- Feeding Broiler Litter To Beef Cattle
- By B. G. Ruffin, Extension Animal Scientist T. A. McCaskey,
Professor Animal and Dairy Sciences Alabama Cooperative Extension Service
Aubrun University, Alabama 36849-5612 http://gallus.tamu.edu/waste/bfcattle.html
- Cattle and other ruminants have a unique digestive system
that allows them to use waste and other types of by-products as sources
of dietary nutrients. The cattle-feeding industry has been built largely
on the use of by-products and other materials that can be digested only
by ruminants. One by-product which can be used as a cattle feed is broiler
- The broiler chicken industry has long considered broiler
litter a problem by-product. It has been used mainly as a fertilizer, but
this use has lately been a cause for concern Where broiler chickens are
intensively produced and the litter is distributed over too small an area,
broiler litter can contaminate the groundwater with excess nutrients. This
problem will only intensify in the future as the poultry industry continues
- Moreover, fertilizer does not make the most efficient
use of broiler Litter. In terms of the cost of replacing the nutrients
it provides with nutrients from other sources, broiler litter is worth
four times more as a cattle feed ingredient than as fertilizer. Litter
is a good source of protein, energy, and minerals, especially for brood
cows and stocker cattle, which are the backbone of the cattle industry
in the state. In addition to offering an economic advantage, using broiler
litter in feed also helps to conserve plant nutrients. These nutrients,
nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other mineral elements, are distributed
on pasture land as manure by the cattle consuming the litter. Under present
conditions, broiler litter offers so many advantages that even long distance
transportation does not reduce its economic value. Alabama beef cattle
producers can make use of this plentiful resource to substantially reduce
their production costs.
- Beef producers can use large amounts of broiler Litter,
provided that it is of reasonably good quality and suitable for feeding.
Two million tons of broiler litter is produced each year in Alabama, but
only about 35 percent is good enough to be fed to cattle. With improved
Litter management practices, Alabama could produce 1.0 million tons of
Litter for cattle feed.
- Most beef producers take into account the public perception
of beef when they are considering using waste materials as feed. There
is an apparent reluctance on the part of the public, as well as of some
beef producers, to accept broiler Litter as a cattle feed. However, the
public readily accepts organically grown vegetables grown on composted
broiler Litter. The process by which a plant assimilates food into its
tissues is much less complicated than the process by which a cow does the
same thing; a cow's food is broken down and processed much more completely.
And, in fact, a cow must be off broiler litter for 15 days before it can
be slaughtered for beef, while a mushroom can go directly from its bed
of manure to the grocery store.
- It is important that the beef industry avoid a controversy
over the healthfulness of beef. Broiler litter has been used as feed for
over 35 years in all areas of the country without any recorded harmful
effects on humans who have consumed the products of these animals. In addition,
in Alabama, litter is most commonly fed to brood cows and stocker cattle
which are not usually marketed as slaughter beef. Very little if any litter
is in the diets of finished cattle fed for slaughter (although, allowing
a 15-day withdrawal period from feeding litter before slaughter, such a
diet would be considered safe}. So, the possibility of any human health
hazard, either real or imagined, is remote.
- In sum, the use of broiler litter as a cattle feed offers
three primary advantages:
- 1. It is an environmentally responsible use of a problem
- 2. It provides an incentive for the proper management
of this by-product by poultry and cattle producers alike.
- 3. It economizes the production of beef cattle.
- Regulations On Feeding Litter
- In 1967, when the FDA issued a policy statement which
discouraged the feeding of litter and other types of animal wastes, there
was relatively little knowledge available on feeding broiler litter. In
1980, after extensive testing by researchers at universities and USDA facilities,
the FDA rescinded its earlier policy statement and announced that the regulation
of litter should be the responsibility of the state departments of agriculture.
At present at least 22 states have regulations pertaining to the marketing
of litter and other animal wastes as feed ingredients.
- Presently, no federal laws or regulations control the
sale or use of broiler litter as a feed ingredient. Also, no state laws
specifically regulate the feeding of animal waste and other by-products.
But, several states have regulations that govern the sale through commercial
markets of these products intended for sale as a feed ingredient. The Alabama
Board of Agriculture and Industries adopted regulations under the Commercial
Feed Law to deal with only commercial transactions of processed animal
waste. These regulations do not address private use or exchange of broiler
litter or other animal waste.
