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J Environ Qual. 2008 Mar-Apr;37(2):725-35.

Physical and chemical changes during composting of wood chip-bedded and straw-bedded beef cattle feedlot manure.

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Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Research Centre, Lethbridge, AB, Canada.


In the 1990s, restrictions on incineration encouraged the forest industry in western Canada to develop new uses for their wood residuals by product. One such use was as a replacement for cereal straw bedding in southern Alberta's beef cattle (Bos taurus) feedlot industry. However, use of carbon (C)-rich bedding, such as wood chips, had implications for subsequent composting of the feedlot manure, a practice that was being increasingly adopted. In a 3-yr study, we compared composting of wood chip-bedded manure (WBM) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) straw-bedded manure (SBM). There were no significant differences in temperature regimes of SBM and WBM, indicating similar rates of successful composting. Of 17 physical and chemical parameters, five showed significant (P < 0.10) differences due to bedding at the outset of composting (Day 0), and 11 showed significant differences at final sampling (Day 124). During composting (10 sampling times), seven parameters showed significant bedding effects, 16 showed significant time effects, and four showed a Bedding x Time interaction. Significantly lower (P < 0.10) losses of nitrogen (N) occurred with WBM (19%) compared with SBM (34%), which has positive implications for air quality and use as a soil amendment. Other advantages of WBM compost included significantly higher total C (333 vs. 210 kg Mg(-1) for SBM) and inorganic N (1.3 vs. 1.0 kg Mg(-1) for SBM) and significantly lower total phosphorus (4.5 vs. 5.3 kg Mg(-1) for SBM). Our results showed that wood chip bedding should not be a problem for subsequent composting of the manure after pen cleaning. In combination with other benefits, our findings should encourage the adoption of wood chips over straw as a bedding choice for southern Alberta feedlots.

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