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.


Bakker GCM (1996) Interaction between carbohydrates and fat in pigs: impact on energy evaluation in feeds. PhD Thesis, Wageningen Agricultural University. Available at [Verified 15 November 2007].

Béline F Martinez J Chadwick D Guiziou F Coste C-M 1999 Factors affecting nitrogen transformations and related nitrous oxide emissions from aerobically treated piggery slurry. Journal of Agricultural Engineering Research 73 235 243 doi:10.1006/jaer.1999.0412

Berendse F 1990 Organic matter accumulation and nitrogen mineralization during secondary succession in heathland ecosystems. Journal of Ecology 78 413 427 doi:10.2307/2261121

Breman H de Wit CT 1983 Rangeland productivity and exploitation in the Sahel. Science 221 1341 1347 doi:10.1126/science.221.4618.1341

Brumme R Beese F 1992 Effects of liming and nitrogen fertilization on emissions of CO2 and N2O from a temperate forest. Journal of Geophysical Research 97 no. D12 12851 12858

Canh TT Aarnink AJA Schutte JB Sutton A Langhout DJ Verstegen MWA 1998 Dietary protein affects nitrogen excretion and ammonia emission from slurry of growing-finishing pigs. Livestock Production Science 56 181 191

Carran RA Theobald PW Evans JP 1995 Emission of nitrous oxide from some grazed pasture soils in New Zealand. Australian Journal of Soil Research 33 341 352 doi:10.1071/SR9950341

CEC 1991 Council Directive of 12 December 1991 concerning the protection of waters against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources (91/676/CEC). Official Journal of the European Communities 375 1 8 Nr. L

Clayton H McTaggart IP Parker J Swan L Smith KA 1997 Nitrous oxide emissions from fertilised grassland: a 2-year study of the effects of N fertiliser form and environmental conditions. Biology and Fertility of Soils 25 252 260

Clemens J Trimborn M Weiland P Amon B 2006 Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by anaerobic digestion of cattle slurry. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 112 171 177 doi:10.1016/j.agee.2005.08.016

de Haan CH , Steinfeld H , Blackburn H (1997) ‘Livestock and the environment: finding a balance.’ (WRENmedia: Suffolk, UK)

de Klein CAM Sherlock RR Cameron KC van der Weerden TJ 2001 Nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils in New Zealand – a review of current knowledge and directions for future research. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 31 543 574

Delgado C , Rosegrant M , Steinfeld H , Ehui S , Courbois C (1999) Livestock to 2020 – the next food revolution. IFPRI, Food, Agriculture, and the Environment Discussion Paper 28. Washington DC.

de Wit J van Keulen H van der Meer HG Nell AJ 1997 Animal manure: asset or liability? World Animal Review 88 30 37

Frank B Swensson C 2002 Relationship between content of crude protein in rations for dairy cows and milk yield, concentration of urea in milk and ammonia emissions. Journal of Dairy Science 85 1829 1838

Galloway JN Aber JD Erisman JW Seitzinger SP Howarth RW Cowling EB Cosby BJ 2003 The nitrogen cascade. Bioscience 53 341 356

Gourley CJP Powell JM Dougherty WJ Weaver DM 2007 Nutrient budgeting as an approach to improving nutrient management on Australian dairy farms. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 47 1064 1074 doi:10.1071/EA07017

Groot Koerkamp PWG 1994 Review on emissions of ammonia from housing systems for laying hens in relation to sources, processes, building design and manure handling. Journal of Agricultural Engineering Research 59 73 87 doi:10.1006/jaer.1994.1065

Guo LB Gifford RM 2002 Soil carbon stocks and land use change: a meta analysis. Global Change Biology 8 345 360 doi:10.1046/j.1354-1013.2002.00486.x

Hall SJ Matson PA 1999 Nitrogen oxide emissions after nitrogen additions in tropical forests. Nature 400 152 155 doi:10.1038/22094

Heeres-van der Tol JJ (2002) Stikstof- en fosfaatuitscheiding [Nitrogen and phosphorus excretion by beef cattle]. Praktijkonderzoek Veehouderij, Wageningen UR, PraktijkRapport Rundvee 10. Lelystad, The Netherlands.

