NC State Extension Publications

 

Managing poultry litter—a mixture of manure and bedding—is a major responsibility for poultry producers. In some cases, these byproducts can be applied directly on the farm or on nearby cropland. In many situations though, management options other than land application on the farm are needed.

Poultry producers often rely on commercial cleanout contractors to periodically remove poultry litter from houses. The producers and the cleanout contractors must follow state rules and regulations governing the removal and land application of the litter. Litter is a valuable resource because it can be used as a fertilizer. However, improper handling can allow excess nutrients to pollute surface water or groundwater and may cause public nuisances.

Introduction

Skip to Introduction

Regulations in North Carolina mandate intensive management of animal waste. Waste management systems must operate without discharging pollutants into surface waters. Furthermore, these systems must operate under a plan that specifies what crops are to be grown, the appropriate waste application rates for those crops, and contingency plans or maintenance agreements for storing waste or transporting it to other farms.

Commercial litter haulers (contractors) remove litter from poultry houses or litter storage areas and apply it to land on the farm or at another location (Figure 1). As a result, litter haulers, regardless of the material’s ultimate destination, must handle litter according to state regulations and apply it according to the farm’s nutrient management plan.

Photo of spreader truck discharging litter onto field

Figure 1. Typical land application of broiler litter using a rear discharge spinner spreader.

Rules and Regulations

Skip to Rules and Regulations

There are rules and regulations for anyone producing, handling, and receiving litter. Following are the statutory requirements specific to dry litter poultry. It is important to understand these regulatory requirements and whether your situation requires additional record keeping, sampling, or reporting. For example, best management practices that are cost-shared through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or litter spread within protected watersheds may have additional criteria to maintain compliance. These additional criteria are not addressed within this document. You can find more information from the N.C. Division of Water Resources or your local Cooperative Extension center.

Litter Application

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), Division of Water Resources (DWR), enforces rules regarding animal waste management systems. These regulations became effective Sept. 1, 2006, and were readopted Sept. 1, 2018, and are contained in the North Carolina Administrative Code Title 15A NCAC 02T. Section .1300. Rule .1303 addresses deemed permitted activities (those not requiring an individual permit or a general permit certificate of coverage) including dry litter poultry operations.

Poultry operations that use a dry litter system with more than 30,000 birds that are deemed permitted must meet all of the following conditions:

  • Maintain records for at least three consecutive years that include the dates the litter was removed, the estimated amount of litter removed, and the location of the sites where the litter was land-applied by the poultry operation.
  • Apply litter at no greater than agronomic rates.
  • Maintain a vegetative buffer of at least 25 feet between the area of land application and a stream or water body.
  • Restrict land application of litter at least 100 feet from a well other than a monitoring well.
  • Keep litter stockpiles at least 100 feet from a stream, water body, or well other than a monitoring well.
  • Do not leave litter stockpiles uncovered for more than 15 days.
  • Do not apply litter on land that is flooded, saturated, frozen, or covered with snow.
  • Do not apply litter to land during precipitation events.
  • If a manure hauler is used, maintain records, including the dates the litter was removed, the estimated amount of litter removed, and the name, address, and phone number of the hauler.

Land application sites not owned by the farm that generates the litter must meet all of the following conditions:

  • Apply litter at no greater than agronomic rates.
  • Store and apply animal waste at least 100 feet from the nearest well other than a monitoring well.
  • Maintain a vegetative buffer of at least 25 feet between the area of land application and a stream or water body.
  • Do not apply litter on land that is flooded, saturated, frozen, or covered with snow.
  • Do not apply litter to land during precipitation events.

Manure Haulers

DWR also enforces rules for manure haulers, specifically 15A NCAC 02T. Section 1400. A manure hauler is defined as “a person who accepts or purchases animal waste and land applies the animal waste on land not covered by the generator’s permit.” The rules cover all manure haulers regardless of how much or how little manure they land-apply. If there are problems with the manure hauler’s operation, DWR may initiate an enforcement action. Part of the action may require the manure hauler to apply for a certificate to operate.

Manure haulers who land-apply 100 tons or less of animal waste per calendar year are deemed permitted if

  • there is no discharge of waste to the surface waters;
  • animal waste is applied at no greater than agronomic rates; and
  • a vegetative buffer of at least 25 feet is maintained from a perennial stream or perennial water body during land application.

In addition, manure haulers who land-apply more than 100 tons of animal waste per calendar year are deemed permitted if

  • animal waste is not stockpiled uncovered for more than 15 days;
  • animal waste is not stockpiled within 100 feet of a perennial stream or perennial water body;
  • the manure hauler registers with DWR prior to accepting or purchasing manure;
  • the manure hauler submits an annual report by March 1 of each year; and
  • the field receiving animal waste has had a representative standard soil fertility analysis from a certified laboratory within the past three years.

