We have used turkey manure for over 20 years at Picton and Binda with excellent results. Turkey manure provides phosphorus at about two thirds the price of superphosphate plus nitrogen, potash, calcium and a range of micro-nutrients thrown in.
Turkey manure contains about 1.6% phosphorus compared to about 9% in superphosphate so you need to spread more of it and this takes specialised equipment to get accurate spreading. Manure is sold by the cubic metre so to do a comparison you have to convert to a weight basis. One cubic metre of manure weighs about half a tonne. At Binda we get turkey manure delivered for $18 per cubic metre plus $8 per cubic metre for spreading. The price has been coming down – we used to pay $30 per cubic metre delivered.
The strength of turkey manure can vary but not as much as poultry manure. It depends on how the birds are raised. Turkeys stay on bedding longer than broilers so the nutrient concentrations are higher. However, many broiler farms change the bedding after 2 batches so that is better. The bigger suppliers will provide an analysis of their product usually expressed as N:P:K.. Our latest turkey manure analysis was 4.01:1.77:1.83. Poultry manure was quoted as 5.6:1.67:2 so maybe poultry might have been better but turkey was what was available. The bedding the birds are on makes a difference; usually it is shavings but can be straw.
Initially we dealt with a local supplier but more recently we buy from Organic Fertilisers in Sydney. Normally we buy our fertiliser in November when it is readily available after the turkey gobblers have been fattened for our Christmas feasting. We let the manure compost and then we spread on our paddocks in February. November to February is the best time to avoid bogging in our country.
Manure is delivered in 50 cubic metre loads by trucks with a walking floor. It smells pretty rich when delivered! We leave the manure for a month or two to compost.
To spread 10kg of phosphorus per hectare it costs about $40 using superphosphate and $28 using turkey manure. However, it is not a simple comparison because some of the P in manure is in organic form and might take 6 months for slow release. With the turkey manure you get 4% Nitrogen, 2% Potash, 0.5% Sulphur, 3% Calcium, 0.7% Magnesium and 0.5% Sodium plus trace amounts of Boron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Iron, Aluminium, Cobalt and Molybdenum. You also get quite a few feathers. We used to occasionally get dead birds but this has improved and we rarely find carcases now.
Adding magnesium and sodium to the soil helps prevent grass tetany. Conversely, adding the potash that plants need might increase the risk of grass tetany. However, adding the potash in regular small amounts is a more rational policy than suddenly adding enough potash to correct a deficiency which has developed over decades of exporting product. This sudden increase in potash may well lead to a grass tetany problem.
In early days we had a tractor and trailer spread the manure. More recently the contractors have used 4WD trucks which are much more efficient. Our usual 5 truck loads are spread in one day.
Helena calculates that it takes about 50 kg of P to raise the Colwell result from our starting level of 5 to the recommended level of 30 ppm on our soils. On today’s prices it will cost about $200 per hectare to achieve this with superphosphate or $140 per hectare with turkey manure. It is not possible to spread turkey manure across the whole farm in one hit as you might use superphosphate because you need to spell the paddock for 3 weeks after applying manure to reduce the risk of picking up bacterial infection. There is also a risk of stock aversion about eating fertilised pastures.
At Cadfor we have adopted a policy of applying fertiliser to a fifth of the farm per year. This fits in well with our grazing management. We graze a paddock off, then fertilise and spell it. Rather than taking 10 years of smaller annual applications to get to our recommended Colwell level we have done it in two big hits five years apart. After 10 years all our paddocks now have adequate phosphorus levels. Our pH levels have increased from 4.2 to 4.8 because turkey manure has a liming effect. Our potash levels have risen also. We are now doing soil tests to see what we need to do for maintenance, we might need to supplement with some sulphur.
Anyone who has been using superphosphate in the past would find it cheaper to use turkey manure to maintain good soil fertility. Soil tests will guide you on what rate you need to apply.
If you want more information on fertilisers, simply the best advice is Fertilisers for Pastures which Helena coordinated and authored. It is now out of print but available on the internet https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/resources/soils/improvement/pastures