major goal for agriculture because that sequestration reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Put More Nitrogen into Milk, Not Manure
May 28, 2010
The more efficient dairy farmers are in managing nitrogen, the more milk their cows will produce and the less nitrogen will be wasted in manure and urine, according to a study by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and cooperators.
ARS soil scientist J. Mark Powell at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wis., worked with ARS agricultural engineer Clarence Rotz at the ARS Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Unit in University Park, Pa., and Australian colleagues to calculate nitrogen use efficiency ratings to guide dairy farmers.
These new efficiency ratings could help dairy farmers make better use of their nitrogen in the face of escalating costs and increasing nutrient regulation. Farmers feed nitrogen in the form of crude protein to their cows, and apply manure and nitrogen fertilizer to grow crops and pasture for cows to eat and convert to milk.
The scientists found that only about 20 to 35 percent of the nitrogen fed to dairy cows is converted into milk. They also discovered that 16 to 77 percent of the nitrogen in manure or fertilizer is necessary for grass and other pasture plants. And their study showed that between 8 and 64 percent of all the nitrogen applied to typical commercial dairy farms is converted into farm products.
They determined the whole farm nitrogen use efficiency by applying the ARS-developed Integrated Farming System Model on two typical dairy farm types in Wisconsin. They used the model to quantify the effects of numbers of cows per acre and manure nitrogen credits (reducing fertilizer nitrogen applications when manure is applied) on nitrogen use, farm profitability, and pathways of nitrogen loss.
The wide ranges in nitrogen use efficiency point to the fact that there is significant room for improvement by using various practices that improve nitrogen use, profits, and the environment. Nitrogen use efficiency formulas can be used as tools to promote practices that maximize nitrogen use so that nitrogen does not leave farms to pollute waterways and groundwater and negatively impact air quality.
From these tools, which are effectively a nitrogen efficiency audit, may come recommendations to dairy farmers, consultants, and policy makers.
Only about 20 to 35 percent of the nitrogen fed to dairy cows is converted to milk, so if farmers manage the amount of nitrogen they feed to cows, the less nitrogen will be wasted in manure and urine
Temperament Plays Key Role in Cattle Health
February 25, 2016
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and university scientists have found that cattle temperament influences how animals should be handled, how they perform and how they respond to disease.
The team of researchers looked at stressful events—such as weaning, transportation, and vaccination—that beef cattle experience during routine management practices. The researchers examined interrelationships of stress and cattle temperament with transportation, immune challenges and production traits.
Studies were conducted by animal scientist and research leader Jeff Carroll at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Livestock Issues Research Unit (LIRU) in Lubbock, Texas; associate research professor Rhonda Vann at Mississippi State University's Brown Loam Branch Experiment Station; animal physiologist Ron Randel at Texas AgriLife Research, The Texas A&M University (TAMU) System, in Overton; and endocrinologist Tom Welsh, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and TAMU Department of Animal Science, in College Station.
Between 24 and 36 calves were used for each study, depending on the trial. An exit velocity system, which measures the rate at which an animal exits a squeeze chute and crosses a certain distance, was used to select for temperament. A pen scoring system was used in conjunction with exit velocity to calculate an overall temperament score for cattle selected as the calmest, the most temperamental or as intermediate.
When challenged with a bacterial toxin, cattle showed dramatic differences in sickness behavior, depending on their temperament. The more temperamental animals failed to show behaviors that allow detection of sick animals, whereas calm animals immediately displayed visual signs and became ill. Studies also revealed that temperamental cattle did not have the same vigorous immunological response to a vaccine as less temperamental cattle in the same herd.
In related research, the team found that the main cause of stress for cattle was not transportation itself, but being handled and loaded into a trailer.
However, transportation duration and conditions were found to have negative effects on intramuscular fat or marbling, which is used for fast sources of energy by cattle being transported. Marbling determines the quality grade of beef. Lower levels of marbling reduce the quality grade. Temperamental cattle have less fat stores, indicating that temperament makes a difference in the final quality grade.
Even tempered cattle can be more productive and respond better to vaccines, according to research by ARS animal scientist Jeff Carroll (left) and animal physiologist Ron Randel from Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center.Title:
Submitted to: American Society of Animal Science Southern Section Meeting
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: February 8, 2005
Publication Date: February 8, 2005
Sanders, J.O., Riley, D.G., Paschal, J., Lunt, D.K. 2005. Evaluation of the F1 crosses of five bos indicus breeds with hereford for birth, growth, carcass, cow productivity and longevity characteristics. American Society of Animal Science Southern Section Meeting. Regional Project S-1013. Little Rock, AR, February 8, 2005. 83(2):p. 88-99.