- Processed broiler litter offered for sale in commercial
channels as a feed ingredient must meet certain quality standards. The
regulations governing animal-waste feed were adopted by the Board of Agriculture
and Industries and went into effect January l, 1977. Those regulations
are listed under Agricultural Chemistry Regulation No. 9. If animal waste
contains drugs or drug residues, it must carry a label which reads "WARNING:
This product contains drug residues; do not use within 15 days of slaughter"
This warning should also be observed by any farm feeder of broiler litter.
- The beef producer, regardless of government regulation
of the feedstuffs used, has the responsibility of selling a wholesome animal
that is free from drugs and toxic substances. To minimize risks from drug
residues in the tissues of beef cattle that are fed litter, all litter
feeding should be discontinued 15 days before the animals are marketed
for slaughter. Litter should not be fed to lactating dairy cows, because
there is no opportunity for a withdrawal period to ensure the elimination
of residues from milk. Because of the sensitivity of sheep to copper, litter
containing high concentrations of copper should not be fed to these animals.
These safety precautions are generally sufficient to eliminate most health
risks associated with drug residues that may be associated with broiler
- For further information on regulations governing the
commercial sale of broiler litter, contact the Alabama Department of Agriculture
and Industries. As stated previously, these regulations apply only to broiler
litter offered for commercial sale.
- Nutritional Value Of Broiler Litter
- The bedding materials used in broiler houses in Alabama
are wood shavings, sawdust, peanut hulls, and some shredded paper products.
Poultry house owners use these products in varying amounts for the initial
bedding and as additional bedding after each batch of birds. The bedding
material alone is a low-quality feed ingredient. However, with the addition
of feathers, waste feed, and excrement from the birds, the nutrient quality
of the litter improves.
- The kind of bedding material used in a broiler house
has little effect on the quality of the litter when it is used for feeding
cattle. Because the amount of bedding used and the number of batches of
birds housed on the litter are not standardized or regulated, litter quality
can vary considerably from one producer to another. Other factors such
as broiler house management, the method of litter removal, and moisture
content can add to the variation in litter composition and quality. The
average nutrient content of 106 samples of broiler litter collected from
across Alabama is shown in Table 1.
- Table 1. Nutrient Content of Broiler Litter in Alabama
- Components, Dry basis Average Range Moisture 19.5
4.70 - 39 Dry Matter, % 80.5 61 - 95 TDN*, % 50.0 36 - 64 Crude Protien,
% 24.9 15 - 38 Bound Nitrogen, % 15.0 5 - 64 Crude Fiber, % 23.6
11 - 52 Minerals Calcium, % 2.3 0.81 - 6.13 Phosphorus, % 1.6 0.56
- 3.92 Potassium, % 2.3 0.73 - 5.17 Magnesium, % 0.52 0.19 - 0.88 Sulfur,
% 0.50 0.22 - 0.83 Copper, ppm 473 25 - 1,003 Iron, ppm 2,377 529
- 12,604 Manganese, ppm 348 125 - 667 Zinc, ppm 315 106 - 669 Ash (minerals)
24.7 9 - 54 106 Samples; * TDN = Total Digestible Nutrients
- The amount of moisture in broiler litter is determined
by the management of watering systems in the broiler house. The moisture
content of the litter does not vary significantly between fresh litter
and litter stacked for 6 months.
- Though moisture content is not an important measure of
nutrient value, it will determine the physical quality of the feed. If
the moisture content is 25 percent or more, a feed mix will not flow easily
through an auger. However, if the broiler litter is 12 percent moisture
or less, the ration may be dusty and less palatable to the cows. Some beef
producers see an increase in feed consumption when water is added to extremely
dry mixtures of litter and grain just prior to feeding.
- The Total Digestible Nutrients (TDN} figure is calculated
from crude protein and crude fiber values. The energy value of broiler
litter is fairly low in comparison to grain. However, litter that has a
calculated value of 50 percent TDN is comparable to good-quality hay. Litter
could be a valuable source of energy for both stocker cattle and brood
- Crude Protein
- The average crude protein level of the samples analyzed
was 24.9 percent. Over 40 percent of the crude protein in litter can be
in the form of non-protein nitrogen. The non-protein nitrogen is mostly
uric acid which is excreted by poultry. Young ruminants do not utilize
non-protein nitrogen as readily as more mature beef cattle. So, for best
performance, feed broiler litter to beef cattle weighing over 450 pounds.
