Chicken litter provides organic alternative to synthetic fertilizers

March 3, 2011
Front row shows marigolds treated with synthetic controlled-release fertilizer, middle row shows chicken litter-based organic fertilizer and back row shows chicken litter-based organic fertilizer. Credit: Photo by Guihong Bi

Recent movements aimed at managing environmental impacts of agriculture have spurred interest in the development and use of organic and natural fertilizers for commercial applications. Many organic fertilizers are byproducts of livestock, fish, food, and other processing industries. In Mississippi, where the poultry industry produces more than 730 million broiler chickens each year, and annual chicken litter production is estimated at more than 730,000 tons, there is a naturally abundant supply of chicken litter available for fertilizer.

New research from scientists at Mississippi State University, in collaboration with the USDA-ARS Southern Agricultural Laboratory, investigated the effects of two non-composted broiler chicken litter-based organic fertilizers and one commonly used synthetic controlled-release fertilizer on marigold growth and flowering. The research study, published HortScience, indicated that some broiler litter-based fertilizers have the potential to be used as organic fertilizer sources for container production of marigolds in greenhouses.“Despite having lower nutrient concentrations than many synthetic fertilizers, similar broiler litter-based fertilizers have been shown to be effective plant fertilizers. For growers wishing to use these and other natural fertilizers in their production systems, the biggest question is how the fertilizers should be managed”, stated Guihong Bi, corresponding author of the study. “How litter-based fertilizer behaves in an actual greenhouse setting remains a significant question.”

The researchers conducted two experiments designed to evaluate the growth and flowering responses of greenhouse-grown French marigold (Tagetes patula L. ‘Janie Deep Orange’) to two non-composted broiler chicken litter-based organic fertilizers, 4–2–2 and 3–3–3, and one commonly used synthetic controlled-release fertilizer, 14–14–14. In both experiments, fertilizer 4–2–2 was applied at four rates of 1%, 2%, 4%, and 6% (by volume); 3–3–3 was applied at four rates of 1.34%, 2.67%, 5.34%, and 8.0% (by volume); and 14–14–14 was applied at rates of 0.99, 1.98, 3.96, and 5.94 kg/m3.

Results from the study indicated that broiler litter-based 4–2–2 and 3–3–3 have the potential to be used as organic fertilizer sources for container production of marigolds in greenhouses.

“For the organic fertilizer rates used in this study, in general, low to intermediate rates of 4–2–2 and 3–3–3 produced the highest plant growth index, shoot dry weight, number of flowers per plant, total flower dry weight, and root rating. Plants grown at high rates of 4–2–2 and 3–3–3 showed symptoms associated with excessive fertilization, including reduced plant growth, decreased root quality, and decreased number and dry weight of flowers.” According to the authors, the results are consistent with other studies that have shown excessive organic fertilizer depressed plant growth compared with lower fertility levels

The scientists advised growers to be cautious with the rate of fertilizer applied. “Because different crops may respond differently to these natural fertilizers, it is important for growers to test any new fertilizers before incorporating them into their production practices”, they noted.

Explore further: Human urine as a safe, inexpensive fertilizer for food crops

More information: The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortScience electronic journal web site:

Related Stories

Human urine as a safe, inexpensive fertilizer for food crops

October 8, 2007

Researchers in Finland are reporting successful use of an unlikely fertilizer for farm fields that is inexpensive, abundantly available, and undeniably organic -- human urine. Their report on use of urine to fertilize cabbage ...

Fertilizers may not help poorest African farmers

September 24, 2009

( -- Researchers have linked poverty in sub-Saharan Africa with poor soil health, but two new Cornell studies find that the recommended practice of applying more fertilizer may not help the poorest farmers.

Studying Fertilizers to Cut Greenhouse Gases

November 18, 2009

( -- Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists have found that using alternative types of fertilizers can cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, at least in one part of the country. They are currently examining ...

High nitrogen fertilizers tested on post-transplant ornamentals

December 29, 2010

The nutrition and fertilization needs of container-grown ornamental plants during production are well-documented, but there is limited research about the plants' fertilizer requirements following transplantation into landscapes. ...

Recommended for you

Predictable ecosystems may be more fragile

October 7, 2015

When it comes to using our natural resources, human beings want to know what we're going to get. We expect clean water every time we turn on the tap; beaches free of algae and bacteria; and robust harvests of crops, fish ...

History shows more big wildfires likely as climate warms

October 5, 2015

The history of wildfires over the past 2,000 years in a northern Colorado mountain range indicates that large fires will continue to increase as a result of a warming climate, according to new study led by a University of ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2011

People used animal wastes as fertilizer for generations. Thought this sort of stuff was common knowledge...

Pardon the pun, but what other "crap" are these scientists studying?

Next they'll tell us wheat makes a good food source...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.