Birth, growth, carcass and cow productivity traits were evaluated in cattle out of Hereford cows and by Angus, Gray Brahman, Gir, Indu-Brazil, Nellore and Red Brahman bulls. Angus sired calves had the shortest and Nellore the longest gestations (282 and 294 days, respectively); the others ranged from 289 to 291 days. Angus sired calves had lower birth weight (70 lb) than all except Gir crosses (72.6 lb), which were lightest of the Zebu crosses; Indu-Brazil crosses (86.0 lb) were heavier than all except Red Brahman crosses (82.3 lb). Red Brahman and Gray Brahman crosses had higher weaning weight (472 and 468 lb) than Gir and Angus crosses (435 and 437 lb); Indu-Brazil and Nellore crosses were intermediate. Yearling weight off pasture was lowest for the Angus crosses (509 lb) and was higher for Red Brahman and Gray Brahman crosses (597 and 594 lb) than for Nellore, Indu-Brazil and Gir crosses (568, 561 and 549 lb). Yearling hip height was lowest for the Angus crosses (43.3 in). Among the Zebu crosses, Nellore crosses (47.9 in) were taller than Gir crosses (46.8 in); others were intermediate. Feedlot gain for steers did not differ by breed and ranged from 3.23 lb/d in Gir crosses to 3.52 lb/d in Gray Brahman and Indu-Brazil crosses. Marbling score was highest for Angus crosses; among Zebu crosses, marbling did not differ. Carcass weight was higher for Red Brahman (675 lb) than for Angus crosses (607 lb); others were intermediate. Ribeye area did not differ among breeds and ranged from 11.7 to 12.0 sq. in. Yield grade was lower for Indu-Brazil crosses (2.3) than for Gray Brahman crosses (2.8); others were intermediate. Crossbred cows were bred to different breeds of bulls in different years. Birth weight for calves out of Angus sired cows (86.6 lb) was heavier than for those out of Gir and Nellore crosses (76.6 and 80.7 lb). Weaning weight for calves out of Zebu cross cows ranged from 562 to 574 lb; all were heavier than those out of Angus sired cows (499 lb). Cow weight at seven years of age was higher for Indu-Brazil, Red Brahman and Gray Brahman crosses (1258 to 1288 lb) than for Angus crosses (1146 lb); others were intermediate. All Zebu crosses were taller at the hip at seven years than Angus crosses (49.1 in). Indu-Brazil sired cows (54.4 in) were taller than Gir crosses (52.7 in). Calf crop weaned for Nellore crosses (96%) was higher than for Indu-Brazil, Angus and Red Brahman crosses (81, 83 and 86); Gray Brahman and Gir crosses were intermediate (88 and 92). Survival to 14 yr was higher in Nellore crosses (80%) than in Indu-Brazil (33%) and Red Brahman crosses (43%), and Angus, Gray Brahman, and Gir crosses were intermediate (53, 53 and 73%).
Birth, growth, carcass and cow productivity traits were evaluated in cattle out of Hereford cows and by Angus, Gray Brahman, Gir, Indu-Brazil, Nellore and Red Brahman bulls. Angus sired calves had the shortest and Nellore the longest (P < 0.05) gestations (282 and 294 days, respectively); others ranged from 289 to 291days. Angus sired calves had lower (P < 0.05) birth weight (70.0 lb) than all except Gir crosses (72.6 lb), which were lightest (P < 0.05) of the Zebu crosses; Indu-Brazil crosses (86.0 lb) were heavier (P < 0.05) than all except Red Brahman crosses (82.3 lb). Red Brahman and Gray Brahman crosses had higher (P < 0.05) weaning weight (472 and 468 lb) than Gir and Angus crosses (435 and 437 lb); Indu-Brazil and Nellore crosses were intermediate. Yearling weight off pasture was lowest for the Angus crosses (509 lb) and was higher (P < 0.05) for Red Brahman and Gray Brahman crosses (597 and 594 lb) than for Nellore, Indu-Brazil and Gir crosses (568, 561 and 549 lb). Yearling hip height was lowest (P < 0.05) for the Angus crosses (43.3 in). Among the Zebu crosses, Nellore crosses (47.9 in) were taller (P < 0.05) than Gir crosses (46.8 in); others were intermediate. Feedlot gain for steers did not differ (P > 0.05) by breed and ranged from 3.23 lb/d in Gir crosses to 3.52 lb/d in Gray Brahman and Indu-Brazil crosses. Marbling score was highest (P < 0.05) for Acrosses (Sm 10); among Zebu crosses, marbling did not differ (P > 0.05) and ranged from Sl 45 to Sl 59. Carcass weight was higher (P < 0.05) for Red Brahman (676 lb) than for Angus crosses (607 lb); others were intermediate. Ribeye area did not differ (P > 0.05) and ranged from 11.7 