Increasing costs associated with inorganic fertilizer have led to widespread use of broiler litter. Proper land application, typically limiting nutrient loss, is essential to protect surface water. This study was designed to evaluate litter-borne microbial runoff (heterotrophic plate count bacteria, staphylococci, Escherichia coli, enterococci, and Clostridium perfringens) while applying typical nutrient-control methods. Field studies were conducted in which plots with high and low litter rates, inorganic fertilizer, AlCl3-treated litter, and controls were rained on five times using a rain generator. Overall, microbial runoff from poultry litter applied plots was consistently greater (2–5 log10 plot−1) than controls. No appreciable effect on microbial runoff was noted from variable litter application rate or AlCl3 treatments, though rain event, not time, significantly affected runoff load. C. perfringens and staphylococci runoff were consistently associated with poultry litter application, during early rain events, while other indicators were unreliable. Large microbial runoff pulses were observed, ranging from 102 to 1010 CFU plot−1; however, only a small fraction of litter-borne microbes were recoverable in runoff. This study indicated that microbial runoff from litter-applied plots can be substantial, and that methods intended to reduce nutrient losses do not necessarily reduce microbial runoff.

This content is only available as a PDF.