Coal ash is an environmentally safe and low-cost way to improve feeding areas and pen conditions in feedlots, according to researchers at the University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) Carrington Research Extension Center (CREC).

Earthen pens and equipment traffic areas do not withstand the pressure of concentrated livestock traffic — especially when these areas are wet. Deep mud and poor drainage reduce animal weight gain and health, increase odor emissions and prevent regular maintenance operations, such as manure removal.

A by-product of combustion in coal-burning power plants, fly ash is an alternative to placing asphalt or concrete in traffic areas. Fly ash improves and stabilizes soils in feedlots, thereby reducing the muddy conditions normally encountered, researchers say.

Currently, only about 8% of the fly ash produced each year in the northern Great Plains is used; nearly 3 million tons are disposed of annually.

In the first part of a three-year project, varying quantities of fly ash — from 15% to 25% by weight — were incorporated into the surface of 12 pens at the NDSU CREC bison research facility. For comparison, four pens were not treated. Conventional farm equipment was used to mix the ash with wet soil and then compact the mixture. Engineering tests were performed before the livestock were placed in the pens. The engineering tests, livestock tests and pen performance observations were used to determine the optimum level of fly ash.

Researchers say the initial results indicate success. Ash-modified soils performed well, with the most significant performance advantages occurring during the wet spring season. Bison in fly-ash treated pens gained an average of 0.15 lbs. more/day than bison in the untreated control pens.

Researchers plan to conduct additional demonstrations at farms and ranches the next two years. In addition, they will continue environmental and performance monitoring at all sites and will conduct an economic feasibility study.

Permits are currently required for this type of coal ash use in North Dakota. If this technology gains regulatory acceptance, instructional information will be available to potential users.

For more information, contact Debra F. Pflughoeft-Hassett at 701/777-5261 or or contact Vern Anderson at 701/652-2951 or

Compost offers some advantages over manure that offset the increased cost, according to researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

In an eight-year study, all of the open-dirt feedlot manure from the 1,500-head UNL research feedlot was composted to determine value and cost. Approximately 17,600 tons of feedlot and dairy compost were spread on 1,100 acres.

Researchers found that, on average, composting costs $1.25/ton to turn and make manure into compost. In addition, it costs an average of $2.50/ton for spreading.

Compost eliminates weed seeds, works well in no-tillage cropping enterprises and eliminates some of the odor issue, researchers say.

What's more, adding compost to irrigated corn, irrigated soybeans and dryland corn acres significantly increased yields, with four-year average increases of 2.3, 1.5 and 2.7%, respectively.

Composting resulted in some loss of nitrogen, but not necessarily more than spreading raw manure. Researchers are continuing to find ways to reduce nitrogen losses.

For more information, contact Galen Erickson at 402/472-6402 or e-mail

Composted manure is a valuable tool for healing land disturbed by oil and gas wells, according to researchers at the Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta, Canada.

The oil and gas industry uses topsoil amendments to restore well sites, but compost may be a more cost-effective alternative that also provides a value-added outlet for livestock manure, researchers say.

A four-year study shows that applying 50% of the original topsoil depth with a compost manure treatment has the potential to restore productivity to the same level as applying 100% topsoil.

For more information contact Frank Larney at 403/317-2216.

“Feeder Research” is compiled by Diana Barto,