- Bound Nitrogen
- When feed ingredients overheat, the nitrogen becomes
insoluble (bound}, and cattle can digest it less easily. The bound nitrogen
in the litter samples analyzed in this study averaged 15 percent of the
total nitrogen. In liter that showed signs of overheating, more than 50
percent of the total nitrogen was bound nitrogen.
- Studies have shown that as the amount of bound nitrogen
increases, the dry-matter digestibility decreases. Thus, overheating significantly
reduces the feeding value of the litter. Methods for managing the temperature
of stored litter are discussed in the section on processing and storing
- Crude Fiber
- Crude fiber composed an average of 23.6 percent of the
samples analyzed. The fiber comes mainly from chicken bedding materials
such as wood shavings, sawdust, and peanut hulls. Bedding usually consists
of finely ground, short fiber materials.
- The fiber in litter cannot effectively meet the ruminant's
need for fiber, because cattle also need long roughage to maintain their
digestive systems properly. Cattle fed litter will naturally crave and
readily consume long roughage. Even though the fiber content of litter
is high, it is recommended that a minimum of 5 percent of a litter ration
be in the form of long hay or other roughage.
- Broiler litter is an excellent source of minerals. In
fact, brood cows fed a diet of 80 percent litter and 20 percent grain will
consume five times more calcium, phosphorus, and potassium than required.
- The excess minerals are not a problem except under specific
conditions. The 2 percent calcium level, in the presence of an imbalance
of other minerals, can cause milk fever in beef cows at calving. This risk
can be reduced by removing brood cows from a litter ration before calving
or by providing at least half of their feed as hay or other roughage. It
is not known exactly how many days before calving a cow should be removed
from litter. However, based on milk fever studies with dairy cattle, 30
days should be adequate. Milk fever may be a problem with a small number
of cows after parturition. Therefore, brood cows consuming broiler litter
at calving should be checked often.
- The micro-minerals, copper, iron, and magnesium are also
present in larger amounts compared to conventional feed ingredients. Copper,
for example, is usually not fed at more than 150 ppm in beef cattle diets.
Higher levels can cause copper toxicity. A brood cow herd fed broiler litter
during the 120-day winter feeding period could receive more than 600 ppm
of copper. The excess copper will build up in the liver tissue, but it
is usually not harmful. The copper tissue level will usually return to
normal after the summer' grazing period, when no broiler litter is consumed.
- Young stocker cattle fed a growing ration of 50 percent
litter and 50 percent grain will consume copper in excess of 225 ppm. Young
cattle, especially those compromised by disease, can tolerate this high
level of copper for only 180 to 200 days. Feeding stockers on broiler litter
for less than 180 days will significantly reduce copper toxicity problems.
- Ash in litter is made up of minerals from feed, broiler
excrement, bedding material, and soil. Ash content is one of the important
measures of the quality of litter. The samples analyzed contained an average
of 24.7 percent ash. Ash contents of over 28 percent are too high and should
not be fed to beef cattle.
- Calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals make
up about 12 percent of the ash in broiler litter; the remaining ash is
soil. Care should be taken to keep the ash content, especially the soil
percentage, as low as possible if the litter is to be used for cattle feed.
Most soil is incorporated into litter during removal from the broiler house
and loading on trucks for transportation.
- Processing And Storing Broiler Litter
- Broiler litter, like any other feed ingredient, has potential
hazards associated with its use. Many common feed ingredients have risks
associated with pesticide residues, mycotoxin such as aflatoxin, and even
nitrate toxicity. Broiler litter has potential hazards associated with
pathogenic bacteria, such as Salmonella, and residues from medicated poultry
rations, such as antibiotics, coccidiostats, copper, and arsenic. All litter,
regardless of its source, should be processed to eliminate pathogenic organisms.
