MSU students use microbes to tackle poultry waste problem

Contact: Bob Ratliff

At any given time, there are an estimated 100 million broilers in Mississippi poultry houses. That's about 40 chickens for each person in the state.

While poultry is a $1.5 billion annual Mississippi industry, disposal of the 600,000 tons of waste, or litter, it annually generates also is a costly-and smelly-proposition.

One effort to address the waste problem is being explored at Mississippi State University by graduate student Robin L. Felder of Long Beach and senior Magan P. Green of Sturgis. The microbiology majors are working to identify microorganisms that will help prevent the loss of nitrogen from poultry waste.

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the primary ingredients in fertilizer.

"Most poultry waste is used to fertilize pastures," Felder said. "Part of the nitrogen is lost, however, because organisms in the material convert nitrogen into ammonia or nitrogen gas, which can be lost into the air."

Directed by microbiology professor Lewis Brown, the students' research project is supported by a $7,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service Poultry Laboratory at MSU.

Felder and Green hope to find microscopic organisms in chicken litter that will overgrow the nitrogen-releasing microbes, preventing the nitrogen release.

The project, which will be followed by additional research by USDA poultry lab scientists at MSU, could have benefits in addition to improving the quality of poultry waste as fertilizer.

"The ammonia released by the waste in poultry houses causes health problems for the birds if the houses are not kept well ventilated," said David May, the lab's supervisory research physiologist.

"Lowering the amount of ammonia released also could save producers part of the fuel costs associated with ventilation."

Thu, 06/01/2000 - 05:00