Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals

Optimising manure management for GHG outcomes

H. G. van der Meer

Agrosystems Research Department, Plant Research International, Wageningen University and Research, PO Box 16, 6700 AA Wageningen. Email:

Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 48(2) 38-45
Submitted: 24 July 2007  Accepted: 1 November 2007   Published: 2 January 2008


This paper focuses on improvements to livestock manure management to reduce environmental pollution and emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). Livestock manures contain large amounts of plant nutrients and organic matter (OM). Structural changes to livestock production and ample supply of cheap chemical fertilisers have decreased the interest and possibilities of farmers in using manure for the fertilisation of crops and grasslands and maintenance of soil fertility. As a result, many livestock producers dispose of manure as cheaply as possible causing serious pollution of soil, water and atmosphere. In addition, livestock production systems contribute to climate change by emission of the GHG carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Careful recycling of livestock manures to fertilise crops and grasslands and improve soil fertility is considered the most suitable and cost-effective option for environmentally friendly disposal. Manure management legislation in The Netherlands is described to explain the principles. These include complete collection of faeces and urine of confined livestock, adaptation of the period and rate of manure application to the N and P requirements of crops, and use of manure collection, storage and application techniques aiming at low ammonia (NH3) losses. Effects of sustainable manure management on GHG emissions are described. Optimising the period, rate and technique of manure application to crops and grassland causes effective utilisation of manure N and reduces direct and indirect losses of N2O. In addition, effective recycling of manure nutrients and OM allows a reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers and fossil energy and contributes to the maintenance or improvement of the carbon content of agricultural ecosystems. The relatively high costs of sustainable manure management stimulate farmers to optimise feed conversion and minimise manure production per unit of product by good livestock feeding and management practices. High feed conversion efficiency reduces CH4 emission by enteric fermentation and may reduce feed imports and related GHG emissions. In addition, it is shown that livestock categories differ widely in feed conversion efficiency and N and P excretion per unit of product. Finally, anaerobic digestion of livestock slurries provides a valuable energy source and reduces CH4 emission of stored slurry and, possibly, N2O emission after field application of the slurry.

Additional keywords:: CH4, CO2, livestock production, manure management legislation, N, N2O.


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