Land Application

Skip to Land Application

To reduce transportation cost and maintain its economic value as a fertilizer, poultry litter is commonly applied to cropland near the farm that generates the litter. The litter provides plant nutrients, and application rates are typically calculated with nitrogen as the priority nutrient. An agronomic nitrogen rate is the amount of nitrogen a crop needs to achieve a realistic yield. The actual nitrogen requirement is a function of two factors plus soil type: crop yield (units of yield per acre) and the nitrogen application factor (pounds of nitrogen per unit of yield). Multiplying these two factors produces a realistic nitrogen rate (pounds of nitrogen per acre).

Examples of realistic yield expectations (RYEs), nitrogen application factors, and realistic nitrogen rates can be reviewed on the website Realistic Yield Expectations for North Carolina Soils (Crouse 2010). In some cases, such as when the concentration of soil phosphorus, zinc, or copper is high, the application is specified at a rate much lower than the agronomic nitrogen rate to avoid further accumulation and prevent potential toxicity issues that can be associated with high soil-test zinc or copper.

Land application of animal wastes must be performed in accordance with an animal waste management plan. State regulations required such a plan as of Jan. 1, 2000, on all farms that raise at least 30,000 birds and use dry litter waste management systems. Dry litter management plans must be drafted to provide for the following listed conditions. (Further guidance on poultry dry litter management plans can be found in the Senate Bill 1217 Guidance Document [Appendix 5.3A Poultry Dry Litter Management Plan]).

Dry litter management plans must

  • provide for periodic testing of the waste applied to cropland as close to the time of application as is practical, but at least within 60 days of application;
  • provide for soil testing every three years from fields where waste products will be applied;
  • balance nitrogen application rates and nitrogen crop requirements, with application rates not to exceed the realistic nitrogen rate;
  • ensure that soil pH is maintained in a range appropriate for crop production (maintaining soil pH at an appropriate level can be accomplished by following the lime recommendations found on a North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Agronomic Division soil test report); and
  • ensure completion and maintenance of records (for a three-year period) to document the date and rate of litter applications to crops.

Management plans must be kept on file at the farm. The plans are not required to be signed by a technical specialist certified by the North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Commission. The plan may be written by the poultry producer or anyone else who understands how to develop the waste management plan.

It is useful to include an aerial photographic map in the waste management plan of all fields receiving litter, showing field identification and field size. The plan (and accompanying field maps) will inform the person applying litter of the correct rate of application (usually tons per acre) for each crop to be grown in each field. A waste management plan can be modified to add fields or to change cropping patterns as necessary. Failure to follow the waste management plan can subject the farm owner or operator to fines or other enforcement action.

If a poultry producer contracts with a hauler to apply litter, the litter still must be applied according to the specifications in the waste management plan. The poultry grower is always responsible for records showing the amount of litter removed from the production facility.

Depending on the agreement between the involved parties, the field records portion of the waste management plan may be the responsibility of the poultry producer, the manure hauler, or other consultant. All fields that receive litter must be included in the waste management plan. The ultimate responsibility of proper litter application rests with the individual whose name is on the waste management plan (typically the poultry producer). Therefore, the poultry producer may require a contract or agreement with a commercial litter hauler stipulating that the litter will be properly applied.

Waste Application Procedures
Besides the regulatory conditions already listed, waste analyses are required within 60 days of land application of the waste to ensure agronomic application of poultry litter. There should not be any potential for spills or runoff into surface waters when applying litter. Therefore, it is advisable to maintain some field buffers between litter application areas and streams or other surface waters. Reasonable buffer distances can vary greatly depending on soil type, slope of the land, and crop system, but vegetative buffers of at least 25 feet are required. The producer should give the commercial poultry litter hauler a copy of the most recent waste analysis. This information will help the hauler calibrate equipment to apply the litter at the proper rate to meet the crop’s nitrogen needs. Additional requirements for buffers and waste sampling criteria may be required in watersheds that have nutrient sensitive waters. Check with a regional office of the DWR for current standards on specific watersheds.

Record keeping is required for all litter applications when the litter source is a farm producing more than 30,000 birds. DWR recommends the use of division-approved forms (NPDES Form Dry-1, NPDES Form Dry-2, and NPDES Form Dry-3) for dry litter application, which can be found in the Ninth Senate Bill 1217 Interagency Group Guidance Document (Appendices 5.5B, 5.5C, and 5.5D). The forms are a convenient way to document proper litter application rates that are specified in the waste management plan. Record keeping forms can be obtained from your local N.C. Cooperative Extension center, nutrient management specialists such as the NRCS or Soil and Water Conservation District technicians, or private consultants. The poultry producer should record each cleanout and document the quantity of litter removed.

Contract Operators

If a poultry producer hires a manure hauler to remove litter and apply it to the land, the producer must keep records of the hauler’s name, address, and phone number. Requirements such as soil sampling, waste sampling, and record keeping can be handled by any party (poultry producer, manure hauler, or other consultant) involved in the cleanout process. If the litter is removed from the producer’s farm, some type of formal agreement may be required between the poultry producer (litter generator) and the manure hauler who performs the cleanout and land application.

