Thomas A. Carter, Department Extension Leader, Department of Poultry
Matt Poore, Extension Ruminant Nutritionist, Department of Animal
Publication Number: AG 515-2
Last Electronic Revision: June 1996 (KNS)
As economic pressure increases on the beef cattle industry, producers will
look for ways to reduce feed costs.
Of all the alternative feeds available in North Carolina, litter
has the greatest feeding value for its cost. Beef producers
should seriously consider using litter in winter feeding programs, and
poultry producers should consider stockpiling
litter for sale later to beef producers. The purpose of this
fact sheet is to provide information for producers who wish
to deep stack poultry litter for cattle feed.
Litter also makes an economical substitute for hay, especially during
drought years when hay supplies are short.
Feeding 12 pounds of litter (rather than hay or silage and a
protein supplement) per head each day will save the beef
producer from $20 to $50 per head over a 100-day feeding
Broiler litter is the most desirable kind of poultry litter
for feeding to cattle because of its superior nutritional value.
It should contain 20 to 30 percent moisture and crude protein. The litter
should also be low in ash (soil) and should be
free of hardware, glass, and other foreign material. Processed
turkey, broiler breeder, and hen litter have also been successfully used
as a feed, but they are less desirable feedstuffs
than broiler litter. Details of feeding guidelines for poultry
litter can be found in "Feeding Poultry Litter to Beef Cattle,"
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service fact sheet
The product stabilizes following the initial heating, and
the material is not turned and allowed to reheat as is done
with composted litter (thoroughly composting the litter reduces the energy
and protein availability in the material).
Overheating (more than 160 degrees F) may occasionally occur and
reduces the feeding value by damaging both protein and
carbohydrates. This problem can be controlled by packing
the stack, covering the stack with plastic, or both.
After a minimum of three weeks of heating the litter
should be ready for use as feed. Once the litter has undergone the heating
process, it will retain its feeding value for
an extended time, often for as long as 5 years.
The process should also result in a product that has a
fine texture and an odor that suggests a smell of caramelized chocolate and
is free of an ammonia smell, which increases the palatability of the feed.
It should not be black
with a burnt smell, an indicator of overheating; nor should
it be gray-colored with a strong manure smell, an indicator
of underheating. Monitoring the stockpile temperature in
several locations with a probe thermometer will help determine if the
stockpile has been heated properly.
Figure 1. Buildings recommended specifically for litter storage.
Permanent Structure with Roof. The ideal storage
facility for stockpiling litter is a structure with a permanent
roof. Protecting the material from rain maintains its quality
by eliminating excess moisture. Litter is also more easily
handled when it is kept out of the weather.
A litter storage facility with a clear-span roof supported
by outside walls or perimeter posts allows unobstructed loading and
unloading. In structures with ceiling heights of
12 feet or greater, side walls protect against blowing rain.
Figure 2. Three-sided commodity shed for litter and bulk diet ingredient
High ceilings also make it easier to load, unload, and compact materials.
Building types recommended for litter stor-
age are shown in Figure 1.
A standard three-sided commodity shed is also suitable
for litter storage. This type of building (Figure 2) is recommended for
larger cattle operations that can use the shed for
litter storage as well as storage of other bulk feed ingredients.
Existing roofed buildings or sheds also work well but
usually have tractor-maneuvering limitations due to support posts and other
obstructions. In wooden structures, particularly those without clear spans,
stockpiled litter may
cause spontaneous combustion, especially if it comes in
contact with wood. Risk of spontaneous combustion can be
minimized by monitoring litter temperature and avoiding
stacking anything beyond 4 to 5 feet high in the areas where
the material is in contact with wood. If building a new structure or
modifying an existing structure for litter storage,
consider the use of concrete block walls.
The siting of a fixed-roof facility is important since it is
permanent. Considerations for siting the building include
convenience to feeding site, easy access particularly in
inclement weather, and terrain that enables minimal grading. Avoid placing
the facility near wet areas or drainage
ditches, streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes.
For stockpiling, stack litter 6 to 8 feet high at the peak
of the stack to ensure a critical mass that promotes acceptable heating.
The stack should be packed with a heavy-wheeled vehicle as the material is
layered. Caution should
be taken not to stack litter higher than 8 feet again to minimize the
possibility of spontaneous combustion.
If the building does not lend itself to compacting the
stored litter, the heating process sometimes will not proceed in a uniform
manner and may result in overheating. If
packing is not possible, cover the litter with plastic to limit
oxygen availability and prevent overheating.
Figure 3. A properly conatructed covered windrow of litter.
Covered Temporary Stockpile. Litter can be stock-piled in a temporary
windrow or bunker arrangement with
reasonable success. The advantage of such temporary storage is the low
investment cost compared to permanent-roofed facilities. The disadvantage
of windrow or bunker
storage is the inability to protect the material from rain-water and assure
a top-quality product.
Certain storage procedures can help protect the litter
from excess moisture from inclement weather and provide
a surface that is usually accessible for use at all times. The
site for stockpiling should be selected carefully. Choose a
high well-drained location avoiding wet areas, runoff or
drainage areas, and other areas where running or standing water occurs.
An impermeable base such as clay is preferred
to prevent nutrient infiltration. The site should have a grass
buffer around the storage area and be located at least 100
feet from any perennial waterway or drinking-water source.
Construct the windrow by dumping litter in a narrow
pile. It is desirable to compact the litter to save space and
ensure a good heat, but the windrow can be made without
compacting. Compacting can be accomplished by driving
over the initial narrow pile of litter with a heavy vehicle.
Add additional layers of litter and compact each layer, continuing the
process until the stockpile is deep (6 to 8 feet)
and well-rounded with sloping sides. Once the windrow is
constructed, apply heavy (6 mil) plastic sheeting carefully
to prevent tearing. Anchor the edges to avoid wind damage
by laying the edge of the sheeting over a trench about 12-inches deep
encircling the pile and backfilling the soil over
the sheeting. Lay used tires over the plastic to further avoid
wind damage to the plastic. A properly constructed and covered windrow is
shown in Figure 3.
Bunkers designed for storing silage on livestock farms
(Figure 4) can also be used to stockpile the litter. A bunker
allows deep stacking and better compaction of litter which
reduces the area needed for storage. A cover of plastic or
reinforced fabric should be anchored over the litter stored
in bunkers to avoid rain damage.
Deep stacking is the most common method of processing. During deep stacking,
the stack of litter heats eliminating potential pathogens and improving
palatability of the
litter. For proper heating, litter should contain 20 to 30 percent moisture
and should be stacked 6 to 8 feet deep for at
least three weeks.
Beef producers are encouraged to seek litter when local broiler houses are
cleaned out and stack for cattle feed.
Poultry producers are encouraged to deep stack litter for
sale during the winter to neighboring beef producers.
Figure 4. Bunker silos can be used for litter storage.