Houghton RA 1999 The annual net flux of carbon to the atmosphere from changes in land use 1850–1990. Tellus 51B 298 313

Huijsmans JFM Hol JMG Hendriks MMWB 2001 Effect of application technique, manure characteristics, weather and field conditions on ammonia volatilization from manure applied to grassland. Netherlands Journal of Agricultural Science 49 323 342

Husted S 1994 Seasonal variation in methane emission from stored slurry and solid manures. Journal of Environmental Quality 23 585 592

Hyde BP Hawkins MJ Fanning AF Noonan D Ryan M O’Toole P Carton OT 2006 Nitrous oxide emissions from a fertilized and grazed grassland in the south east of Ireland. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 75 187 200

IAEA (in press) ‘Guidelines for sustainable manure management in Asian livestock production systems.’ IAEA TECDOC Series. (Eds HG van der Meer, HPS Makkar) (International Atomic Energy Agency: Vienna)

IFIA (1986) ‘The fertilizer industry – the key to world food supplies.’ (International Fertilizer Industry Association: Paris)

IPCC (1997) Agriculture. In ‘Revised 1996 IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories: reference manual’. (Eds JT Houghton, LG Meira Filho, B Lim, K Treanton, I Mamaty, Y Bonduki, DJ Griggs, BA Callender) (IPCC/OECD/IEA, UK Meteorological Office: Bracknell, UK)

Jarvis SC , Pain BF (Eds) (1997) ‘Gaseous nitrogen emissions from grasslands.’ (CAB International: Wallingford, UK)

Khalili H Varvikko T 1992 Effect of replacement of concentrate mix by wilted sesbania (Sesbania sesban) forage on diet digestibility, rumen fermentation and milk production in Friesian × Zebu (Boran) crossbred cows fed low quality native hay. Animal Feed Science and Technology 36 275 286 doi:10.1016/0377-8401(92)90062-B

Larney FJ Sullivan DM Buckley KE Eghball B 2006 The role of composting in recycling manure nutrients. Canadian Journal of Soil Science 86 597 611

Lassey KR 2007 Livestock methane emission: from the individual grazing animal through national inventories to the global methane cycle. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 142 120 132

Manna MC Swarup A Wanjari RH Ravankar HN 2007 Long-term effects of NPK fertiliser and manure on soil fertility and a sorghum-wheat farming system. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 47 700 711 doi:10.1071/EA05105

Martens DA Reedy TE Lewis DT 2004 Soil organic carbon content and composition of 130-year crop, pasture and forest land-use managements. Global Change Biology 10 65 78 doi:10.1046/j.1529-8817.2003.00722.x

Melse RW Verdoes N 2005 Evaluation of four farm-scale systems for the treatment of liquid pig manure. Biosystems Engineering 92 47 57 doi:10.1016/j.biosystemseng.2005.05.004

Mills JAN Dijkstra J Bannink A Cammell SB Kebreab E France J 2001 A mechanistic model of whole-tract digestion and methanogenesis in the lactating dairy cow: model development, evaluation, and application. Journal of Animal Science 79 1584 1597

Reijs JW Sonneveld MPW Sørensen P Schils RLM Groot JCJ Lantinga EA 2007 Effects of different diets on utilization of nitrogen from cattle slurry applied to grassland on a sandy soil in The Netherlands. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 118 65 79

Schröder JJ (2005) Manure as a suitable component of precise nitrogen nutrition. The International Fertiliser Society, Proceedings No. 574. York, UK

Schröder J , Dilz K (1987) Cattle slurry and farmyard manure as fertilizers for forage maize. In ‘Animal manure on grassland and forage crops. Fertilizer or waste?’ (Eds HG van der Meer, RJ Unwin, TA van Dijk, GC Ennik) pp. 137–156. (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Dordrecht, The Netherlands)

Smith KA , van Dijk TA (1987) Utilisation of phosphorus and potassium from animal manures on grassland and forage crops. In ‘Animal manure on grassland and forage crops. Fertilizer or waste?’ (Eds HG van der Meer, RJ Unwin, TA van Dijk, GC Ennik) pp. 87–102. (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Dordrecht, The Netherlands)

Sneath RW Béline F Hilhorst MA Peu P 2006 Monitoring GHG from manure stores on organic and conventional dairy farms. Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment 112 122 128 doi:10.1016/j.agee.2005.08.020

Sommer SG Génermont S Cellier P Hutchings NJ Olesen JE Morvan T 2003 Processes controlling ammonia emission from livestock slurry in the field. European Journal of Agronomy 19 465 486 doi:10.1016/S1161-0301(03)00037-6

Sommer SG Zhang GQ Bannink A Chadwick D Misselbrook T et al 2006 Algorithms determining ammonia emission from buildings housing cattle and pigs and from manure stores. Advances in Agronomy 89 261 335

Steinfeld H , de Haan CH , Blackburn H (1997) ‘Livestock-environment interactions: issues and options.’ (WRENmedia: Suffolk, UK)

Steinfeld H , Costales A , Rushton J , Scherf B , Bennett T , Hall D (2006 a) ‘Livestock report 2006.’ (FAO: Rome). Available at [Verified 19 November 2007].