- Some broiler producers are considering the composting
of dead birds in piles of broiler litter. Although this method might acceptably
solve the problem of dead bird disposal, litter used in this way should
not be used as a feed source for beef cattle. The potential for disease
transmission to the cattle has not been determined, and until research
is complete, it is recommended that such litter not be used as a feed ingredient.
- Processing of broiler litter as a feed ingredient can
be accomplished by any one of several methods:
- 1. Litter can be mixed with other feed ingredients and
ensiled to encourage acid production which is common with corn or sorghum
silage. When ensiling litter with com or sorghum silage, add litter at
20 to 30 percent of the dry matter of the silage crop.
- 2. Litter can be directly acidified to achieve essentially
the same effect.
- 3. Litter can be heat-treated as would occur during mechanical
drying or pelleting of feeds.
- 4. The most economical and by far the most practical
method of processing litter is deep stacking. A temperature of 130ø
F or higher will occur in the stack within 5 days. To ensure the elimination
of Salmonella and other potential pathogens, the litter should be deep-stacked
for at least 20 days. Studies have demonstrated that pathogenic bacteria
(intentionally added to litter at levels higher than encountered in infected
litter) were killed when litter was deep-stacked for 5 days. Longer stacking
times are recommended to ensure a good margin of safety from pathogens.
- In addition to the heat generated in stacked litter,
ammonia resulting from the degradation of uric acid and urea, which are
common nitrogen compounds in litter, also kills pathogenic organisms. At
140ø F, bacteria such as --, tubercule bacilli (associated with
avian and bovine tuberculosis}, and pathogens excreted with feces are killed
within an hour. There is essentially no risk involved with transmitting
diseases through the feeding of litter if the litter has been deep stacked
for a period of 20 days or more, and the stack has reached an internal
temperature of 130 degree F or more.
- Antibiotics fed to broiler chickens are not a problem
when the litter is fed to beef cattle. Many of the antibiotics are degraded
by microorganisms present in the litter as it is processed. Furthermore,
essentially all the antibiotics approved for chickens are also approved
- Mycotoxin such as aflatoxin are not a cause for concern
when feeding litter to cattle. Molds that produce mycotoxin do not grow
well in litter because it is alkaline, because it releases ammonia which
is toxic to molds, and because the growth of molds is limited to surfaces
exposed to air. Deep-stack processing of litter helps to curtail mold growth.
- Broiler litter is usually handled in bulk and transported
in fairly large amounts. Thus, some beef producers store litter in 100-
to 300-ton stacks. With proper storage there is very little loss in quality,
even when litter is stored for more than 5 years. However, some precautions
must be taken to insure a good quality litter at feeding time.
- Heat is the one thing that reduces the quality of broiler
litter in the stack. Excessive heating reduces the digestibility of the
dry matter in the litter. Fresh stacked litter develops heat spontaneously.
Trials have been conducted using a number of chemical additives such as
urea or acid, as well as other procedures, to limit the heating of stacked
- Excessive heating (more than 140ø F) can be controlled
by limiting the moisture content of the litter to less than 25 percent
and by limiting the litter's exposure to air. Some producers use farm tractors
to exclude oxygen when packing broiler litter. This process will reduce
overheating, but it is also expensive. Storing broiler litter in an upright
silo has been shown to be an excellent storage procedure. However, litter
is abrasive on silage handling equipment.
- Sealing the broiler litter stack with 6 mil polyethylene
to exclude oxygen is the least expensive method of heat control. Polyethylene
should be used if the stack is under a barn or if it is outside. Figure
1 shows the temperature profile of two stacks of litter 12 feet deep, one
uncovered and the other covered with polyethylene. To destroy pathogens
in the litter, the temperature should reach 130ø F. If the temperature
is 160ø F or more, the protein becomes bound and digestibility decreases.
In both stacks of litter, the temperature was in excess of 130øF
for 21 days. The litter covered with polyethylene achieved a temperature
high enough to eliminate pathogens but did not overheat and decrease nitrogen
digestibility. The litter stack that was not covered reached a temperature
27ø F higher than the covered stack.
- Figure 1. Temperature profile for litter, measured 4
feet from top of stack.
- Suggested Rations
- Because the nutrient levels in broiler litter are variable,
the suggested rations in Table 2 should be used only as a guide. A supplement
of vitamin A should be added to all broiler litter rations because litter
is almost totally devoid of this nutrient. Adding Bovatec or Rumensin will
decrease the incident of bloat when feeding stockers.
