Cattle slurry on grassland - application methods and nitrogen use efficiency

S.T.J. Lalor

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU



Cattle slurry represents a significant resource on grassland-based farming systems. The objective of this thesis was to investigate and devise cattle slurry application methods and strategies that can be implemented on grassland farms to improve the efficiency with which nitrogen (N) in cattle slurry is recycled. The research focused on slurry application method and timing techniques that have been shown to reduce ammonia emissions following slurry application. Further, it was investigated whether the reduction in ammonia emissions translates into an increase in the N fertiliser replacement value (NFRV) of applied slurry. The study also included an economic analysis of the costs and benefits of low-emission slurry application methods, including a sensitivity analysis of the impact of costs that are likely to vary between farms.

A modelling study showed that low-emission application methods, which reduce herbage contamination and therefore permit slurry application into taller grass swards, increase the opportunity for application in spring when the slurry NFRV is relatively high due to the prevailing weather conditions that reduce ammonia volatilisation. The extent to which the opportunity for application in spring can be extended is affected by soil type, with more opportunity being afforded on more freely drained soil types. The extent to which herbage contamination is reduced by the low-emission application method was also affected by the grass height at application. Application methods that permit damage free traffic into taller swards permit greater potential to extend the opportunity for spring application.

In multi-year and multi-site field experiments, the NFRV of cattle slurry applied to grassland was increased by application using trailing shoe in short grass swards compared with conventional broadcast application using splash-plate. The NFRV was also higher when slurry was applied in April compared with June. However, there was no advantage over splash-plate in using the trailing shoe application method in taller grass swards, as the damage to the sward by the machinery traffic negated the benefits of reduced ammonia volatilisation.

An economic assessment showed that there was a net cost associated with adopting low-emission application methods on farms. The benefit of mineral N fertiliser savings due to ammonia emission abatement was not sufficient to offset the additional costs of adoption. The sensitivity analysis showed that the factors that had greatest impact on the costs were the assumed ammonia emission abatement potentials, the volume of slurry being applied annually with each machine, and the hourly work rate of the equipment. The capital costs of increased tractor power contributed significantly to the total capital costs of adoption of low-emission equipment.

The results of this work were combined with literature data to devise updated NFRVs for slurry application to grassland in Ireland. The new advice includes differentiation of NFRVs based on application method, timing and residual N release. This represents a major step forward in advice to farmers for slurry application, and farmers have responded through improved management of application timing. The study shows that the combination of more application in spring and adopting low-emission application methods have a role to play in improving N efficiency from slurry in the future.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Oenema, Oene, Promotor
  • Schroder, Jaap, Co-promotor
  • Lantinga, Egbert, Co-promotor
Award date8 Jan 2014
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789461738264
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • grasslands
  • cattle slurry
  • fertilizer application
  • nutrient use efficiency
  • nitrogen
  • dairy farming
  • emission reduction


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