As described previously, manure haulers may be required to meet specific reporting criteria. At a minimum, manure haulers should maintain for their own records a list of fields where litter was applied, the application rate of the litter, and the date of the application.

A poultry producer may also wish to maintain copies of all records that are kept by a manure hauler. Even with properly executed agreements, it is the responsibility of the manure haulers or individuals applying the litter to distribute the litter at the specified rates in the waste plan to the best of their ability.

Agreements and Contracts
A sample agreement form is included here. It was written to assist growers and other parties in establishing who has liability for the various stages of litter handling. The agreement helps establish that the producer has no control over how the litter is applied to land elsewhere. The forms should address all land application requirements that are specified in the waste management plan, including record keeping, waste sampling, soil sampling, application rates, and buffers. The forms can be used to share the responsibility for proper use of the litter by assigning particular responsibilities to specific parties.

The agreement form is an example only. It can be used for general guidance and may be modified to fit particular needs. This form is not intended as a source of legal advice. Producers are advised to contact an attorney for specific information about contracts or other legal documents.

Application Equipment Calibration
Spreader equipment must be calibrated periodically to ensure that litter is being applied uniformly and at the rates specified in the waste management plan. Guessing with application rates may result in underfertilization or overfertilization of the crops. Proper application results in better crop management and minimizes potential regulatory or environmental problems associated with overapplication of litter. Spreader calibration is required every year if an operation is regulated under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and every other year if regulated under the North Carolina General Permit.

These NC State Extension publications can help with spreader equipment calibration: Weight-Area Method Spreader System: Field Calibration Procedures for Solid and Semi-solid Animal Waste Application Equipment and Load-Area Method Spreader System: Field Calibration Procedures for Semi-solid Animal Waste Application Equipment.

Manure Haulers - Reporting

Skip to Manure Haulers - Reporting

Mandatory reporting is required of some manure haulers. The requirements are contained in North Carolina Administrative Code Title 15A NCAC 2T. Section 1400. The requirements affect haulers differently depending on the amount of manure transported. Manure haulers who land-apply 100 tons or less of animal waste per calendar year are not required to submit an annual report. Those that land-apply more than 100 tons of animal waste per calendar year must submit an annual report to DWR by March 1 of each year. Manure hauler application and reporting forms can be found at NCDEQ Animal Feeding Operations: Reporting Forms (NCDEQ-DWR 2020).

Manure haulers who land-apply more than 100 tons but less than 750 tons of animal waste per calendar year must include the following in the report:

  • Name, mailing address, and phone number
  • Date, location, and amount of animal waste received
  • Date, location, amount, and acreage of all animal waste that is land-applied

Manure haulers who land-apply 750 tons or more of animal waste per calendar year must include the following in the report:

  • Name, mailing address, and phone number
  • Date, location, and amount of animal waste received
  • Date, location, application rate, acreage, waste analysis, and receiving crop of all animal waste that is land-applied

Special Uses of Litter

Skip to Special Uses of Litter

Commercial composting centers or other treatment facilities need DWR permits. The permits for these facilities should list the materials that may be treated or handled. Manure haulers transporting litter to such facilities should be familiar with the requirements in the permit to determine whether animal wastes are acceptable. The litter hauler and the permittee (the composting center or other treatment facility) could be liable for results of litter disposal at a facility if it is not specifically allowed in the permit. With few exceptions, the ultimate disposal site should be land (such as crops, pastures, or forest).

Conclusion

Skip to Conclusion

Poultry producers and commercial poultry litter haulers should operate under the waste management plan developed for the farm where the litter was produced. Furthermore, they should operate in accordance with an agreement or contract that clearly states responsibility for each component of the waste management plan. Properly applying poultry litter allows benefits to be gained from the litter, avoids water quality problems and nuisances, and keeps the producer and applicator in compliance with state laws.

References

Skip to References

Barker, J.C., R.O. Evans, and D.A. Crouse. 1997a. Load-Area Method Spreader System: Field Calibration Procedures for Semi-Solid Animal Waste Application Equipment. AG-553-5. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Barker, J.C., R.O. Evans, and D.A. Crouse. 1997b. Weight-Area Method Spreader System: Field Calibration Procedures for Solid and Semi-Solid Animal Waste Application Equipment. AG-553-4. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.

Crouse, D.A. 2010. Realistic Yield Expectations for North Carolina Soils. Raleigh, NC: Department of Soil Science, NC State University.

NCDEQ—DWR. 2015. NCDEQ-DWR Animal Feeding Operations: Reporting Forms. Raleigh, NC: NC Department of Environmental Quality, Division of Water Resources.

Senate Bill 1217 Committee. 1997. Poultry Dry Litter Management Plan. Raleigh, NC: Senate Bill 1217 Committee.

Acknowledgments

Skip to Acknowledgments

This publication is a revision of an earlier version. The author would like to thank D. Crouse and K. Shaffer for their earlier contributions.

Author

Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist - Nutrient Management & Animal Waste
Crop & Soil Sciences

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: May 18, 2020
AG-439-76

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.