- Table 2. Sugested Rations
- Ingredients 1(a) Dry Brood Cow 2(b) Lactating Cow
3(a,b) Stockers Pounds Broiler Litter 800 650 500 Cracked Corn 200
350 500 Total Pounds 1000 1000 1000 Nutritional Content, % Dry Matter
80.5 82.2 83.8 TDN 62.6 68.3 70.3 Crude Protein 18.1 16.4 14.7
Crude Fiber 21.2 17.2 13.6 Calcium 1.6 1.27 0.96 Phosphorus 1.30
1.11 0.93 a Add vitamin A at 1,5000 I. U. per pound of feed b Rumensin
or Borvatec can be added to feed at 150 milligrams per day for animals
weighing less than 700 pounds and 200 milligrams per day for animals weighing
more than 700 pounds.
- In Table 2, Ration 1 is calculated for use as the major
ration for dry beef cows until 3 to 4 weeks before calving. Hay or some
other roughage should be provided to maintain normal rumen function. At
least 2 pounds daily of long hay should be adequate. A 1,000 pound dry
cow will require 20 to 24 pounds of Ration 1 during the winter months for
maintenance. Corn that is mixed with broiler litter should be cracked or
ground. Cattle that are fed mixtures of litter and whole grain corn or
other grains tend to waste more feed than when fed ground grain mixtures.
- Ration 2 is formulated for the lactating brood cow. Fed
at about 25 pounds daily, this ration will furnish adequate nutrients during
the winter months. Some long hay or other roughage will be needed for both
the lactating brood cow and the dry cow for normal rumen function.
- Ration 3 is formulated for growing stocker cattle. Stocker
cattle weighing 500 pounds will consume about 3 percent of their body weight
of this ration. Healthy stocker cattle that have been wormed, vaccinated,
implanted, and otherwise managed as recommended should gain an average
of 2 pounds daily when fed this ration.
- Feeding Ration 3 to stockers during the conditioning
period and during the typical winter deficit grazing period has been shown
to improve total gain. Research has also demonstrated that stocking rates
can be increased and rates of gain maintained by feeding the ration free-choice
on winter grazing crops. Stockering cattle on summer pasture alone has
produced only 1 pound daily gain. Providing Ration 3 free-choice increased
the rate of gain to more than 2 pounds daily and increased the total pounds
of beef produced. So, supplementing both winter and summer grazing for
stocker cattle with the broiler litter ration results in an increased economic
- Since only about one third of the broiler litter presently
produced in the state is high enough in quality to be fed to beef cattle,
all litter that is fed should be tested for nutrient content. Beef producers
should use broiler litter that is at least 18 percent crude protein and
is less than 28 percent ash. Not more than 25 percent of the crude protein
should be bound or insoluble. Other nutrient levels are important also,
but these are the most critical measures of quality. The nutrient content
of broiler litter can be determined by submitting a sample through the
Feed and Forage Analysis Program, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service,
Auburn University. Your local Extension office can provide information
and materials for submitting a sample for analysis.
- Broiler litter has been used as a cattle feed ingredient
for over 35 years without harmful effects to humans who have consumed products
of these animals. The purpose of this publication is neither to promote
nor to condemn the feeding of litter, but rather to serve as a source of
information on using litter as a feed ingredient.
- Due to the unique ability of ruminant animals to digest
forages, other fibrous materials, and inorganic nitrogen such as urea,
there is a growing awareness world-wide that by-products of agriculture
and the food processing industry can serve as low-cost, alternative feed
sources for these animals. The use of broiler litter as an alternative
feedstuff may become more widespread as the need for economy in agriculture
and for responsible waste management becomes more urgent.
- CIRCULAR ANR-557 Issued in furtherance of Cooperative
Extension work in agriculture and home economics. Acts of May 8 and June
30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Alabama
Cooperative Extension Service, Auburn University, Ann E. Thompson, Director,
offers educational programs and materials to all peopel without regard
to race, color, national origin, sex, age, or handicp and is an equal opportunity
employer. UPS, 10M18, 6:91, ANR-557
Site Served by TheHostPros