Mitigate risk by reducing ammonia levels

 Resize text         Printer-friendly version of this article Printer-friendly version of this article

Ammonia (NH3) is a gas readily released into the air and is the most prevalent base gas in the atmosphere. According to the EPA, the largest source of ammonia emissions is livestock operations, estimated to be between 50-85% of total emissions. This means livestock producers have their work cut out for them when it comes to keeping ammonia levels in check, and effective manure management is a key component of accomplishing this objective in dairy production systems.

Most of the ammonia emissions come from manure, including manure held in storage in lagoons and pits, as well as from volatilization during field application. Due to the confined spaces in the barns and the long hours workers serve on the production line, high ammonia levels can be a risk to the health of both the herd and workers.  

Ammonia issues
Ammonia’s characteristically strong odor makes it easily detectable as soon as levels reach 5-10 ppm. Levels between 20-50 ppm irritate the eyes, nose and throat and can cause long-term respiratory problems for both animals and workers. Breathing in high amounts of ammonia can cause the gas to react with water to produce hydroxide, which is corrosive to structures and equipment, and causes damage to body cells.

Livestock producers take a stand
Dean Strauss of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., says animal care, the environment and product quality are the three most important aspects of his dairy production system. Strauss operates Majestic Crossing Dairy and milks approximately 1,900 cows.

“Ammonia levels cause a lot of problems, but that’s something we can try to control,” says Strauss. “If we reduce the ammonia, that burning smell in the barns goes away and it makes life easier on our cows and our staff. We also want to reduce the smell of field-applied manure in the interest of being good neighbors.”

Researchers and livestock producers alike have been performing studies to try and reduce ammonia and maintain it at the appropriate levels. In a recent study with More Than Manure® (MTM®) Nutrient Manager, from SFP®, ammonia levels were decreased dramatically over a two-month period.

Dale Helt performed the study in a slatted barn with corn cob bedding on his dairy operation in Dane, Wis. He added 30 gallons of MTM into his 1.2 million gallon pit at 50% capacity. After the first month of treating the barn, the ammonia levels were reduced by 17.4 ppm. Full results of the study are shown in the chart below.




VOC Ammonia ppm


Inside the Barn (15 mins, 2 points)




Inside the Barn (15 mins, 2 points)




Inside the Barn (15 mins, 2 points)




Inside the Barn (40 mins, 4 points)




Inside the Barn (40 mins, 4 points)




Inside the Barn (60 mins, 8 points)



To record the ammonia levels, Helt used a photo ionization detector (PID) that is very sensitive to all volatile organic compounds (VOC). Prior to the test, the specific unit was calibrated specifically for ammonia to increase accuracy. The points in the chart refer to the actual locations within the barn the levels were measured while the number of minutes details how long each reading lasted. For example, 15 minutes and two points equal two, 15 minute measurements. The ppm listed in the chart is an average of the meter readings during that time frame.

Along with reducing ammonia levels, MTM also reduces crusts and solids that can clog equipment and make pumping, transportation and application of manure difficult. Reducing crusting can have a positive impact on reduction of fly populations due to reduced surface areas for egg laying. Flies can complete a generation from egg to adult fly in as few as 10 days. Proper manure management can lead to a more comfortable atmosphere for animals and workers alike.

The chemistry behind MTM
Whenever two or more chemical elements are combined, a chain of reactions occur. Many times these reactions are not one-time events but instead an ongoing dynamic process. Applying MTM to livestock waste pits or lagoons, as well as to applied manure, is no exception. The reactions start immediately at treatment or application and continue to help provide protection for 10-to-12 months. 

During initial MTM reactions, the polymer helps stabilize N by keeping it in its more stable ammonium form longer. This reduces the amount of volatilization, which in turn leads to less ammonia gas emitted in livestock confinement areas and in fields where MTM is spread over the top of dry manure or litter. Reducing N loss by slowing/inhibiting leaching, volatilization and denitrification, increases N availability for crops to utilize when they need it most. MTM also helps improve P availability for plant uptake by reducing the amount of the element that gets locked up in the soil, which in turn can become insoluble for long periods of time. Improved P and N efficiency can translate into larger root systems, more vigorous crop growth and better overall plant health.

SFP, More Than Manure and MTM are registered trademarks of Specialty Fertilizer Products (SFP), LLC. © 2013 SFP. All rights reserved.

Comments (1) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

August, 25, 2013 at 09:03 PM 0Dairy%20Manure%20During%20Storage.pdf Washington State found different results

Farmall® 100A Series

From field to feedlot, you need a tractor that can multi-task as well as you do. Case IH Farmall™ 100A ... Read More

View all Products in this segment

View All Buyers Guides

Feedback Form
Leads to Insight