Steinfeld H , Gerber P , Wassenaar T , Castel V , Rosales M , de Haan C (2006 b) ‘Livestock’s long shadow – environmental issues and options.’ (FAO: Rome). Available at [Verified 19 November 2007].

Stevens RJ Laughlin RJ 2001 Cattle slurry affects nitrous oxide and dinitrogen emissions from fertilizer nitrate. Soil Science Society of America Journal 65 1307 1314

Stevens RJ Laughlin RJ 2002 Cattle slurry applied before fertilizer nitrate lowers nitrous oxide and dinitrogen emissions. Soil Science Society of America Journal 66 647 652

Tamminga S , Jongbloed AW , van Eerdt MM , Aarts HFM , Mandersloot F , Hoogervorst NJP , Westhoek H (2000) The forfaitaire excretie van stikstof door landbouwhuisdieren [Standards for the excretion of nitrogen by livestock]. Instituut voor Dierhouderij en Diergezondheid, Wageningen UR, Report ID-Lelystad no. 00–2040R. Lelystad, The Netherlands.

van der Meer HG (1996) Utilisation and losses of nitrogen in grazed grassland. In ‘Grassland science in perspective’. (Eds A Elgersma, PC Struik, LJG van der Maesen) pp. 13–27. (Backhuys Publishers: Leiden)

van der Meer HG (2001) Reduction of nitrogen losses in dairy production systems: the Dutch experience. In ‘Nutrient management challenges in livestock and poultry operations: international and national perspectives’. (Eds K Kanwar, R Baggett) pp. 82–97. (Babcock Institute: Madison, WI). Available at [Verified 15 November 2007].

van der Meer HG , van der Putten AHJ (1995) Reduction of nutrient emissions from ruminant livestock farms. In ‘Grassland into the 21st century: challenges and opportunities’. (Ed. GE Pollott) pp. 118–134. (British Grassland Society: Reading)

van der Meer HG , Unwin RJ , van Dijk TA , Ennik GC (Eds) (1987) ‘Animal manure on grassland and fodder crops. Fertilizer or waste? Developments in plant and soil sciences, vol. 30.’ (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Dordrecht)

van Groenigen JW Kasper GJ Velthof GL van den Pol-van Dasselaar A Kuikman PJ 2004 Nitrous oxide emissions from silage maize fields under different mineral nitrogen fertilizer and slurry applications. Plant and Soil 263 101 111 doi:10.1023/B:PLSO.0000047729.43185.46

Varvikko T Khalili H 1993 Wilted tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis) forage as a replacement for a concentrate supplement for lactating crossbred Friesian × Zebu (Boran) dairy cows fed low-quality native hay. Animal Feed Science and Technology 40 239 250 doi:10.1016/0377-8401(93)90160-L

Velthof GL Brader AB Oenema O 1996 Seasonal variations in nitrous oxide losses from managed grasslands in The Netherlands. Plant and Soil 181 263 274 doi:10.1007/BF00012061

Velthof GL Oenema O Postma R van Beusichem ML 1997 Effects of type and amount of applied nitrogen fertilizer on nitrous oxide fluxes from intensively managed grassland. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 46 257 267

VROM (2001) ‘Where there’s a will there’s a world: working on sustainability.’ Fourth National Environmental Policy Plan. (Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment: The Hague) Available at [Verified 16 November 2007].

Wadman WP , Sluijsmans CMJ , de la Lande Cremer LCN (1987) Value of animal manures: changes in perception. In ‘Animal manure on grassland and forage crops. Fertilizer or waste?’ (Eds HG van der Meer, RJ Unwin, TA van Dijk, GC Ennik) pp. 1–16. (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Dordrecht, The Netherlands)

Zeeman G , Gerbens S (1999) CH4 emissions from animal manure. IPCC Workshop on Good Practice Guidance and Uncertainty Management in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, Wageningen. Available at [Verified 19 November 2007].

Export Citation Cited By (23)