Review: Ammonia emissions from dairy farms and beef feedlots

A. N. Hristov, M. Hanigan, A. Cole, R. Todd, T. A. McAllister, P. M. Ndegwa, A. Rotz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

304 Scopus citations


Ammonia emitted from animal feeding operations is an environmental and human health hazard, contributing to eutrophication of surface waters and nitrate contamination of ground waters, soil acidity, and fine particulate matter formation. It may also contribute to global warming through nitrous oxide formation. Along with these societal concerns, ammonia emission is a net loss of manure fertilizer value to the producer. A significant portion of cattle manure nitrogen, primarily from urinary urea, is converted to ammonium and eventually lost to the atmosphere as ammonia. Determining ammonia emissions from cattle operations is complicated by the multifaceted nature of the factors regulating ammonia volatilization, such as manure management, ambient temperature, wind speed, and manure composition and pH. Approaches to quantify ammonia emissions include micrometeorological methods, mass balance accounting and enclosures. Each method has its advantages, disadvantages and appropriate application. It is also of interest to determine the ammonia emitting potential of manure (AEP) independent of environmental factors. The ratio of nitrogen to non-volatile minerals (phosphorus, potassium, ash) or nitrogen isotopes ratio in manure has been suggested as a useful indicator of AEP. Existing data on ammonia emission factors and flux rates are extremely variable. For dairy farms, emission factors from 0.82 to 250 g ammonia per cow per day have been reported, with an average of 59 g per cow per day (n =31). Ammonia flux rates for dairy farms averaged 1.03 g m -2 h -1 (n = 24). Ammonia losses are significantly greater from beef feedlots, where emission factors average 119 g per animal per day (n = 9) with values as high as 280 g per animal per day. Ammonia flux rate for beef feedlots averaged 0.174 g m-2 h-1 (n = 12). Using nitrogen mass balance approaches, daily ammonia nitrogen losses of 25 to 50% of the nitrogen excreted in manure have been estimated for dairy cows and feedlot cattle. Practices to mitigate ammonia emissions include reducing excreted N (particularly urinary N), acidifying ammonia sources, or binding ammonium to a substrate. Reducing crude protein concentration in cattle diets and ruminal protein degradability are powerful tools for reducing N excretion, AEP, and whole-farm ammonia emissions. Reducing dietary protein can also benefit the producer by reducing feed cost. These interventions, however, have to be balanced with the risk of lost production. Manure treatment techniques that reduce volatile N species (e.g., urease inhibition, pH reduction, nitrification-denitrification) are also effective for mitigating ammonia emissions. Another option for reducing ammonia emissions is capture and treatment of released ammonia. Examples in the latter category include biofilters, permeable and impermeable covers, and manure incorporation into the soil for crop or pasture production. Process-level simulation of ammonia formation and emission provides a useful tool for estimating emissions over a wide range of production practices and evaluating the potential benefits of mitigation strategies. Reducing ammonia emissions from dairy and beef cattle operations is critical to achieving environmentally sustainable animal production that will benefit producers and society at large.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
JournalCanadian Journal of Animal Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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