to 12.0 in2. Yield grade was lower (P < 0.05) for Indu-Brazil crosses (2.3) than for Gray Brahman crosses (2.8); others were intermediate. Crossbred cows were bred to different breeds of bulls in different years; a breed of service sire was confounded with the year. Birth weight for calves out of Angus sired cows (86.6 lb) was heavier (P < 0.1) than for those out of Gir and Nellore crosses (76.6 and 80.7 lb); others were intermediate. Weaning weight for calves out of Bos indicus cross cows did not differ (P > 0.10) and ranged from 562 to 574 lb; all were heavier (P < 0.001) than those out of Angus sired cows (499 lb). Cow weight at seven years of age was higher (P < 0.1) for Indu-Brazil, Red Brahman and Gray Brahman crosses (1258 to 1288 lb) than for Angus crosses (1146 lb); others were intermediate. All Bos indicus crosses were taller (P < 0.05) at the hip at seven years than Angus crosses (49.1 in). Indu-Brazil sired cows (54.4 in) were taller (P < 0.05) than Gir crosses (52.7 in); others were intermediate. Calf crop weaned for Nellore crosses (96%) was higher (P < 0.1) than for Indu-Brazil, Angus and Red Brahman crosses (81, 83 and 86); Gray Brahman and Gir crosses were intermediate (88 and 92). Survival (under the culling policy practiced) to 14 yr was higher (P < 0.05) in Nellore crosses (80%) than in Indu-Brazil (33%) and Red Brahman crosses (43%). Angus, Gray Brahman, and Gir crosses were intermediate (53, 53 and 73%).
Cattle Risk Factors
There are many factors that influence a particular animal’s response to heat stress. Factors can be grouped in four different areas. These areas are genetics, health, production status, and previous exposure to heat stress. Listed in the table below are the risk factors and the associated animal traits that will increase the animal's susceptibility to heat stress. Click on a risk factor to view more detailed information concerning that risk factor and associated traits.
Genetic components include many different factors including breed, temperament, and color. Breeds, breed crosses, or composite breeds from cattle with historical origins in the tropics or subtropics tend to be more heat tolerant relative to those cattle of 100% European origin. Breeds originating on the subcontinent of India, Bos Indicus (referred to as Zebu) breeds such as the Gir, Nelore, Guzerat, Ongole, and Sindhi contributed heat tolerance to the American Brahman-composite. The American Brahman has been used extensively in the Gulf Coast regions of the United States in matings with European breeds to create populations better equipped to withstand the heat stress in this region. The ability to tolerate heat stress has also been recognized among Bos Taurus breeds that evolved in hot humid climates including the African breeds Tuli, Africander, and the Bonsmara (collectively referred to as Sanga types) or from Criollo types (e.g., Romosinuano, Texas Longhorn) that evolved in the tropics of the New World from cattle that Spanish explorers brought to the Americas from Europe.
Color plays an important role in heat tolerance. Dark colors absorb more heat than light colors. As a result, a black animal will be more susceptible to heat stress than a white or tan animal.
It has recently been shown that temperament also plays a small role in heat tolerance. Animals that are calmer are more heat tolerant than animals that are more excitable.
The current general health of the animal will influence its ability to withstand additional stress including heat stress. The effects of pneumonia are long lasting. An animal that has been treated for pneumonia at any time in its past has a higher risk of heat stress symptoms during hot weather than those animals that have not had the disease. Animals which have had pneumonia and have not been treated could be at even higher risk.
Production Status:Finished cattle that are ready to go to market, cattle in poor condition, and cattle that have recently arrived at the feedlot are among the most vulnerable.
Cattle that have not been preconditioned to hot weather will have a greater stress response (higher breathing rate, higher body temperature). Cattle become preconditioned to heat stress when they have prior exposure to hot weather. Moving cattle from a cool region of the country to a hot environment can increase the animal’s susceptibility to heat stress.